Albany has a history rich with hops, having been the home of several breweries throughout the Capital City’s 300-plus years.
“Alcoholic beverages are in the city’s DNA,” said Joe Bonilla, a spokesperson for Nine Pin Cider Works, as he invokes the names of breweries from the past. Dobler, Beverwyck and Hedrick – beer companies that used to pepper the young city’s landscape almost as prevalent as the number of church steeples along the Hudson River.
As a young start-up, Nine Pin has ventured into a different avenue of alcoholic beverages: a business model only put into place at the beginning of last year. Taking fermented apple cider and selling it to a sophisticated consumer market with an ever-maturing pallet for something different at the bar.
Nine Pin uses apples and other fruits sourced exclusively from Albany, Columbia, Fulton and Saratoga counties. They are New York’s first licensed farm cidery licensee, and their products are found in more than 450 bars, restaurants, and retailers across the state. They distribute to Buffalo, Plattsburgh and New York City out of their 18,000 square foot factory space on Broadway in Albany. The company has room for potential growth, as they use approximately half of the physical footprint. As an economic advantage, they store the aging cider in hard plastic bins. The bins come at a cost of approximately $100 a piece, compared to $20,000 it costs to purchase a single, stainless steel tan, of which the proprietor hopes to ultimately have many in the vacant space.
“[Hard] cider is a new thing,” said Alejandro del Peral, Nine Pin proprietor and cider maker. “When we started out a year and a half ago, sampling people, people had no idea what cider even was. It’s pretty awesome that people have embraced it though us.” More cider companies have cropped up into the alcohol industry recently, but “I feel like we’ve been the trendsetters. In many ways, we have,” he said.
The inspiration behind starting the company bares roots from growing up in Ghent, said del Peral, where his family owned approximately 50 apple trees. In the Taconic Hills of Columbia County, the del Peral family was surrounded by commercial orchards. The community as a whole is largely dependent upon local agriculture, that includes dairy, beef and poultry. Apple orchards, of course, being the largest among them all. “It’s always been a part of who I am. … I’m proud of the apple heritage New York state has.”
Nine Pin established its headquarters on North Albany’s Broadway, right in Tipper’s shadow, in a neighborhood that once bustled with an assortment of business. Broadway was the main artery for transportation north to West Troy and beyond before the 1920s. Every bit of business that left Albany, went through Broadway.
And, then, it died away. Until recently.
“The warehouse district has been experiencing an organic revitalization movement,” said Bonilla, “where entrepreneurs are coming into Albany with a dream and with the expectations from other places, or just the idea, to capitalize upon New York state’s craft beverage movement. You have Albany Distilling, you have Nine Pin Cider, Druthers (Brewing) all opening up within three years of now. You’re seeing Albany being marketed as a capital, not only of the State but also of craft beverage production.”
For the 28-year-old del Peral, the expectations are home grown, and his idea to capitalize here in Albany has more to do with strategy.
“We have the second biggest apple crop in the entire country located right within 50 miles of the city,” said del Peral. “It’s the proximity of Albany to a humongous apple crop, which makes this a good spot for this apple cider company. Part of it [also] comes from the pride of being from this area, but it was a combination of those two things. It really is such a great location for producing cider because of the apples.”
Last week the cider brewery achieved a milestone, introducing a new assembly line in preparation for a new Signature Can product line. What had been bottled by hand, will also be sold in 12 ounce cans. A custom conveyor machine feeds empty cans into an apparatus that fills the cans with cider and carbonation, seals the cans, and sends them off to be placed into four-packs.
“We’ve got a real serious piece of equipment here for the first time,” said del Peral. “We’re really excited about it. The speed in which we can do things is amazing.” In three days, Nine Pin has packaged more than 20,000 12-ounce cans, at a rate of 40 cans a minute. del Peral said that kind of output out paces their old standard six-fold.
The new can represents the next chapter in the company’s growth.
A four-pack of cans will retail between $10 and $12. Nine Pin started distributing the cans this Monday, and plan a Signature Can release for Saturday, June 13.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.