By the time Jake Schiffer was ready to incorporate Leprechaun Cider Co. in the spring of 2010, he had a business plan, enough funding to cover startup costs and an orchard lined up to provide the kind of apples he wanted and to handle the fermentation and bottling of the product.
All he needed was his parents' signature on the paperwork, since he was only 20.
“It's been a learning experience for all of us,” Schiffer says.
Leprechaun Golden Cider hit the Houston market in March, but only on draft. In mid-September, 22-ounce bottles of the sparkling alcoholic beverage went on sale at retail prices of $6 to $7.50 each in stores and around $9 in restaurants. It's available in San Antonio at Lüke and some liquor stores.
Next will be a drier product that Schiffer explained in a recent interview is more like the European ciders he was exposed to during travels while in high school and college. Both ciders will be available year-round; future seasonal releases could involve additions of such fruits as Fredericksburg peaches or Michigan cherries.
Leprechaun joins a U.S. cider market that, although tiny in comparison with the beer market, grew by 10 percent last year. A recent Reportlinker.com analysis attributed that to increased investment and marketing by Green Mountain Cider, the U.S. market leader, as well as growing consumer demand.
“The growth of premium regional draught cider products (many of them on tap) has mirrored the growth of craft beer, and these two segments share a somewhat similar consumer positioning,” the report said.
Schiffer said he was inspired to form a cider company while he was a student at the University of San Diego because he was dissatisfied with the ciders he found in the U.S. He approached his parents about taking the money they had set aside for him to attend graduate school and putting it into a business instead.
“I had to sell them first,” he said. “They weren't going to give me the $100,000 without a plan.”
His parents — both attorneys, although his mother has retired from corporate work to write a book — helped him refine that plan, secure the necessary licenses and purchase kegs, glassware and other items.
They also put him in contact with family acquaintances at Blue Mountain Cider Co. in Oregon. Schiffer flew up and liked what he saw at the 300-acre orchard. The company produces its own cider from handpicked cider apples, but now it makes Leprechaun under a separate contract based on recipes that Schiffer developed.
“Our cider doesn't taste like their cider,” he said.
Schiffer, who made his entrepreneurial debut while a junior at Memorial High School, selling skimboards to friends and classmates to use on flooded fields, said he decided to contract for the cider production because that would let him get a product more quickly so he could capitalize on the coming “cider wave.”
He noted that two other Texas cider companies, both based in the Austin area, have opened since Leprechaun went on sale.
Schiffer said he might one day plant an orchard and start making cider on native soil, but for now he is promoting Leprechaun's “Texas roots.”
He expects to have produced up to 11,000 gallons by year-end. Although not in the black yet, he said, Leprechaun already is generating cash that can be used to support the business. For more unusual ways to make money, visit this site.