Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Tariq Ahmed, Founder of Revel Cider Co. Tariq is the 19th cider producer in Ontario and the youngest in North America. Revel Cider is currently housed within our incubator program, The Hub.
1. Tell me more about Revel Cider?
I’ve been making cider for 2 years now. I went and did an internship at ManoRun Organic Farm in Copetown, Ontario in 2013 because I wanted to learn more about growing plants, being in plant science and all. I found the position through the Craft Network, which is a group of farmers that get together to find interns. The farm had all the equipment to make alcohol including an old wine press and a grape grinder. First week into the internship, Chris Krucker and his family, who owned the farm, invited me up to the house for dinner since it was Mothers Day. He brought out all these bottles of home brew that he made 2 years prior and I started drinking them and all the sudden they were finished, big 750 ml bottles too! I loved it so I had to learn how to do it! Chris gave me the instructional book and the equipment and I taught myself on my off hours. After 9.5 hours of labour I would make alcohol! Chris also introduced me to Chris Howarth, who is the owner of West Avenue Cider Company, and was voted the top cider maker in the province last year. It is so awesome to be working with him now. He got in contact with me in August of 2014 after I had been calling him often to ask him for advice such as how he dealt with various legislations. Chris actually Twitter messaged me and asked if I was still looking for space to rent. I jumped on the opportunity and have been renting space since October and had the benefit of getting in on November’s apples!
2. What differentiates your cider from others?
Quite a lot! Biggest thing is it is actually made with apples- 100 percent fresh pressed apples with no added water or anything. Not many people know this but bigger companies don’t use fresh apples, they make cider with apple concentrate. Imagine instead of a winery using actual grapes grown on a vineyard, they buy minute maid grape concentrate from the grocery store and make wine out of that? My first release is called Hop X. This cider is dry hopped with 'Hop X,' a brand new Ontario hop varietal. Hop X gives the cider flavours and aromas of orange, strawberry, and lychee. Hops are common in beer, but you don’t get the bitter notes that you get in beer because we use them in a different way. The bitterness happens when you boil hops. We don’t boil cider or wine, only beer. My cider is also 6.9 percent alcohol, which is different!
3. How long does the cider making process take?
I took advantage of the November apples so there were 5 months of fermenting and 2-3 months of aging. I wanted to sell right away without aging but Chris encouraged me to put my best foot forward.
4. What inspired you to start your own business?
I didn’t want to work for someone else and I really love the independence. I have to say it’s the most stressful yet rewarding experience. I like to compare it to my internship on the farm. There are so many different things that go into running an organic vegetable farm- picking, weeding, making potting soil, selling at the farmers market. Same thing with a business! I get to explore the science aspect by actually making cider. It’s a lot of fun and you never get bored! When you put thousands of dollars into something that’s more than enough motivation to succeed! I do really love it.
5. What is the most rewarding part of owning Revel Cider?
I get to go to a bar or pub and order something that I made! That is an amazing feeling. Bringing people together over one thing is also hugely rewarding.
6. What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
My biggest obstacle was licensing and it was also my biggest worry! I have definitely hit a couple speed bumps along the way. I have my own provincial license - the province gives you the manufacturer's licence but since I’m working under West Avenue Cider, I can work under Chris’ federal license.
7. Have you had any mentors along the way?
I have had a lot of mentors! Everyone at CBaSE, especially Ahren, have been hugely helpful. As soon as I entered the Hub I was introduced to Innovation Guelph, where I met Steve Barrett and Monica Schut, they’re awesome. I also took one business course run by Fred Pries who brought in programming from the Guelph Wellington Business Enterprise Centre.
8. What is the main thing you took away from being a part of The Hub Incubator Program?
The main thing I took from the Hub is a tone of help through the workshops that they run. When we started, I had to work through incorporating and legal requirements. Then I moved into building the brand. The Hub also connected me with John Philips from the digital haptic lab at UofG who is making me the coolest tap handles ever!
9. How are you coping with your recent growth?
I’m not sleeping, that’s how I’m coping with it!
10. Where can we find Revel Cider?