Sippin' cider- Lewisburg cidery wins $5,000 at Create WV conference
West Virginia has paved the way for its craft beer industry, but two local entrepreneurs are ready to tap into uncharted territory — hard cider and mead.
Josh Bennett and Will Lewis with Hawk Knob Cidery and Meadery in Lewisburg were awarded Friday night at the CreateWV Conference with $5,000 to test their business strategy and hopefully help grow West Virginia.
The duo presented their pitch at the conference along with three other hopeful finalists, but just as the statistics indicate, hard cider was a hit.
"All throughout the U.S., there's a massive cider boom going on," Lewis shared. "The market has grown over 70 percent in the last three years, and hard cider is by far the largest growing sector of the alcohol and beverage industry."
The guys at Hawk Knob hope to create a long-term and lasting relationship with farmers and bee keepers throughout the state to create a 100 percent West Virginia-grown product.
"By focusing on these regional, value-added products, we can reinvigorate new and dynamic agriculture economy in West Virginia."
Bennett and Lewis met eight years ago at West Virginia University while they were studying agriculture and horticulture. They both discovered they had a passion for making a living out of farming, so they set their sights on the cider industry.
Bennett bought a farm in Pocahontas County, and they began sourcing their apples for the hard cider from Monroe County. They met up with Frank and Barbara Tuckwiller, the owners of Watts Roost Vineyard, who were looking to retire. The Tuckwillers closed the winery officially in September, but made welcome Bennett and Lewis to begin crafting their own product.
"West Virginia has a massive untapped potential. Cider is going to grow and grow. We're excited to be in on this early," Lewis said.
Hawk Knob is the state's first and only cidery and one of only three meaderies. Bennett explained the fermentation and bottling process to the crowd Friday night, noting that he and Lewis used a little "hillbilly engineering" to save a ton of money. Through talking with other producers, wine makers and cider makers, they were able to figure out the best, most cost-efficient plan.
Bennett said, "It's really pretty simple technology, but I think a lot of people go into these sorts of businesses with the plan of spending tens of thousands of dollars right off the bat when a little hillbilly engineering can get you a long way."
Their farm winery license allows them to self-distribute, so they plan to use their $5,000 on self-distribution and networking.
As they closed their pitch, Lewis got a laugh out of the crowd when he said, "It's part of our cultural heritage — It's APPLEachia."
Hawk Knob anticipates opening its tasting room by the first of the year. Bennett and Lewis said they hope to become a model for the rest of the region tapping into this market.
For more information (and a sweet old-timey photo of the cider owners), visit hawkknob.com.
The cash award was sponsored by the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority, and the competition was organized and managed this year by the region’s Valley Ventures Entrepreneurship Cafe in partnership with New River Community and Technical College, Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Authority and VisAbility.
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