Wild State Cider expands production to West Duluth
Moving production to a larger, long-term facility enables the Duluth-based cidery to churn out 12 million cans of cider a year, bumping it into the 20 largest alcohol producers in the state.
DULUTH — After two years in business, Wild State Cider had outgrown its original production space inside the taproom, which will remain in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. The cidery recently completed its expansion to a 60,000-square-foot facility in West Duluth to keep up with the growing demand of its natural craft ciders.
Since Wild State Cider opened in 2019, it has become one of the largest producers of hard cider in the state. The company is owned by CEO Adam Ruhland, Andrew Price and Allison Longley. Ruhland worked as a special education teacher for five years and did video production in the Twin Cities for a software startup, where he eventually grew into a marketing role. Ruhland is president of the Minnesota Cider Guild, of which Wild State Cider is a member.
Prior to the expansion, Wild State Cider rented an off-site warehouse to store cans. The original cidery located in the taproom was set up to brew more than 100,000 gallons a year.
"We just kept filling the taproom with tanks until there was no more space. Then the decision was just made for itself at that point. We had to go somewhere else. When this all started four years ago, the idea of selling hundreds of thousands of gallons of cider was just not an idea we grasped at the time. You get a couple big customers, you know, you're selling it in Costco, grocery stores, Targets — that moves a lot of volume and necessitates the need to scale up," Ruhland said.
Given Duluth’s limited supply of industrial spaces, the cider makers searched for over a year to find a new facility that could meet their production needs. Wild State Cider purchased the building at 500 S. 59th Ave. W. from Superior Packaging in September for $2.9 million. Construction has been underway since January.
Wild State occupies about a quarter of the space in the new facility it shares with six other tenants, including Superior Packaging, the J&RS renovation company and others. The new facility, along with fermentation, storage and canning upgrades, will allow them to produce up to 500,000 gallons — more than 12 million cans of cider annually. This places Wild State into the 20 largest alcohol producers in Minnesota.
"There is such a lack of awareness around cider, so by viewing the other cideries as competitors it creates a negative environment," Ruhland said. "More of what we need to do is have people understand that cider is a legitimate alternative to beer, seltzer and cocktail drinks, and it deserves a certain amount of space on the shelves or on the tap system in a restaurant. Fighting for the advocacy of cider as a category is a better way for us to go, especially as one of the larger producers in the state, than to view everyone else as competitors."
Each week, 5,500 gallons of apple juice arrive by truck and is transferred to a tank to ferment for 10-12 days. Then it goes into another tank to blend with bits of fruit, cider, spices and herbs before being filtered into a carbonation tank — a process that takes about a day and a half.
"The apple juice comes from Washington because there is not enough produced in Minnesota at the rate we need it, at the type we need it. There is only one place in Minnesota you can get juice by the tanker. Once it hits February, they're just pulling apples from all over the world. So while it's pressed in Minnesota, it's not actually Minnesota fruit at all," Ruhland said.
Next is the packaging process where the finished cider goes into a filling machine, travels into a pasteurizer, and is sterilized by a 40-minute hot water spray until it reaches the correct temperature to kill any remaining pathogens or yeast. There are several runways on the belt to build variety packs. The cans are packaged into boxes, placed on pallets and shipped to the distributor or taproom. Tanks are stored in a large cooler that is nearly four times the size of the old one, Ruhland said.
"Right now, we're shipping everything out immediately, so we're not storing very much," he added.
In 2020, Wild State joined 1% For The Planet , committing 1% of annual sales to nonprofits that help increase access to wild places for everyone. Wild State is also transitioning its branding to be more cohesive. There are five flagship flavors: Classic Dry, Pear, Raspberry Hibiscus, Hazy Pink Pineapple and Wild Apple (formerly Semi-Dry). New seasonal flavors and a specialty variety pack will be released this fall. All are natural craft ciders without added sugar, concentrates or sorbates.
While Wild State Cider currently doesn't offer CBD or THC beverages, Ruhland said they are watching upcoming legislation to see how it impacts the market. In the meantime, it offers co-packing for other local companies given the newfound ability to do so in the expanded production facility.
Two new large tanks are expected to arrive in April, with three more spots to add tanks in the future. There is a need to increase staffing of packaging assistants to operate the standard beverage packaging equipment.
"All these things are incremental upgrades as we grow because we want to have a better presentation on the shelf," Ruhland said. "Up until now, every variety pack was literally someone putting every can in a box and closing it. Now we can load them into this machine. It will pack them all. It will do three days worth of work in four hours. These are all very expensive pieces of equipment. Each one is an investment in and of itself. As we grow a little bit, it starts to make sense to automate things and have higher-skilled people that are just watching the machines more than just packing things."
With the move to the new facility, Wild State Cider sets up their next phase of growth, both in Minnesota and nationally. Its cider is currently sold in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Montana and Virginia.
"We've been itching to try and reach a little bit further. All of last year, we were just trying to make enough to sustain Minnesota for the most part. Now we are able to fulfill larger orders. We're not constrained anymore," Ruhland said.
The ability to produce more has opened Wild State Cider up to new markets, and will allow for additional growth. Categorized as a winery, Wild State must distribute through wholesalers, Ruhland explained. The company uses both internal and external sales teams.
"The fact that there are two cideries in Duluth, there are twice as many ways for people to learn about cider," he said. "To my understanding, both of us are doing quite well and there is a good following of people that understand and know about cider in Duluth. If there were more taprooms all over the state, there would probably be more cider consumers, eventually a bigger pie for all of us."
Since its start, Wild State has seen a shift where distribution has become the main revenue source, yet the taproom has grown at the same time, Ruhland said.
"Distribution has grown enough to become a bigger part in how we do our business," he said. "We wanted to start small and we knew the taproom would be important, but over time consumers in Minnesota have learned a lot more about cider and have been really supportive of our product."
The production equipment was removed from the taproom and the space is now sublet to the Grandma's Marathon group for race equipment storage.
"The taproom is just a little bigger now without the tanks in the back," he said.
With the added square footage in the remaining space, an event area and kitchen may be added in the future, he said.
"We’re proud to be a part of the growing cider industry both regionally and nationally, and look forward to continuing to bring the best of Minnesota-made ciders to our customers here and around the country," said Ruhland.