Exploding cans, learning curves and apples: What I learned in Cedar Creek’s first few years of business
It’s cliché, but they do say that times flies when you’re having fun. Looking back on it, it’s crazy to think that Cedar Creek has been up and running for more than four years now.
There have been some amazing moments in those four years, nothing will ever compare to the first time you try your own recipe and realise it’s not only drinkable, but good. But in and amongst that, there have been some failures, some VERY steep learning curves and a lot of wasted apples...and I mean, A LOT.
When I first starting brewing, It was a real home-brew operation. And honestly I was laughing because it’s all natural, I didn’t really do anything!
Let me explain: My parents make apple juice, a lot of it actually, and its apple juice free of preservatives. So, if one of our bottles didn’t seal correctly, there was a chance the natural yeast on our property would start to ferment the apple juice!
My Dad basically hid this fact from me until I was old enough to drink. We were working at the markets together and some 300mm bottles hadn’t sealed properly and were fermented.
This sparked my interest. From my dad I learned the simplest form of cider making:
Take juice that’s free of preservatives
2. Add yeast! Wild yeast or packeted yeast!
So that’s what I did. I took some of the accidental cider and I tipped it into a 3L bottle, topped it with our juice, left a small air gap and sealed it. It was winter so I put it somewhere it would stay warm and in three weeks we came back to the most delicious cider ever!
Cedar Creek just went from there, from 3L we decanted into another 6 bottles, and repeated the process! In no time I was making hundreds of litres for me and my close friends to drink!
I wasn’t selling it to the public, so it wasn’t illegal, but when I was happy with the recipe one of the owners of the local pub “The George” tried it. He told me if I could produce at scale and make it legal he would put it on. Fun fact: The George did put the cider on. How’s that for a win?!
That got my 18-year-old entrepreneurial juices flowing. Turns out you need a license, a DA and council approval before you can even start dreaming of producing commercially.
It took me about a year and a half to get my approvals and save enough money for the equipment I needed. Then it took about six months for everything to arrive. So, really it took nearly two years just to get everything set-up and ready to go from a commercial perspective.
The one thing I will say straight-up to anyone looking to start their own business is research
and have patience. I understand it may be tempting to get stuck straight in, like I did, and look, I knew in my head I would learn from doing, but you have to learn to walk before you can run. And I have multiple things that if I knew now, I would have done differently then.
The first commercial batch of cider that I put out I produced 6000L; 4000L went into cans, 2000L into kegs.
I sold a lot very quickly – about 160 cases, which was flattering, overwhelming and a real win. Then about a week after, the reports started coming in.
It started with one phone call, one of my customers saying her cans had exploded. I was on night shift at the time, making my second batch of cider, which sadly didn’t turn out – R.I.P – and had been awake for well over 24 hours, and then I got another phone call reporting more exploding cans.
Turns out, the cider was fermenting in the cans, which lead to a build-up of C02, and boom!
At that point I issued a full recall on that first batch. But the funniest thing is, no-one really wanted a refund or return. Most customers were just happy to store the cider in the fridge.
What do you do after that? I needed to shut down. I needed to take some time to evaluate what went wrong, I needed to have tests done and implement processes to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. I needed time to stop putting my self-worth in line with the success of my business. While the cider was going well, I was on a high, nothing could stop me. Sounds great I know, but that meant as soon as the cider was failing I went straight down that rabbit hole for several months. Now I constantly remind myself not to get high with the highs, and not to get low with the lows.
So, the second thing I will say, is expect to fail. Get comfortable with the fact you’re going to make mistakes. The last thing is to understand that 9/10 business actually fail. That’s a fact, and you can look it up. If you’ve read all that and you think genuinely in your heart you’re the 1/10 that won’t, you’re like me. Please email me at email@example.com I’d love to chat to you.
Exploding cans were my biggest failure, but if I had to do it again I would. I learnt so much from that first batch…even if it did take more than a few wasted apples.