The School of Hard Cider
Some undergrads require a parent’s signature when purchasing a new car or leasing an apartment. But Leprechaun Cider Company founder Jake Schiffer needed Mom and Dad to sign for a start-up company.
At the time he founded Texas’ first hard cider company, Schiffer was an underage, aspiring entrepreneur. But he has since become an of-age business pro. The Houston-born and -raised founder admits that diving headfirst into entrepreneurship, rather than pursuing a formal business education, has had its challenges.
“This is my business school,” he says. “I can’t learn business in a book. I have to get out there and do it.”
“I can’t learn business in a book” says Leprechaun Cider Company founder Jake Schiffer. “I have to get out there and do it.”
Cider has yet to catch on like the craft beer industry, which is good news for Schiffer, who entered the market and signed a distribution deal with Duff just in time to catch the hard cider wave that’s about to hit the national market. The Texas-made tipple is currently in four states, and Schiffer is in talks with 10 other states and Canada.
It’s not just good timing that has lead to the company’s rapid expansion. Unlike the concentrate-rich, mass-produced woodchuck ciders of the world, Schiffer refuses to take cost-saving shortcuts, opting instead to use fresh, handpicked apples, limited to only two varieties.
“[The competition] uses very cheap apple concentrate and dozens of varieties of apples, shaken off the tree or crushed — it’s not cared about,” he says. “They heat it up to the point where it breaks down all of the bacteria. They ferment it ... then add water, which dilutes it. Because it doesn’t taste like apple anymore, they add back bags of sugar.”
In contrast, Schiffer says Leprechaun takes an artisanal approach to retain the unprocessed flavors of the apples, resulting in a natural, gluten-free product devoid of preservatives and concentrate.
“All we do to add sweetness is add back crushed fresh apple juice,” Schiffer says. “We don’t add back sugar.”
Although the cider’s tap handles are side-by-side with beer and often served in pint glasses, at 7 percent alcohol by volume, cider is more closely related to a lighter wine than beer. Schiffer says that after extensive travel through Europe, where he sampled a variety of ciders — from drier British versions to the sweeter, more carbonated ciders of Spain — he could taste the difference with the big American brands.
Leprechaun takes an artisanal approach to retain the unprocessed flavors of the apples, resulting in a natural, gluten-free cider devoid of preservatives and concentrate.
He wants to present a purer cider that is true to its history.
“We crush the Champagne yeast, which gives it a more light-bodied wine or Prosecco-like flavor and mouth feel,” Schiffer says. “ [It’s] not as beer-like or as syrupy [as comparable products].”
This makes it flexible in terms of cooking and mixing. Schiffer says he’s a fan of shandies made with Leprechaun and local beer.
Even in the midst of expansion, the company is making big moves to continue honoring its home state. Although the apples are currently grown in Oregon, Schiffer plans to establish an apple orchard in West Texas. The central business office and company has also found a new home in the Houston Heights.
For the time being, Leprechaun won’t be doing tours, choosing instead to focus on a cautious national expansion and maintaining its high-quality standards in the expanding line.
Pomegranate, which began as a seasonal variety, will soon proliferate the market as a year-round option for those seeking a fruitier, dessert-like pint. It joins the dry and golden ciders, making for a well-balanced lineup.
Even well before the company was signed over to him on this 21st birthday, Schiffer worked hard to make a cider that he — and his home state — could be proud of.
“We’ve worked our butts off to get where we’re at,” Schiffer says. “We’ve done everything we can to grow, so I feel like we’re right on schedule.”