When 2 Towns Ciderhouse was formed in 2010, no one was making craft cider with the maverick spirit of microbrewing and all-natural ingredients, said David Takush, the company’s head cidermaker.
Instead, the options available at local supermarkets were mass-produced by industrial brewers, who used artificial flavorings and high fructose corn syrup in their drinks, he added.
“It’s the same thing now with hard seltzer. There’s a market that exists, but we’re coming out with something that’s a level above in terms of quality and a level above in terms of flavor profiles,” Takush said.
2 Towns is launching SeekOut Real Hard Seltzer, and the drinks will be made without any artificial ingredients.
“All the sweetness and alcohol comes from fruit,” Takush said.
During February, SeekOut will be available at Safeway stores and at the 2 Towns tasting room in the Eastgate Business Center, between Albany and Corvallis on Highway 20. A wide release for the product is scheduled for March.
SeekOut starts with four flavors: key lime and mint; raspberry and Meyer lemon; cucumber and juniper; and pineapple and passionfruit. Those are available in six-packs or as part of a 12-pack variety mix.
“We wanted to have exciting flavor combinations, something different than just grapefruit,” Takush said.
“We definitely plan to come out with more flavors down the line,” said 2 Towns CEO Lee Larsen.
SeekOut will be available in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, California, Illinois and Minnesota to start.
The new product highlights the fast growth of 2 Towns Ciderhouse, which was created by three friends — Takush, Larsen and Aaron Sarnoff-Wood — who initially were the company’s sole employees and operated out of a 1,000-square-foot warehouse space.
The company had about 30 employees in 2015, but is just shy of 80 employees today, and its production has increased greatly, as well. In 2015, 2 Towns produced 345,000 gallons of cider. Last year, it made 1.2 million gallons of beverages, and that’s sure to rise in 2019 with SeekOut, Larsen said.
2 Towns is the top cidermaker in Oregon, No. 5 in the nation, and the fastest growing in the top 10, said Sarnoff-Wood, executive vice president of sales.
Even lumped in with beer, the company’s success is impressive. 2 Towns is the No. 6 craft producer in the state by sales, Sarnoff-Wood said.
“As I recall, we have made the top 50 nationally, as well,” he added.
Due to its growth, the company moved production from the Eastgate Business Center to a new headquarters near the Corvallis Municipal Airport in South Corvallis. The 2 Towns team also has plans for a new taproom and outdoor space on the property, an orchard to grow traditional French and English apples for cider, and more.
“We’ve been in talks with the county on how to get it all permitted and pushed through,” Sarnoff-Wood said.
Even with its rapid rise, the sales area of 2 Towns has stayed mostly the same in recent years, however. Its ciders are available in nine states and Japan. Sales are strongest on the West Coast, where microbreweries and the foodie movement are extremely popular.
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The 2 Towns trio of founders grew up in Oregon during the craft beer revolution, and that forged how they approached the alcohol industry. “The first beers we drank were Deschutes,” Takush said.
The microbrewing mindset — a dedication to quality ingredients, an authentic product and experimentation — showed up in their ciders, which included plenty of seasonal releases and limited-edition products.
Larsen said he wanted the company’s ciders to be an “everyday luxury,” delicious but affordable.
The same microbrewing philosophy and values that created 2 Towns ciders are being applied to SeekOut.
“We’ve been watching the hard seltzer market since it took off in 2016. About eight months ago, we decided to really pull the trigger and go after it,” Larsen said.
The company has prided itself in being flexible and catering to craft alcohol drinkers, who crave variety.
In a way, creating the seltzer was similar to making a new type of cider, which 2 Towns does regularly, like almost any other popular microbrewery. For example, in 2019, 2 Towns is releasing a strawberry cider and pear ciders, Takush said.
Even sourcing the fruit for the seltzer flavors was already an area of expertise for 2 Towns.
Much like microbrewery fans sought out craft cider, Larsen thinks that people will give craft seltzer a chance, though those drinks are further away from the craft beer audience.
Seltzer is popular among millennials and growing in popularity in general. “It’s a bit of a younger demographic, but there’s a lot of crossover,” Larsen said.
Regardless, the 2 Towns founders believe they’ve created a simple, light and refreshing drink that will appeal to the health conscious, as each can is under 100 calories, and doesn't have any artificial ingredients or sweeteners.
“People are really worried about what they’re putting in their bodies, so here’s an opportunity to introduce something that’s more genuine,” Sarnoff-Wood said.
Larsen also expected bartenders to use the SeekOut seltzers for mixed drinks. People could also mix in fresh fruit for nonalcoholic beverages or cocktails, he added. The color from the fruit in SeekOut also provides a visual appeal for cocktails.
Regardless of its uses, the 2 Towns founders expect SeekOut to be a success.
Nationally, hard seltzer has grown from an insignificant percentage of beer industry sales to 2 percent of the market in a short time — and that’s the same percentage of sales as cider, Larsen said.
The demand for high-quality seltzer could be higher in Oregon than in other areas. In the Beaver State, cider makes up approximately 6 percent of the beer market’s sales, the most in the nation, and that’s largely driven by craft cider makers, Larsen said.
“You’ll find a very receptive public here to trying new things,” Sarnoff-Wood said.