Mountain West Cider
Turning Passion into a Business
by Richard Markosian
Jennifer Carleton and her husband, Jeff, “have never been big beer drinkers and generally gravitate to wines and mixed drinks.” But after a visit to Ireland, they became “hooked on ciders.” They especially loved the hand-crafted ciders available at the pubs they visited. “The dry, gluten free, crisp refreshing taste was a perfect fit for my palate and system,” Jennifer says, and she and Jeff believed they could turn their passion into a business.
Mountain West Cider (MWC) currently produces four year-round cider offerings with an additional handful of small batch specialty ciders that are released on a quarterly basis. They started with Ruby, a traditional dry, English style cider, and added Cottonwood, (with Centennial Hops), Desolation (fermented with the addition of Prickly Pear), and 7 Mile, our 5% ABV Session cider with hints of green apple.
The Carletons also released some small batch barrel aged ciders (Stillwater), and a collaboration with the local non profit, Green Urban Lunchbox. GULB, is a bottle conditioned cider that includes over 20 varieties of harvested fruit picked from trees in and around Salt Lake City. A significant portion of GULB sales is donated to the non profit on behalf of five local food banks. All of their ciders have won medals and judges choice awards at national and international cider judging competitions.
“We take great pride in the fact that all of our ciders are currently sourced from local or regional orchards in Payson and Santaquin, UT, and Hotchkiss, CO,” says Jennifer.
Jennifer and Jeff were both career professionals in the financial services industry. Jennifer still works full time for a Financial Services company and focuses on MWC in her off hours and weekends. Jeff left the industry last year to dedicate his time and attention to growing the business.
With Utah’s quirky liquor laws, why did they choose the Beehive state for their business?
The Carletons say that Utah has presented some challenges in a number of less than obvious ways. “Utah has a lot of unique alcohol rules in general,” Jennifer says, “and because we’re technically a wine by Utah statute, we’re presented with some additional challenges since Utah is not generally known as a big wine state. We’re working with the state legislature to update those laws that relate to cider, and with some good fortune we’ll be in a better place later this year. Like everyone in the alcohol industry in Utah, you have to pay attention to the details, but the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC), is pretty helpful in providing guidance and answering questions.”
So far, Mountain West Cider has not received any outside funding. But the Carletons say they aren’t opposed to seeking funding to continue growth after reaching production capacity, and they hope to get their product into cans. “The ‘want’ list just keeps growing,” they say.
Jennifer says that distribution (as every beverage manufacturer learns) is the biggest challenge. She says that the the Utah bar and restaurant community have been very supportive, and she is highly grateful for her amazing sales representative, Laci Brown, who has “single handedly exceeded our sales and distribution expectations.” Mountain West Ciders can be found in all of the state liquor and wine stores and in restaurants and bars across Utah.
Mountain West’s goals are to remain a regional cidery, but they are currently talking to distributors in New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho and Wyoming, where they expect to distribute soon. Mountain West recently entered the restaurant business when they open “The Garten,” which they envisioned as a European-style beer garden. They plan to operate six months a year and feature live entertainment.