The owners of Happy Apples are partnering with Nobletons Distilling House to create the apple company’s first adult beverage.
The company plans to open a tasting room and distillery at its orchards in Marthasville on Oct. 15 called Nobletons Distilling House at Happy Apples Orchard.
Nobletons — the maker of Duckett Rum, People’s Gin and other spirits — has moved from Beaufort, where it was founded in 2017, to Marthasville, where it will be using Happy Apples’ juice to make Marville Apple Brandy, the name being a play on the orchard’s location.
This is the first time the caramel apple and apple cider producer is branching into the adult beverage market.
The expansion comes as Happy Apples explores ways to recoup revenue lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, Happy Apples co-owner Ed Reidy said. Demetrius Cain, owner of Nobletons, said the distillery will be open year-round. He said tours of the orchard and distillery will cost about $15 to $20 and include information about the orchard, the fermentation and distilling processes, and a tasting at the end of the tour.
Reidy said construction on the 7,500-square-foot barn-style distillery and tasting room is expected to begin in late winter, with details on cost and a builder to come.
Reidy owns Happy Apples with his wife, Joette, whose father, Steve Lochirco, founded Happy Apples 51 years ago. Reidy declined to share details about the partnership with Nobletons, but he said the companies would “split” the revenue.
Cain said he takes pride in sourcing high-quality ingredients locally, which is why he approached Happy Apples about a year ago. He said much of the brandy consumed in America comes from Europe, and he would love for Nobletons to become a bulk producer of brandy.
Currently Cain is the only distiller, but he has a few employees for sales and distribution. Nobletons ships to 42 states. He expects the first bottles of unaged apple brandy to be available in late spring, with aged bottles ready by fall.
The pandemic forced Happy Apples’ owners to reimagine their business model. With the rise in popularity of hard ciders and difficulties arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, Reidy said Cain couldn’t have approached him at a better time.
Like with most businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic made operations difficult for Happy Apples. Reidy said most of his problems have centered around transportation.
Previously, the company owned its own freight line, LFP Transport, which would deliver apples during the fall and ship other goods for other companies during the offseason.
Reidy said it wasn’t possible to keep the business, which employed 10 people and had 12 trucks before the pandemic. The company’s warehouse is now a cross dock facility.
Now, Reidy said he has to outsource his shipping, the price of which has “doubled, tripled and quadrupled.”
Reidy said the changes in shipping have also been felt in the production lines.
“The big problem in business is instability,” Reidy said. For example, Reidy said that he usually orders the sticks for caramel apples from China in January. Most years, they arrive in Franklin County midsummer, in plenty of time for fall harvest. This year, the sticks didn’t get to Los Angeles until August. Reidy said if his broker hadn’t gone to the port in Los Angeles in person, the sticks might still be sitting there today. Cardboard boxes, too, are in short supply because of the high demand for online shopping, and rising petroleum prices have driven up the price of plastics, which Happy Apples uses for packaging.
“It’s been a hectic, crazy year. And expensive,” Reidy said.
Unlike other businesses, Happy Apples has not faced labor shortages, which Reidy attributes to a wage increase to $14.50 an hour and the employment of migrant workers. But workers in the fields are picking fewer apples because of a late frost in the spring that Reidy said killed about 90 percent of the apples in the company’s orchard in Marthasville and more apples around the country. He said he’s never seen the price of apples so high.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that the weighted average price in the Midwest region for a 3-pound bag of Jonathan apples, the variety Happy Apples grows, is $3.06 this week — up from $2.43 a year ago.
Reidy said his prices for retailers buying caramel apples have increased about 12 percent, though he said he wasn’t sure what that would look like for a normal consumer. Because the company has raised the prices of its apples, Reidy said he is expecting revenue to be up, and though his costs also are up, he’s confident that Happy Apples will end the year in the black.