Kyle Sherrer wants to make sour ciders that not only appeal to the masses but look good doing it, too. The co-founder of New York-based Graft Cidery is looking to spread the good word that the next big thing is here — and has been — and he’s doing that through progressive packaging targeted at a craft-savvy beer drinker.
In 2011, Sherrer was nearing the end of his university career and joined his father, who had studied viticulture and winemaking at UC Davis, to open now defunct MillStone Cellars. The cider business was focused on barrel-aged, dry ciders and was successful by many standards — they were distributing their product to seven different states and had grown their production to 500 oak barrels by year four.
But Sherrer wanted to focus on the sour-style ciders he came to love out of Spain. These drier, tart ciders weren’t something he was seeing offered to American consumers at the time, and from that, Graft Cider was born in 2016.
Graft’s intentions were to “industrialize wild yeasted fermentation ciders and also kind of tying in craft beer ideology and creativity on top of it,” he adds. “So it’s like, ‘hey here’s this Old World way of doing things and then slapping a fresh coat of paint on it.’”
A key part of Sherrer’s strategy to make cider appeal to the masses, especially sour styles, has been through that fresh coat of paint: branding. “Cider needed to get Grandpa off the label or the guys in flannel, it needed its own voice,” Sherrer say.
He found what he was looking for in designer Caleb Luke Lin’s artwork which, as he describes, is a lot softer and not quite as harsh as many beer labels tend to be.
“It’s more gender neutral, it has more equality to it,” Sherrer says of Graft’s packaging. “I think it’s a little friendlier and not this gritty, us-versus-them kind of thing.”
Graft has three lines of ciders besides its core ciders. The milkshake-inspired Dreamsicle ciders are under the Cloud City line, the fruity experimentation series Nomad and collaborations under the Shared Universe name. Each series has its own storyline that they come up with and within that, each release has a story that Sherrer, Lin or someone else writes.
“I had this idea of setting up this world of Graft as a way of exploring flavors and new ways of thinking of cider,” Sherrer says. “All I do is work so why not have a lot fun with it you know?”
While Sherrer believes Graft is converting craft beer drinkers to cider faster than the main market is, he says he does acknowledge that cider still has a harder time than its alcoholic counterparts in the beverage world. But between the craft beer market slowing down and the rise of small cider producers, Sherrer is optimistic in the direction cider is headed.
“The accessibility of cider is going through the roof right now,” he says. “I think [that] is going to turn a lot of people on who are like, ‘alright I’ve been drinking craft beer for a long time, what’s the next thing?’”