Cidergeist: Innovation Meets Design
You may have found yourself with a bit of extra free time over the past year. Maybe you spent it honing your bread game, laying the groundwork for a future in the baking arts. Maybe you learned how to play an instrument, mystifying your pets and neighbors every evening with muffled messages from secret wonky worlds. Maybe you took up chess, read a couple books that have been staring you since you put together your Billy bookshelf, or just binged a bunch of tv shows. Nobody’s judging—it was a strange year.
We spent our time doing what we love most of all: experimenting with new and interesting fermented beverages. Specifically, we invested time into our ciders, a category in our portfolio that we love riffing on but often takes a back seat to our hop- and malt-driven brews. At its most basic, cider flavor is a balance of sugar, acid and tannin that all comes from the simple starting point of apple juice. This simplicity makes it the perfect canvas for endlessly rewarding flavor experimentation and innovation. If you’re a fan of the apple and all of its fermentable potential, new and unexpected flavor combinations in general, or just curious about the reasoning and process hiding behind the design of your favorite can, read on—this one’s for you.
People choose to drink cider over (or in addition to) beer for all sorts of reasons. Cider is often a touch sweeter than most beer. If dank, piney hops or dark roasted malts have never been your thing, you may have gravitated to cider at some point in your adult life. Another reason may be ingredient-based: wheat and other malts aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, and if you either can’t have certain ingredients for dietary reasons—or simply would prefer not to—cider presents an alternative to malt-based beverages. Finally, you may just be promiscuous in your drinking, preferring to switch it up as much as possible. No matter where you fall on this list, Cidergeist has something to offer.
Cider can be a challenging endeavor for a brewery as devoted to the hop as we are at Rhinegeist, though. “Cider is more like wine than beer,” notes Cole Hackbarth, Director of Brewery Operations at Rhinegeist. “As the flavors are primarily fruit and yeast derived, there aren’t as many ways to manipulate flavor profiles as there are with hops or other adjuncts. This makes sourcing raw materials and yeast selection very important in cider to maintain consistency and quality year over year.”
There are certainly ways to get creative, though. While we definitely gave a nod to fans of traditional, straightforward hard cider with Zappy, our first Cidergeist release of 2021, we headed off the beaten path for more unexplored terrain with the rest of the releases. The overarching goal for the Cidergeist lineup is to create variety and bring some fresh flavors to our cider program. Semi-dry (renamed Zappy) and Swizzle were popular favorites already, but we thought it was time to reinvigorate the cider fam with some of the innovation that we have been developing at a small scale for some time.
The Voice of the Orchard
We showcased some interesting fruit combinations (including the apple) in our Fruited Ales. For our ciders, we decided to highlight the orchard, focusing on the apple (or pear in addition to apple in one case) and letting other, non-fruit ingredients shine a spotlight on the apple’s delicious simplicity. In this way, our ciders would be distinguished from Fruited Ales while keeping roots in the cider tradition. “With Bloom we decided to use pear, as it is often used to make traditional ciders exclusively or as a blend with apple,” says Hackbarth. “We added some elderflower to give a dry floral note and evoke memories of springtime in the orchard. Beezy was designed to feature the MVP of the orchard, the honey bee. Apples require cross pollination to fruit, and bees do the heavy lifting every summer. So a cider with a sweet honey addition made perfect sense and supports an industry that we depend on, for not only apples but the rest of our food chain.” Snug, another release from last year, incorporates a five spice blend to evoke flavors of apple turnover and other fall- and winter-related baked goods associated with apple season.
Innovation Meets Design
Our production team was having so much fun experimenting with ciders that our design team decided to get in on the action. To give the new additions to Cidergeist family a proper welcome, we launched a new can design concurrently with their release.
Not to get too bogged down in technical details, we had to complete design well in advance to stay ahead of the timeline for this year’s Cidergeist release. Which is just to say that the liquid intention needs to be done as early as possible, as predicting a final recipe so far in advance can be tricky. Our innovation team is continually working in several different directions to keep ideas both fresh and versatile, and in order to work both quickly and creatively on design, we have to be pretty honed in on inspiration as a team. Which, luckily, we find plenty of wherever we look.
Wherever you go, there you are.
“We’re really motivated by the idea that the packaging and the branding should be an homage to the product inside,” says Greg Althoff, Creative Director at Rhinegeist. “Our ciders are really great, award-winning stuff, and we think they deserve to be seen and enjoyed by as many people as possible. We felt like there was more potential in that regard.”
In order to tap into that potential, we set out to create a cider brand that feels like it comes from “orchard” where Rhinegeist continues to grow— Cincinnati’s historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. “OtR is a very eclectic neighborhood with a lot of history,” notes Althoff. “It’s a neighborhood full of culture, artists, and entrepreneurs—creative, interesting people always trying to do something new and improve the neighborhood in various ways. We wanted the Cidergeist design to feel like something the neighborhood might enjoy—rooted, but fresh and modern as well.”
The resulting cider family is just that—an eclectic mix of (brands) that has something to offer everybody, from fans of straightforward, traditional hard ciders to cocktail aficionados always on the hunt for something new and different. Next time you’re whiling away some down time and you’re itching for something a bit out of the ordinary, maybe it’s time to grab the latest Cidergeist.