Bee-coming A Cidermaker
Our bread and butter is marketing and public relations exclusively for food and beverage brands, but we also work to celebrate the industry as a whole. We believe meaningful conversation is best cultivated with hospitality and a good drink--sometimes wine, sometimes beer, and sometimes cider.
Here is our conversation with Courtney Mailey, founder and owner of Blue Bee Cider in Richmond, Virginia. We talk about the history of Harrison apples, the craziness of high school career aptitude tests, and the challenges cideries face in comparison to breweries. It’s a wild ride full of agriculture, alcohol, and the cider mafia.
Be sure to stop by Blue Bee Cider in the old city stables in Scott’s Addition at 1320 Summit Ave. in Richmond, VA. Learn more on their website.
Q & A
Q. You did not get your start in cider?
A. Correct. So in high school I took the career test like everybody else did in the 11th grade. And I came out as a farmer, so I was like well this test is stupid, it doesn’t know anything. I didn’t have any exposure to farming really. So I didn’t understand that it’s a serious business just like everything else. No matter how big or small your farm is, it still has to make sense.
Q. So how did you transition into cider?
A. I guess I was 38, and knew that I wanted to be in my own business by the time I was 40. Quit my job on Friday, and then the next day went to cider school in Cornell in New York. Cider school for beginners, they don’t really take you through the fermentation process. It’s theory, but it’s not hands on. And then I apprenticed at Albemarle Ciderworks for a year, and that’s really where I got more of the nitty gritty of what I didn’t know. The craft beer boom kind of changed the whole business plan. And the demand for our cider was outstripping our ability to make it. And then we relocated here, and learning how to operate a facility and four different buildings with a team of 15 people where we used to have 3. So we’ve been going through all kinds of growth as a company and I’m going through growth as a person trying to figure out how to make it work. Because the margins on agriculture are pretty slim, and how do people make a living at it?
Q. Isn't agriculture one of Virginia’s biggest industries?
A. Yes, it is. Yep. Agriculture, forestry, and tourism. Those are the biggies in Virginia, so we do them all here! We do them all. I don’t think I would have started if I knew how hard it was going to be. So I’m glad I didn’t know that. But it was certainly difficult, and it’s still difficult. I mean this is a very hard business. And there is never a point where you lay back and you say, oh we’ve made it. I mean I’m very jealous over my inventory, it’s not like a brewer where I can just turn around and make it again in 2 weeks. We have 1 harvest, and that’s what we live off of for 12 months out of the year. We have to manage it properly. There cannot be mistakes. But if we make just a little bit less than what we thought we needed, I could be shut down for a month--that’s crazy.
Q. How do you balance that nice meaningful interaction with your guests and a busy Saturday where the line might be out the door?
A. You know, I guess one of the good things about being a cidery is we’re never going to have the onslaught that breweries have. Flights have been one way that we’re able to get cider in their hands with some education. Because education is really important to us. But we still offer tastings, just at designated points throughout the day. And tours have been another way that we kind of make the educational component richer.