The cider, called The Washboard, was initially released on a limited run in March 2015 and received gold medals at both the 2015 California Cider Competition and 2015 Tastings World Beer Championships. It features all-organic ingredients, including imported Indian sarsaparilla blended with apples and vanilla.
David Cordtz, Sonoma’s CEO and founder, told BeverageDaily that the customer demand for Washboard was extremely strong via social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
“Everybody was screaming at us all year long asking when we would make it again,” he said. “We decided we’d just make it and add it to the core lineup … as a year round offering.”
The Washboard is set for release and nationwide distribution today (January 25). Alcohol by volume is 5.5%.
Making the cider
Cordtz said his son Robert, VP of operations and founder of the company, had the idea to make The Washboard after dreaming of creating a root beer since he was 10 years old.
“He had the idea to go back to it [root beer’s] literal roots and get some organic sarsaparilla form India and a little bit of organic vanilla and make a blend,” he said. “What he did was he took the sarsaparilla root itself, we have a big jar in the tasting room of it, and he ground it up and he made a tea out of it. He took the tea and added it to the apple base.”
The dry, fermented apple base allows the drink to have 8g or 9g of sugar per 12oz serving, as opposed to the usual 30g to 40g root beers have, Cordtz said.
While the process of brewing and manufacturing The Washboard is no different than other ciders, he said the ingredients make it unique. Unfermented juice is added back into the cider’s mix to give it more of a natural sweetness in lieu of sugar.
“We never add sugar, we don’t add water, we don’t use concentrate; everything is organic certified,” Cordtz said. “Sometimes it makes it a little harder to source ingredients – organically certified sarsaparilla root was not an easy task – but we think it’s important.”
“We kind of took a different twist to it. We went dry with it … It isn’t super per sweet.”
Capitalizing on a new trend
Although Cordtz says this is “definitely” more of a hard cider than a hard soda, he believes Sonoma will have the ability to capitalize on the trend of hard root beers and sodas on the market. MillerCoors, for example, recently got involved in the market by releasing Ginger Ale and Orange flavors of Henry’s Hard Soda.
According to data from Mintel, sales of ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages are up 70% since 2009. Cordtz believes Sonoma will be able to capitalize on this trend and expects The Washboard to be a great seller for the company.
“You never know,” he said, when asked how the drink will sell for Sonoma. “I’ve been doing this all my life and I’m constantly surprised. We think this is going be right up there with one of the favorites that we have for sale all year … This is really cool twist to that category.”
Cordtz believes the craft cider makers and brewers have the advantage over the big companies, as he believes the taste of Americans will start to shift to “dry, more esoteric” flavors. Keeping this in mind, Cordtz said his next step for Sonoma will be creating more limited runs and reserves, such as an imperial cider that they will release in April that is 12.3% alcohol by volume.
The Washboard will be available across the country in stores such as Whole Foods, Safeway and Binny’s.