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Rutgers grads giving it the old college try

Slowly, steadily entering growing cider market with Twisted Limb Hard Cider

Martin Willard and Frank Voris, top, founders and owners of Twisted Limb Hard Cider.-(PHOTOS BY AARON HOUSTON)

Frank Voris, Martin Willard and Michael DiLallo played rugby together at Rutgers University a decade ago.
Now, more than seven years after graduating, the trio still meet up not simply to have drinks, but also to create them, as founders and owners of Twisted Limb Hard Cider in Stillwater.

“We set (the cidery) up all on a shoestring budget to be what is now a smooth running operation,” Voris said. “And we’ve built a small name for ourselves, too.”

Instead of starting a brewery upon graduating in 2009, as they had intended, Voris, Willard and DiLallo took advantage of both the booming cider industry and New Jersey legislation that made it easier for farm-owned wineries to grow.

The men officially went into business in 2012 and were legally licensed to sell Twisted Limb Original Hard Cider and Bavarian Hard Cider in late 2014.

In their first year in business, they grossed over $20,000.

Frank Voris, co-founder and co-owner of Twisted Limb Hard Cider in Stillwater, said he and his team knew what they were getting into when they created a business in a heavily regulated industry.
“We would submit an application and (the state) would come back and say, ‘You also need to complete this,’” Voris said. “It was a lot of back and forth trying to figure things out.”
Now that they have a viable business, however, the restrictions are starting to weigh on the team — and take away time that can be better used towards growing the cidery.  
“For example, as of right now, we contribute very little in terms of taxes. We currently pay 15 cents a gallon,” Voris said. “So why is it that I have to file (tax) paperwork every two months — why can’t I do that yearly?
“I also have to submit a price list every month, even though prices haven’t changed since we started. If I don’t submit it, I’m fined.”

“This year, we’re projecting $30,000,” Voris said. “And the industry is seeing a solid 20 years of upward growth.”

The startup has come a long way. For one thing, the company has been entirely self-funded by their day jobs: Voris, a construction manager; Willard, in procurement; and DiLallo, a specialty foods buyer.

The men also manually constructed their barn, tasting room and production facility on Voris’ family’s farm in Stillwater from trees uprooted by Hurricane Sandy, and planted three acres of Harrison and Camfield apple trees in 2013.

However, the trees have yet to fruit.

That’s not a problem, in fact, it’s beneficial to the mission of their company.

“Having to (operate with) a wine license as opposed to a brewery license, I think, is a real benefit to us,” Voris said. “We’re in the agricultural industry as well as the liquor industry, so 51 percent of our product must be sourced from New Jersey.

“We do 100 percent and we like it that way. We like to support the New Jersey economy and its farmers.”

Twisted Limb Hard Cider is created entirely from locally sourced ingredients, such as apples from Bests Fruit Farm in Hackettstown and honey from Neshanic Valley Beekeepers in Somerville.

“Each bottle takes seven apples, one spoonful of honey, a bottle, cork, front and back label, and is aged for about a month in bourbon barrels made of oak,” Voris said.

The craft cider can be found in over a dozen liquor stores in New Jersey, including six locations of ShopRite Wines and Spirits, and a few bars in New York, such as McGettigan’s and Wassail in Manhattan, and The Owl Farm in Brooklyn.

“My friends will go to the liquor store and buy Twisted Limb Hard Cider to support our cause, even though they very well know that if they called me, I could give it to them,” Voris said.

As the fall season sets in, Voris said Twisted Limb will also be present at many of the popular beer festivals in the tristate area in order to push the product.

“Marketing is a very expensive thing and you can lose a lot of money quick, so we are not marketing to our full potential,” Voris said.

Collaborative competitors
Frank Voris, co-founder and co-owner of Twisted Limb Hard Cider in Stillwater, welcomes the addition of other cider companies nationwide.
“Competition is healthy, as it creates public knowledge,” he said. “If two other cider companies popped up in Stillwater, then I would think that the market is saturated. But until that day, I don’t think the market is going to fizzle.”
In fact, Voris said, the cider industry’s current growth keeps all of the players fresh.
“I’ll read through The Craft Cider Journal to see who else is out there, what they are doing and learn from them,” he said. “The North East Cider Trail also approached us and asked if we would like to be a part of an East Coast association of craft cider makers.
“My hope is that we will have an annual meeting somewhere to discuss the happenings in the region. That would be good for the industry.”

It’s one of the many facets of business the trio would like to concentrate on in the future.

“We’d also like to have five to six solid products in our portfolio and would eventually like to purchase a farm and automate our equipment in order to increase our production,” Voris said. “Right now, we do everything by hand.”

One of the biggest challenges, he added, is finding the time to do everything.

“There are grant programs for agricultural endeavors, which we have not yet taken advantage of and we’d like to,” Voris said. “It’s just that, between our day jobs and creating Twisted Limb Hard Cider, we don’t have much time to look for those available funds.”

In addition to being able to soon produce the cider full-time, Voris said his measure of success is learning from his customers how much they enjoy their product.

“I was at my uncle’s for dinner, for example, when my uncle said, ‘You have to try this cider,’ ” Voris said. “It turned out to be ours. People who I don’t know bought my uncle our cider and that connection made its way back to me. That definitely makes this all worthwhile.”

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On Twitter: @megfry3

Meg Fry

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