When life gives you apples, make cider – hard cider that is. Fourth-year plant science student Tariq Ahmed did just that and now he’s enjoying the fruits of his labour.
Earlier this year, he was awarded $8,000 by the Hub, an entrepreneurial program run by the Co-operators Centre for Business and Social Entrepreneurship in the College of Business and Economics. His business idea for Revel Cider was among five start-ups chosen by the Hub to receive funding and mentorship.
While interning at ManoRun Organic Farm in Copetown, Ont., in the summer of 2013, Ahmed was invited to have dinner with the farm’s owner, Chris Krucker. The meal included homemade cider, mead (an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey) and wine.
“As the dinner progressed, the bottles emptied, and I realized I was the only one drinking them,” says Ahmed with a laugh. “I made quite the first impression on his family.”
He describes his first taste of homemade cider as “almost magical.” Using ingredients such as yeast and sugar to make an entirely different product fascinated him. “A big part of it for me is a way to preserve the summer harvest.” He also learned how to make jam as well as canned and pickled foods.
Krucker gave him access to cider-making equipment and provided an instructional book. Ahmed began making his own mead and experimenting with various ingredients, including coffee and bananas. In some cases, the results were explosive. In the middle of the night, “a couple of those bottles blew up in my room because I didn’t know what I was doing,” he says.
He describes Revel Cider, named after a Kings of Leon song called “Revelry,” as “a lot drier” than other ciders on the market, making it a lighter-tasting beverage and more appealing to beer drinkers. Made with Kent Golding and Citra hops, the cider is aged in oak barrels and contains seven-per-cent alcohol. “It’s almost the exact same process as making wine, just switch grapes for apples,” he says.
Ahmed uses a process called dry hopping, which involves adding the hops after fermentation, giving the cider a citrus-like flavour. Each batch is fermented for two weeks, followed by a one-week carbonation period. Traditional beer-making involves boiling the hops, which results in a more bitter taste.
He gave samples of his brew to his friends. “They all loved it, so I decided to stick with it.” He began acquiring more equipment and kegs.
That got him thinking that his hobby could turn into a money-making venture. He decided that his business could also support the community by hosting events such as food and drink shows and concerts. “Anything that brings people together,” says Ahmed.
Although he took one business course at U of G, he had never participated in a pitch competition and says he relied mostly on his intuition. That one business course taught him how to develop a business plan, and it impressed the Hub’s judges. Offering them samples of his cider won over their taste buds. “I think that helped,” he says.
When he found out he was one of five start-ups selected by the panel, he was shocked. Other recipients included grad-student-led teams such as Red Tree Robotics, which sells high-tech products. “I’m just an undergrad making alcohol,” says Ahmed. “It was very humbling.”
As a Hub winner, he received $8,000 in start-up funding and mentorship from local entrepreneurs. His mentor is Steve Barrett from Innovation Guelph. “The Hub has been a huge help,” says Ahmed.
He’s applying for licenses from all three levels of government and is learning how to launch a social media campaign and brand his brew. He hired a marketing company to design his logo, bottles and boxes. His logo features an apple press, which Ahmed used to make his first batches of cider.
Note: The Hub offers U of G students and alumni funding, dedicated office space and access to experienced entrepreneurs. Learn more.