It took Michael O’Brien months to get the federal and state permits to sell his hard apple cider, and he even had to get help from U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield.
But the business, which secured all of the permits in August, has taken off like gangbusters, he said.
O’Brien and his son, Anderson, 17, make L.L. Draughon’s Fishing Creek Hard Cider, an apple cider with 81/2 percent alcohol. They produce the cider on their flower and soybean farm in Whitakers using some apples that are grown there.
“I’m having a lot of trouble with the deer eating them,” O’Brien said. “I’m having to supplement my apples with N.C. mountain apples. Eventually, if I can get the deer under control, we’ll use our own apples.”
Even though the business only has been selling since August, the cider already has landed on the shelves of numerous stores and restaurants. In Rocky Mount, he has been selling the cider, which retails for $18 a bottle, at Milton & Miles, a restaurant in The Imperial Centre, and the Rocky Mount Farmers Market. It also is available in Tarboro at On The Square.
The cider also is being sold in two businesses in Raleigh, five in Chapel Hill, including several restaurants and bars on Franklin Street, and at several stores in Greenville.
He’s recently added a second fermentation tank to produce more cider, and is planning to add another in the near future to keep up with demand.
“I’ve been just absolutely as pleased as I can possibly be,” he said, referring to the cider’s sales. “I’m averaging probably three cases every Saturday morning at the Farmers Market. Most everywhere I go, restaurants and bars are buying at least a half a case, if not a whole case, to try the cider.”
The cider is named after his great-grandfather, L.L. Draughon. The label on the bottle has a picture of him with a stoic look in a suit and tie. The first batch of the cider was produced in a carboy that his grandfather used to transport water to the Nash County farm from Panacea Springs in Halifax County.
O’Brien said his grandfather was a teetotaler.
“It’s kind of a little bit of a tongue-in-cheek thing,” he said.
Q: What products or services do you provide?
A: One product, Fishing Creek Hard Cider. It’s a 750-milliliter champagne bottle full of sparkling hard apple cider. We make it in a converted grain bin. ... We’re up and running now. The taste reminds most people of champagne. It’s similar to sparkling wines. It’s made from apples instead of grapes. That’s a huge difference.
There are versions of hard cider in the grocery store, but they bear little resemblance to what I make. It is not sweet at all. It’s very dry, and mine is carbonated, probably more than those in the grocery store. Mine is just rather different from them. I’ve always been fascinated by growing apples and making things out of apples, especially juice.
Q: Who are your key leaders?
A: Michael O’Brien and my son, Anderson. My son is 17 and helps me on a voluntary basis. Despite his age, he’s pretty mature, and I rely on him for a lot. The mechanical decisions are mostly his. ... I’m sort of the one who makes decisions about the cider itself.
Q: What makes your business unique?
A: Because there is no one else doing this in North Carolina outside of the mountains. I’m the only one outside of the North Carolina mountains in the whole state, so I serve the central and eastern part of the state.
Q: What is your business philosophy?
A: To try to make a top product at a fair price.
Q: What kind of growth has your company experienced in recent years?
A: I’ve been just as absolutely pleased as I can possibly be. (Hard cider) is very trendy now. For once in my life, I’m ahead of the curve.
Q: What kind of growth do you expect in the coming years?
A: I’m planning to either double or triple my production immediately. I’ll be adding a third (fermentation tank) in a month or so. I think it’s an up-and-coming product and I’m in a position to take advantage of that.