BAKER CITY — Like most other business owners over the past 18 months, Mark Crowder has felt the effects of the pandemic.
And Crowder, who is Baker County’s only commercial hard cider maker, is ready to move toward a more normal situation.
Crowder, who started Rain Barrel Ciderworks in 2019 in Baker City, said one of the challenges during the pandemic has been to preserve the quality of his perishable product.
“Just trying to keep the cider from spoiling because I keep it in storage,” Crowder said. “I’ve been keeping them in these totes which I ferment them in, but to avoid oxidation I had to switch to a new storage means, and that allowed me to keep the cider from getting oxidized and going bad so I can keep it for several months longer then I would normally like to kept it before releasing. So I found ways to work around it, basically.”
With restaurants and bars closed or severely restricted for much of 2020 and into 2021, Rain Barrel Ciderworks suffered due to the lack of wholesale orders.
So Crowder, who previously had sold most of his cider in kegs, decided to focus on bottling his product to broaden his retail sales options.
“I only had done a couple of limited bottlings of two of my ciders so far,” he said.
He had to buy some new equipment to facilitate the bottling.
Although it’s been a tough year and a half, Crowder, who moved to Baker City in 2017, credits places such as Terminal Gravity Brewing in Enterprise and Great Pacific in Pendleton for helping to keep his cidery going.
Crowder’s hard cider is also on tap at North Seven Brewing, Baker City’s newest brew pub that opened earlier this summer.
“During the winter to have people isolated in little individual tents, so they can have some limited seating, things like that,” Crowder said of the brewpubs’ various improvisations to meet COVID-19 safety regulations. “I was able to keep relationships like that going forward.”
Since its inception, Rain Barrel Ciderworks has been able to branch out in regards to flavors.
Starting off with both apple and cherry, Crowder has now begun to produce guava hard cider, and he’s preparing to produce cranberry hard cider.
“I have a guava cider right now that I am really happy with,” said Crowder, who started brewing beer while he was in college in 1991 and made his first batch of hard cider in 2009. “I am still doing the cherry. I have the apple, which is a semi dry. I have a cranberry that I just started and that’s going to be more of a fall release. It’s going to be a fun one.”
Looking to the future, Crowder is excited to continue to build business relationships in Eastern Oregon and to continue bottling his products.
“(Bottling) gives me a new avenue for sales,” Crowder said. “I’m just really trying to get out and interface with bars and restaurants, trying to get the ciders out to more bars and places.”