For us cider lovers here in Los Angeles, it’s hard to miss Mark McTavish and his amazing cider companies. You probably know his flagship brand 101 Cider, but you may not be aware that he also distributes lots of great craft ciders from all over the world under his parent company, Half Pint Ciders.
I’ve got to know Mark over the past couple of years after meeting him at The Hardcore Cider tour. He’s a true cider lover, dedicated to the craft and a bold risk taker… a powerful combo!
I finally had a chance to shoot over some questions to him for the first in a series of interviews with folks in the craft cider scene.
Q: How did you get your start in cider?
A: I began enjoying cider at the age of 19 back in Toronto. Growing up in apple country meant that cider was familiar to me at a very young age, and I viewed it as a healthier alternative to beer. After a short time I began to drink cider almost exclusively, as I just really enjoyed it. The first cider that I ever consumed back in Toronto was Waupoos Cider, made a couple of hours east of the city on the shores of Lake Ontario. I began exploring the cider category further in my 20’s, but it was when I moved to California that I began experiencing proper ciders from the old world and also those made here in America.
Q: What drove you to create such different ciders such as “Black Dog”?
There are plenty of pure apple ciders out there, been there…..done that. My goal from day one has been to produce the healthiest alcoholic beverages on the planet, featuring wildly unique blends that are not found elsewhere. We produce cider in Los Angeles, which is a mecca for health products such as cold pressed juice. When you walk into a juice bar you except to see an assortment of fruits, herbs, botanicals, and also activated charcoal. Black Dog is a great example of how we produce ciders that speak to the consumer here in California…….healthy, locally made, and fearlessly different!
Q: Tell us about your new brand “Stoked” and what’s different about it in relation to 101 Cider House.
A: Stoked and 101 are kissing cousins, with entirely different personalities. Both feature exciting blends of fruit, herbs, spices, etc…..but the differences are easy to point out. 101 is sour, Stoked is not. 101 is raw and probiotic, Stoked is not. Both are super dry, and both are unfiltered. Stoked speaks to the broader market of consumers, as it is more approachable to the average palate. Also, Stoked is packaged in cans!
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges in the industry right now?
A: The biggest challenge I see is the lack of great cider on the shelf in most establishments. Many retailers feature the same old stuff, sweet apple soda with alcohol. In a perfect world we would see regulation that eliminates cider made with anything but 100% juice (no concentrates allowed), and we also need to get rid of the sweet stuff. Cider will not be taken seriously until that happens, the garbage holds us all back as consumers remain confused about what cider represents as a category. The evolution of the cider category is following what we saw with beer and wine…….sweet and easy was what consumers wanted decades ago, now we are seeing huge demand for dry wines and sour beer. Educated consumers typically move in the direction of enhanced complexity, I don’t think that will ever change.
Q: Where do you see the craft cider scene going in 2017?
A: Less of the bad, more of the good…….and also more of the great. The availability of proper cider is remarkable here in the US, unfortunately we still see so many poorly made products on the shelf. If we can get rid of the impostors then consumers will begin to appreciate craft cider as the incredible category we know it can be. I won’t name any specific brands, but when you promote your cider as “made with pure Swedish spring water” you are simply praying on consumers who just don’t know any better. Then there are impostor ciders made from concentrates that promote themselves as “America’s Best Craft Cider”, it’s just a slap in the face to the category and it’s consumers.
I predict that as the ceiling rises, so does the basement. What we view as craft cider right now will change in 2017. Those impostor brands will soon be regarded as “alcoholic fruit beverage”, and many will be kicked from the shelves in favor of cider made from 100% fresh juice. Also, what we view now as Tier 2 craft cider will become the entry level product as the impostor ciders disappear. Let’s just say that if you are currently buying your cider at the gas station or 7-11, you are likely drinking something that is NOT cider by definition……and it will most likely not be around for much longer. Even Angry Orchard is seeing large declines in performance, and this is a brand that had more than 50% market share!
Q: Where are some of your fav places to get a pint of great cider in LA or around the country?
Here in LA proper, I definitely enjoy Highland Park. Huge fan of The Hermosillo, they also featured some of the best beer made in LA (Highland Park Brewery). Love Block Party for a night out, and I love crushing pizza and cider at Town Pizza! Other local favorites include Beer Belly in Koreatown, Sunset Beer Co. in Echo Park, L&E Oyster Bar in Silver Lake, and Barbara’s At The Brewery in Lincoln Heights. There are so many great cider destinations here now, it’s hard to choose!
Outside of LA, definitely love what I am seeing develop in the South Bay area. Phantom Carriage makes incredible sour beers, and they always have a bunch of great ciders on offer in their taproom. Heading south from there you end up in Long Beach, which is fast emerging as the center of the craft universe it seems. Downtown Long Beach is home to the #1 cider bar in California, called Great Society. Love this place, Otto and Brenda (owners) are great people and they are really committed to educating consumers.
Outside of the LA area, here are my favorite cider destinations in North America:
– The Local Cider Bar (Eureka)
– Bushwhacker (Portland)
– Capitol Cider (Seattle)
– Wassail (NYC)
– Wvrst (Toronto)
Q: Are you going to bring back the LA Cider Fest?
Yes, bigger and better than ever. The first event was a big success with over 1500 in attendance, and what I feel was the most exciting format seen at any cider festival yet. There was so much time invested into the educational format of that event, it was really amazing to see it in action. More to come……stay tuned.
Q: If you weren’t making cider, what would you be doing instead?
First and foremost, I am an entrepreneur. I choose to start businesses that I am passionate about, this way I never feel like I am going to work. My wife may argue that I never stop working, but I don’t see it that way. I enjoy what I do, and that leads me to spend a lot of time doing it. Aside from cider, I have many other passions in my life. If I was not making cider I would likely be developing/managing vacation properties in some of my favorite destinations around the world…….Malibu, Ojai, Sedona, Kauai, Tulum, Ibiza, Crete, Ko Tao, Byron Bay……among others.