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Apple Orchard Tapping Into Cider Business

Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner, Maine is turning its sights to the 21 and over crowd

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    Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner, Maine, is turning its sights to the 21 and over crowd. (Published Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014)

    The largest apple orchard in Maine is setting its sights on the 21 and over crowd.

    Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner still sells Mactintosh, Courtland and Honey Crisp by the truckload, but they're also tapping into New England's growing thirst for hard cider.

    Andy Ricker is the 9th generation of his family to make a living from apples. He and Justin Lagassey, a beverage engineer, are the brains behind Ricker Hill's new line of carbonated sweet and hard cider. Their shared goal is to give customers a tastier beverage than much of what's available on store shelves now.

    "Hard cider is typically made from concentrate and water and fermented after the fact," explained Lagassey. "We're starting with apples and we can select them bin by bin."

    Ricker, who was a business major in college, says it wasn't easy to convince the older members of the family at first because he knew that to succeed, they'd have to go big.

    "I started doing the homework and what I found talking to others is that they started way to small and had to flatten everything in 3 months because it was insufficient volume for the market," said Ricker.

    They've now invested several hundred thousand dollars in the operation which includes giant stainless steel fermenters and a brand new canning operation.

    The first cans of Mainiac Gold, (alcohol content 5%) started rolling down the production line and onto store shelves this month.

    Their time is good; while alcohol sales are flat nationally, the hard cider business has tripled since 2007. In 2013, it was a $600 million industry.

    Ricker says they've built enough capacity to produce 100,000 cases a year.

    "I expect to be the largest hard cider producer in Maine by the end of this year," Ricker said.

    He hopes to double in size in 5 years, expanding the product line to include higher end "wine grade" ciders. Ricker believes this will be a core part of the family's apple business for the next century, and that should keep the next several generations of Rickers on the farm and very busy.

    "They'll all be making' hard cider," said Ricker, with a smile on his face.  

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