2 Towns Ciderhouse has a hit on its hands with SeekOut Real Hard Seltzer, a suite of all-natural adult beverages which first hit the market in February.
Seltzer products now account for about 15% of the Corvallis-based company’s sales volume, said CEO Lee Larsen. And that figure is only expected to rise.
“We’ve been blown away by the response to SeekOut,” Larsen said.
New flavors will be on the way in 2020, but — sorry, Seekers — Larsen declined to provide any specifics. “Unfortunately, the flavors are still under wraps,” he added.
SeekOut also has helped the already massive growth of 2 Towns, which sold about 40,000 barrels of product in 2018, according to Larsen. That makes 2 Towns the sixth largest producer of beer or cider in Oregon, he added.
(One barrel equals 31 gallons. To put things in perspective, 2 Towns sold far more than enough cider last year to fill two Olympic-sized swimming pools.)
Larsen expects sales volume to grow by roughly 50% to 60,000 barrels in 2019, and SeekOut will account for about 10,000 of those barrels.
Other Oregon microbreweries are now making seltzer products of their own. Larsen welcomed the new entries into the marketplace, because he thinks it will help build the category’s popularity overall.
SeekOut already has a foothold on seltzer shelves as the quality pick for consumers, though, and Larsen expects that to make a big difference.
“We saw a lot of movement in the hard seltzer realm, and we’ve been tracking it since 2014,” Larsen said.
No one was making a hard seltzer in the spirit of craft brewing, however, and with SeekOut, 2 Towns was able to differentiate itself as an alternative to industrially produced seltzers such as White Claw and Truly.
“There’s a lot of people who are looking for the healthier option,” Larsen said. And each can is under 100 calories.
With SeekOut, all the sweetness and alcohol comes from apples, and there are no artificial ingredients, he added.
Other factors have played into 2 Towns’ rise besides its new seltzers, of course.
The company moved most of its production from the Eastgate Business Center to a new headquarters near the Corvallis Municipal Airport in 2018, and that facility has allowed 2 Towns to increase its volume.
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The 2 Towns employees were the key to increased sales, Larsen said. “Our team is what makes things happen.”
The company was formed in 2010 by three friends who were initially the sole workers. In 2015, 2 Towns only had 30 employees. That’s stands at 100 workers today.
2 Towns isn’t the only local craft brewing company seeing rapid growth, at least according to self-reported in-state sales statistics collected by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
Ten years ago, the craft brewing movement in Linn and Benton counties was in its infancy with only three microbreweries.
Today, there are about 15 craft brewers in the mid-valley, though 2 Towns stands far above its compatriots in terms of production. The company makes more cider and seltzer than every other microbrewery combined in Linn and Benton counties.
Existing businesses besides 2 Towns also have expanded, however, and a reliable group of local mentors essentially have helped entrepreneurs incubate breweries.
It doesn’t hurt that the local adult beverages are good and different, said Jeff Tobin, owner of Mazama Brewing Co., headquartered in Corvallis.
“You can look at the products coming out of the mid-valley, for the ones that are fairly widely distributed, they’re quality products,” Tobin said. “Most of us have found a niche, and we have a reputation for that niche.”
State figures show that Block 15, the area’s second largest brewer, surpassed 5,000 barrels sold in Oregon in 2018, approximately five times its state sales from five years ago.
Sales for Mazama have increased 600 percent since 2013, and the company sold 1,400 barrels in Oregon in 2018, according to commission figures.
The blossoming of the brewing scene has been and continues to be a collaborative effort, Tobin said.
The Oregon State University fermentation science program has helped local craft brewing by producing quality graduates. Many breweries, including Mazama, have close ties to Oregon State, Tobin added.
And then there’s the role of Corvallis Brewing Supply, owned by Joel Rea.
The 2 Towns founders and other local brewers learned to make their products by working with Rea.
“We have a very active homebrew scene, supported by a great local homebrew store,” Tobin said. “I started as a homebrewer. If I was in a place that was a homebrew wasteland, I wouldn’t have had the people to collaborate and learn from.”