Ever since I got my college diploma I vowed to never drink crappy beer again. I turned my back on Keystone Light and looked forward to the craft selection on the horizon. Recently I’ve taken a liking to hard cider, but I haven’t found one that I can really dedicate myself to, so imagine how pleased I was to be able to talk to somebody who brews craft cider!
I talked to Jake Schiffer, the founder of Leprechaun Cider, a Houston-based hard cider brewery about what sets him apart from the competition and why he’s dedicating his life to “the Leprechaun.”
What is Leprechaun Cider?
Leprechaun hard ciders are artisan-made alcoholic beverages, made in the European fashion, one batch at a time. Unlike most of the hard ciders on the market, we use only fresh apple juice and ferment it with champagne yeast, then add back fresh juice for flavor and color.
We use no added sugars, artificial flavors or malic acid. We like to make the analogy of the cider category we are trying to help build in the market across the country – most ciders on the market are like boxed wine in terms of manufacturing and price, where Leprechaun Ciders are more comparative to premium wine blends in manufacturing, complexity, and balance.
What was the inspiration?
Throughout high school and college, I traveled extensively through Europe. On my travels to England I fell in love with hard cider, which has traditionally been extremely popular there.
When I came home, I realized that, although there are American hard ciders, none of them were of the quality I had in the British Isles or in other European countries like France or Italy.
Why the name?
I had already decided to start my own cider company when, during a semester abroad in Ireland, I heard the real story of the Leprechaun from an old man in a pub in the Ring of Kerry. I knew immediately that that would be the name of and the story behind my brand.
The real story of the Leprechaun is an ancient legend that is nothing like the story everyone thinks they know. The real story is about loyalty and revenge – a really dramatic tale. The name also pays tribute to my time spent in Ireland – a time when I learned so much about the Gaelic culture, which I really love.
How did you get Leprechaun Cider on the shelves?
Because we are an alcoholic beverage, by law we have to work through a distributor. We talked to a number of distributors in the Houston area, and ultimately chose Duff Distributing, a small distribution. They are a craft beer distribution but have now merged with another distribution named Favorite Brands, who specialize in local Texas craft beers.
Getting on the shelves is easier with demand and we are proud to say that within the last two years we have grown unbelievably fast in terms of presence on shelves.
Tell me about the brewing process.
Leprechaun Cider Company is a Texas-owned company and based out of Houston. The cider apples are produced out of the largest orchard in Oregon due to the fact that our recipe calls for “cider apples” (green apples, not dessert apples, which do not grow in Texas).
The recipe is actually a brand new recipe based off of relatively old techniques in making cider. We never use any apple concentrate. All apple juice used in Leprechaun Ciders is from handpicked apples.
We crush the apples and ferment the juice in a premium champagne yeast. This is a very old practice in producing our version of cider. The biggest key of our cider production is that to sweeten our ciders to our unique taste we never add back any artificial sweeteners- sugars, acids, essences, etc. We only add back fresh crushed apple juice. 6.9 percent abv and 100 percent gluten free.
What is the biggest lesson you've learned since you got started?
The biggest lesson is never to assume anything. Never assume anything is being done. Never assume you are doing everything there is to be done. And never assume when things are “okay” that they are really okay. Check on everything and then check it again.
What's next for Leprechaun Cider?
Next on the agenda is to continue growing Leprechaun Ciders in the great states we are in. We have only skimmed the surface of all places to sell Leprechaun Cider and especially all the people to try Leprechaun Ciders.
My personal goal is to get every single adult in the state of Texas to try at least a two ounce sample of Leprechaun Cider once – then let them make their own judgment on ciders.