To complete our series on Banter Cider, we sat down with Steve Brancato – the man behind the curtain. We talked flavors, cidermaking processes, and interesting behind-the-scenes cider stories.
How do you think up your cider flavors?
I find inspiration almost everywhere. We do a pineapple/passion fruit that was inspired by a tea that I had at Panera one afternoon. Swamp Frog (limeade) comes from one of my kids’ favorite drinks. It can also come from another cider that I’ve tasted and thought “hmm, I would do it this way if I were to make such and such a cider.”
How do you conceptualize your designs and descriptions?
I just like to have fun with the descriptions. A lot of my employees give me shit about my excessive use of CAPS on the label but I want our consumers’ eyes drawn to certain keywords so I do my best in forcing them to stand out. As far as the label designs go, it’s really just a two-part process. Typically, I’ll come up with some off-the-wall idea then hand it off to our artist, Earl Kess to bring it to life.
The ideas can be anywhere from lighthearted and fun (Sun Thunder) to dark and somewhat angry (New Normal). I really give Earl most of the credit when it comes to our labels. He truly understands who we are as a company and as a brand. We kinda think of ourselves as the un-cider. Where a lot of cider brands are projecting images of elegance and/or earthiness on their labels, we prefer dark, gloomy and the occasional dash of disturbing.
What is your favorite cider that you make and why?
Overcast is and probably always will be my favorite cider. Even though it’s the first one I’ve ever made and has been around since our inception, the recipe is still evolving. After five years, I just changed the yeast strain we use for Overcast on our latest batch. This alteration created a noticeable change to the cider’s profile…but for the better, in my opinion. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive as well!
How do you think experimenting with a variety of ciders influences your business?
Experimentation and diversity have been key for us. It was a little tricky to figure out during the first year or two what exactly our customers liked, what sold, what didn’t, etc. but I feel we’ve got a good handle on it now. We’ve got our staples that you can find there year round. Then we have our seasonals which you can only find at certain times. Finally, we have our limited releases which are usually just a one and done type deal. I think customers enjoy that they can come in at any time and grab something they’re comfortable with, for example, a pint of Bone and also try something that they may have never had before.
Do you think flavor diversity is key to gaining new customers and retaining them?
This is a topic that can probably be applied to many industries. No matter what you’re offering, you’ve got to keep things fresh and exciting. Even McDonald’s releases new shit once in a while! Haha! People grow tired of the same old, same old. A lot of consumers, especially craft cider/beer consumers are adventurous. They want to try something they’ve never had before. They want to be the first of their friends to get their hands on something. We do our best to satisfy this need.
Do you have any cool cider stories when in the cider-making process?
When I first started making cider on the commercial level, I would drive to the orchard and have them fill up my three 55 gallon drums. These are NOT ideal vessels for transporting cider! Anyway, after we had pumped the contents of the drums into a fermenter, I loaded the empty drums back on my truck and tethered them together with a ratchet strap so they wouldn’t bounce around so much in transit. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to strap them down to the bed of my truck. On my way home, I was probably going a little faster than I should have. Some wind got underneath the barrels and had lifted them completely out of my truck and onto the highway.
The barrels landed upside-down, on their lid which was held on by a metal ring clamp. It was dark at the time so I actually didn’t know I had lost the barrels until I heard a thump and saw the sparks from the clamps shooting across the highway in my rearview mirror. Fortunately, no one was too close behind me and the barrels had slid all the way to the shoulder of the road. I was able to get off at the next exit to turn around and safely retrieve them back onto my truck. I ended up having to replace one of the valves…but it could have been A LOT worse! Adventures in cidermaking!