By: Chris Wise
By the time Lenny Ciolek founded McKenzie’s Hard Cider in 2011 he already had 35 years of experience in the beverage industry. Ciolek started driving a keg truck during college, and after graduating went to work as a salesman for Anhueser-Busch. He then went to work for Heineken and Beck’s before stepping back from the alcohol industry to begin his own non-alcoholic beverage distributor in Virginia. After only 2 years, Ciolek sold the business and began working for Corona. Ciolek worked in their East Coast development office, trying to increase the popularity of Corona on the East Coast.
Fast forward to 2011; Ciolek has just finished working with Mikes Hard Lemonade after helping it become one of the largest flavored malt beverages in America. Ciolek’s work at Mikes came after helping Smirnoff premiere its line of Ice beverages at the Diageo Casino in Las Vegas. After being involved in the launch of two of the largest flavored malt beverages in America, Lenny Ciolek believes he sees an emerging market in the flavored alcohol industry: hard ciders.
After he decided his next adventure would be into hard ciders, the next step seemed like a no-brainer to Ciolek: get in touch with the best apple cider makers around, the Mayer Brothers. The Mayer Brothers have been making cider since 1852, which gives them over 150 years of experience in cider production. Mayer Brothers Cider had always been a favorite of Ciolek, so when he found himself entering the hard cider business, reaching out to the Mayer Brothers made the most sense. Thankfully, Mayer Brothers were more than happy to help Ciolek, and a partnership was formed that would give McKenzie’s access to the largest cider maker in the United States.
After coming up with his product and how he would produce it, Ciolek still had to land on a name. Ciolek found inspiration in the recent passing of his brother-in-law. Named after his wife’s maiden name, McKenzie’s Hard Cider was officially born in June of 2011 in Buffalo, New York. Initially, McKenzie only sold to markets around their hometown and in Vermont. Now, only two years after its founding, McKenzie’s is sold in 13 states, and currently ranks third in hard ciders in those states in which they sell. According to Ciolek, “By 2014, we plan to sell McKenzie’s in at least 35 states, and hope to reach the number two spot for those states. We want to have a presence in all 50 states by 2015.”
McKenzie’s explosive expansion has been quite impressive, especially when you consider McKenzie’s is a “mom and pop” start-up in the true sense of the word. Lenny Ciolek and his wife were the only two employees until just recently, when Ciolek has had to add salesmen to his team to keep up with the growth. This growth is not surprising considering public’s response since the release of McKenzie’s.
Since the first bottling in June of 2011, McKenzie’s has added an additional four varieties to their Original Hard Cider, bringing the total to five varieties. McKenzie’s has done well at the competitions they have entered, including winning Third Highest Overall Product in Competition at the 2012 New York Wine and Food Classic. At the same competition, McKenzie’s also took home two silver medals, and their Black Cherry cider was awarded a Double Gold Medal after receiving a 98% rating, the second highest rating overall at the competition.
With the leaves changing color, the air getting colder, and (thank god) football on TV again, try one of McKenzie’s five varieties for a crisp, refreshing drink this fall.
Original– Silver at 2012 NY Wine & Food Classic
The original hand-pressed hard cider is reminiscent of its UK relatives. This cider is refreshing with a medium body while not being too dry, and offering a crisp apple finish. Spirited and flavorful, this cider is the painstaking perfection of American hard cider making tradition.
Black Cherry– Double Gold at 2012 NY Wine & Food Classic
One of McKenzie’s most popular offerings, the Black Cherry Cider is a truly unique hard cider. Reserved for the darkest of hearts, Black Cherry has a rich amber base, full body, and refreshing finish of black cherry. Just remember, the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice…
Green Apple – Silver at 2012 NY Wine & Food Classic
Packing a more powerful kick than the other ciders McKenzie’s offers, the Green Apple Hard Cider has a deliciously crisp, slightly tart bite of green apples. Coming in at 6% ABV, the Green Apple Hard Cider is a swift kick in the taste buds, best enjoyed chilled and enjoyed often.
McKenzie’s Seasonal Reserve Hard Cider is flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg which gives the cider a heaping of spicy goodness. Aromatic fall flavors warm you from the inside out, and chase away the chill on those cold nights. According to Lenny Ciolek, this cider tastes just like Grandma’s homemade apple pie used to.
One of the only lemonade and cider combination beverages in the U.S., Lazy Lemon combines the crisp bite of hard ciders with the sweet and sour flavors of lemonade to create a truly refreshing beverage.
McKenzie’s Hard Ciders are proudly distributed locally by Galli Beer Distributing Company.