Stem was founded by Eric Foster and Phil Kao, with the doors opening to the public in January, 2014. After a year of growing the business in the Denver area, Foster and Kao made the decision to purchase a bottling machine.
“We started distributing not long after we opened,” says Foster. “I think our first distribution of kegs went out in February, and the on-premise keg distribution has been fantastic for us.” Foster estimates that Stem delivers kegs to at least 40 accounts in Denver and the surrounding metro area.
Foster says that he and Kao planned to begin bottling sooner, but the business grew faster than they expected. “We were having a hard time keeping up with the keg demand and the demand in the tap room,” Foster explains. “So, as we started to build more and more awareness and got a lot more demand for product in bottles, we finally were able to purchase the bottling line and then release product in bottles, which has been very exciting.”
Bottled ciders were available first in the tap room, which shares a space with the cider-production facility. “We launched them just before Thanksgiving,” Foster says, “and then shortly thereafter out in the marketplace.” So far, Foster says, the reception to the line of bottled ciders has been positive.
Stem’s bottled ciders are available in 25 locations currently.“We are literally growing places that you can buy our product every day,” Foster says.
The new bottling machine, imported from Italy, fills four bottles at a time — and while it automates the bottle-filling process, it’s still a lot of work. “We run it with just my assistant cider-maker and myself,” says Kao, who heads up the cider-making side of business. “We just sit there and crank on it all day.”
Kao and his assistant can bottle about 100 cases of cider in one eight-hour day. “It’s a lot of work,” he says. “It’s not like you press a button that says ‘bottle.’ There’s a lot of work, moving around the machine.” The bottles are also capped by hand.
Kao runs the bottling machine about twice a month right now, depending on how much cider is on hand. With a larger quantity, the bottling work takes two days. “It’s pretty involved,’ he says, “just in terms of man-power, versus automation.”
Four of Stem’s ciders are available in bottes: Remedy, Le Chene, Malice and Banjo. Stem also plans to release bottles of Crabby Neighbor, a cider made from Granny Smith apples and crabapples.
Foster is in currently in discussions with distributors, to realize a plan to increase the number of locations where the bottled ciders may be purchased.
“We’re looking to keep growing in the area,” he says, “Our product will be available in a lot more places. We think it’s very exciting that you’re able to get Stem Ciders not just on draft, but in bottles. It’s an exciting time for us.”
“We’re growing every day,” he adds, “and we’re looking forward to continued growth.”
Bottles of Stem Cider can be purchased at Divino Wine & Spirits, Mondo Vino, Mr. B’s Wine and Spirits, and Grape Expectations.