Has Colorado reached "peak beer?" Our state may be known for its ales, but there's something new fermenting in the mountains. In this episode, we get to know the makers behind EsoTerra Cider, Mesa Park Vineyards, and Oh Hi THC Seltzers. Our host Margaret Hedderman takes us on a road trip through western Colorado as she visits these industry pioneers.

Listen now on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify. Find the full transcript below. 

About the Businesses

EsoTerra Cider is at the forefront of a budding craft cider scene in Montezuma County. Sourcing local apples from historic orchards, Elizabeth Philbrick and Jared Scott produce old world artisnal hard cider. This episode explores how they're not only building a business, but supporting the growth of a new industry.  In 2021, they picked up several prestigious international awards from the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition. You can purchase their cider online or in person at their taproom in Dolores, CO. 

In 2018, Laura and Brandon Black left Denver and purchased Mesa Park Vineyards in Palisade, CO. Both were new to the wine industry and faced a steep learning curve. In this episode, we hear what drove them to invest in a new lifestyle and industry in rural Colorado. Mesa Park recently won the Best of the West winery award and a gold medal at the annual Governor's Cup competition. Find their wine online or in-person at the winery. 

Oh Hi THC Beverages is at the forefront of the cannabis drink industry. Founded by Matt Vincent (of Ska Brewing and Ska Fabricating), Aaron Miles (Durango Organics), and Jonny Radding (Durango Organics), Oh Hi is one of the few water-soluble THC infused drinks on the market. In this episode, we go behind the scenes with Oh Hi's co-founder Matt Vincent, Director of Operations John Lynch, and Production Manager Erik Maxson to find out it all works. 

Beyond Craft Brew Transcript

Margaret: Hey, I’m Margaret Hedderman.

 

Delaney: And I’m Delaney Keating.

 

Margaret: So, you’re my boss, right? Well, I wanted to let you know what I’ve been working on this summer.

 

Delaney: Margaret, what have you been working on this summer?

 

Margaret: Well, I went on a drinking tour of Colorado. But it’s ok - it was for work. Anyway, Colorado is known for its craft beer, right? Pretty much every town has a brewery. Like Durango, where I live, has six breweries, I think. And this all started, kind of in the late 1980s, 1990s and gradually, over the years, craft beer became Colorado’s thing. 

 

But now, it’s almost at the point, where, it feels like we’ve reached peak beer. But what’s really cool, is that we’re now starting to see new types of adult drinks being made throughout the state - whiskey, rum, cider, wine, and, of course, cannabis drinks. So, I wanted to meet the entrepreneurs who are leading, this kind of, next phase.  

 

Delaney - I am so excited about this episode and not just because I get to drink during it! But, truly, this episode is proof that more inspires more. That in the saturation of a market - or as you say peak beer - innovators are constantly carving out new paths for the next, sometimes unexpected, wave of innovation.

 

 

Margaret: Absolutely, and in this episode we’re covering a mix of beverages from craft cider, to Colorado wine, to THC seltzers. So I want to start this episode with EsoTerra Cider in Dolores. They just opened last year and have already won several prestigious international awards. The owners are a husband-wife couple, who are just building an incredible business.

 

Delaney: Alright, let’s hear it. 

 

ESOTERRA

 

Door creaks

 

Jared: So, so now we're opening the doors to our cellar. And our cellar, essentially, it's just a little room. It's a chilled room. It's 50 degrees Fahrenheit in here.

 

Margaret & Elizabeth remark on how nice and cool it is. 

 

Margaret: It’s July and I’m certain all three of us would relish stepping into the cold, dimly lit room. But we can’t. It’s jammed floor to ceiling, front to back, with these giant metal tanks and oak barrels full of hard cider. 

 

Jared: If for example, we had these barrels out on the floor, they would go through a process with it being 80 degrees out here, they would easily go through a process called malolactic fermentation.

 

Elizabeth: The struggle with making really good cider is essentially trying to keep it from turning into vinegar. It’s a game of defense.

 

Jared: The cider is always wanting to evolve into something else. And our job as cider makers is to intervene. Laugh

 

Short music transition

 

Margaret: I am spending the afternoon with Elizabeth Philbrick and Jared Scott, the husband-wife team behind EsoTerra Cider in Dolores, CO – a town of 960 in the southwest corner of the state. The cidery sits alongside Highway 145, on the way out of town toward Telluride. It’s actually an old juice factory, the front half of which has been remodeled with a big wooden bar, church pews for seating, and a full view of the ciderworks in the back.  

 

Elizabeth and Jared make something known as “old world cider,” meaning it hasn’t been artificially sweetened and, in many ways, is very similar to wine. It’s even sold in wine bottles. Now, the cider most of us have tried – the stuff sold in liquor stores – is what Elizabeth likes to call “soda pop cider.” It’s usually very sweet and is often made from concentrate with a lot of added flavors like …

 

Montage: Elizabeth: Pineapple guava cider, Jared: guava passion, whatever berry blue, blue…

 

Elizabeth: I can't tell you how many times we get someone walks in here is like so and so drug me in here, and I don't really want to be in your tasting room. I don't like cider. … We essentially gently approach and say, why don't you try our cider, because I can almost guarantee you it tastes different than any cider you've had. If you're only having domestic ciders. Nine times out of 10, that person is walking out with a bottle. 

 

Margaret: One of the primary reasons EsoTerra Cider tastes different than “soda pop cider,” is the apples. Dolores and the surrounding Montezuma County was once a hub for apple orchards. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, this region would have been producing thousands of pounds of fruit. And we’re not talking about red delicious or granny smith apples. There were hundreds of unique, one-of-a-kind varieties out here with names like Autumn Strawberry and Maiden’s Blush. 

 

And those trees are still here, even if the orchards aren’t active. Many of these trees have now gone feral and some varieties are so rare, they’re actually at risk of disappearing forever.  

 

Elizabeth: Each one of those apples has as much variety and its flavor as grape varietals have. So, our ciders are artisanal, in that we focus on finding the awesome piece of fruit. We focus on finding the really great yeast to backup dance with that fruit. And then we just give it enough time to really mellow into a really nice wine.

 

Margaret: It was the apples that brought Elizabeth and Jared to Dolores, even though neither of them had a background in cidermaking. I asked Jared why cider? Why start an artisanal cider business in way, way, way rural Colorado? 

 

Jared: So a lot of this is like, this is one of the first things in my adult life that I've felt very passionate about. Long ago, I used to be a competitive runner. And that used to be my passion. But that was like kind of like a childhood passion that spilled over into adulthood. But then as I aged, my body got worn out. And so what I found is making ciders kind of kind of fills that void of, of like the meditative part of being a long distance runner.  

 

Margaret: At this point in the conversation, Jared kind of veers off trail and launches into this ultra-marathon description of why cidermaking is so cool. And about seven minutes later, Elizabeth chimes in.

 

Elizabeth: I want to interject, because I'm not 100% sure we actually answered her question. So I'm going, I'm going to step back a second … Jared worked in this region back in 2012. And he was a renowned competitive runner. And he would run all around Montezuma County, practicing, coaching himself, etc, and preparing for the next race.

 

Margaret: Then in 2013, there was a massive fruit rot. Thousands of apples fell to the ground and rotted. 

 

Elizabeth: Just getting a bunch of turkeys drunk and generally causing a pretty good mess and attracting a lot of bears.

 

Margaret: But it got Jared thinking. 

 

Elizabeth: So, Jared started looking around to say someone has to be doing something with this fruit.

 

Margaret: Around that same time, Jared met Martha and Dusty Teal, the owners of a small orchard in Dolores who just happened to be making old world cider.

 

Elizabeth: And so Jared started working with the Teals. Well, flash forward, Jared and I meet in Fort Collins, Colorado, we're both in graduate school, we fall madly in love. We get to the end of our degrees and Jared says what we should do with these degrees. It's just not use them. We both realized that we had been chugging along in careers that we didn’t actually enjoy.

 

Margaret: And so the thought of all those apples, just going to waste out in rural Colorado, returned to Jared. 

 

Jared: So, it was early 2019 is when, when I was like I want to do this. And you're like, show me the business plan.

 

Elizabeth : So, my amazing husband has always worked for the federal government and, or been a student. And he he looked over at me one night when we were at home and he said, If I um, if I started a cidery would you, would you help me like fund it and run it and this that and the other thing and I turned to him and I looked him dead in the eyes and said, Show me your business plan. He was mortified.

 

Margaret: That year they participated in the Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs – or SCAPE – in Durango. The experience helped them form a board of directors and connected them to funders. A year later, in 2020, they opened their doors for business. 

 

Elizabeth: We're making some of the best artisanal cider in the United States. But we're also a community hub... And so when it's full , and it's bustling, and there's families on the patio eating the amazing food coming out of our food truck, our sister business, Zoey, the tail. It's a lovely thing to see, it's a lovely thing to see that the person who sells you groceries earlier that day is now having dinner with you tonight.

 

Margaret: This year, Elizabeth and Jared will produce 5,400 gallons of cider or roughly 27,000+ bottles, all of which is handmade on site. It’s kind of hard to fathom that much cider as we walk through the production area.  

 

Jared: So we have, as you walk through here, there's various containers that hold cider, they're there. They're of all different sizes. Our smallest container is half gallon, like beer growler, essentially. We have one-gallon containers, we have 3, 5, 6-gallon containers, 15-gallon containers, 30-gallon containers.

 

Margaret: We’re standing in an enormous room with cement floors and a tall ceiling. There’s a big glass window looking out onto the tasting room, so it’s a little bit like being inside a fish bowl. In addition to the tanks, there are grinders to process the apples, a wine press, and even some clear glass jugs containing some small batches of experimental ciders. One is bright red and another looks like it’s infused with herbs.  

 

Elizabeth: One is a lavender, one is a yarrow and one is a raspberry. And so these are just, they’re stunning aren’t they? And these are, you know, these are custom crush experiments that someone is just wanting to try to make a cider for their first time ever doing a very unique thing.

 

Margaret: These three ciders are actually the work of Leigh Reeves, the owner of Pencil Hound Ciders, who also works at EsoTerra and is apprenticing with Jared. Pencil Hound is what Elizabeth refers to as a “custom crush.” 

 

Elizabeth: This is very common in the wine industry. And what it does is it allows other cideries to get started under the legal framework of EsoTerra. 

 

Margaret: There are so many apples readily available, Elizabeth says there could easily be another 50 cideries in the area without competing for fruit. It’s just a matter of giving them a place to start and custom crushes can help facilitate that. 

 

Margaret VO: I spend a little over an hour in the back with Jared and Elizabeth. They show me the wine press they used last year that required lifting five gallon buckets of juice one by one… 

 

Jared: just slinging juice into our tanks… 

 

Margaret: and the shiny new European press they’ll be using this year. Later we head back into the tasting room because I’m ready for some cider! 

 

Elizabeth: What I've got for you first is going to be a little tongue tickler of something that we call the Last Stand. The Last Stand is made from 130 year old gravenstein apple trees. When the miners used to get off the train in the Animas valley, they would head over the hills to reco, Silverton Telluride, etc. And these apple trees would provide the last fruit stand where you could get fresh fruits and vegetables on that hike up and over the hills. And so these apples are some of the existing trees that were serving those miners. So what you're tasting here is a very light very effervescent Prosecco like cider.

 

Margaret: I take a big swig and then … out of the corner of my eye, I see Jared delicately sniffing his before taking a small sip. 

 

Margaret: I probably should have sniffed it first. I’m just going to drink it!

 

Laughter. Chatter

 

Margaret: It’s light and airy. It’s like drinking prosecco on a hot afternoon, but there’s just a hint of apple aroma to it. Elizabeth pours Jared and I another two tasters. 

 

Elizabeth : So we're gonna move on to one of the creations of Leigh Reeves and pencil hound ciders. She really wanted to go in the direction of making a traditional French perry. So Perry is a wine that is made from 100% pears... this will drink a little bit sweeter because pears have some unfermentable sugars in them. So even though technically it's fully dry, it is perceived as quite sweet.

 

Margaret: We taste several more ciders … some that have hints of port others that are tart and floral. And the best part of this is hearing about the trees and the history of the region these ciders come from. 

 

Jared: One of the biggest compliments I can get is when someone they're usually local, they'll, they'll, they'll smell our cider and, and they'll say, like wow, this smells like an apple from when I was a kid when I would eat an apple off the tree.

 

Margaret: One thing I can’t help but notice, as we start wrapping up, is just how rooted in place everything about EsoTerra Cider is. From the trees to the production to Elizabeth and Jared’s family. They have one kid and another on the way, so you kind of feel like you’re at home with them here… even though it’s a tasting room. 

 

Elizabeth: Jared says regularly. You know, my wife is here. My kids are here. Our dogs are here. This is home. When we're here. We go sleep in a different building. But where we all are together is our home.

 

Jared: Yeah like if we're here and it's eight o'clock at night. But Elizabeth is here, Avery’s here and our two dogs are here. Why would I want to go home?

 


 

Delaney: OKAY - I have been patiently waiting for a week - well actually three months - to taste my first EsoTerra Cider since you traveled there in July, Margaret, so here goes… (Delaney pours cider next to the mic, takes a sip and shares her response)

 

Delaney: Oh, yeah. It’s just like Elizabeth says, it’s really, it’s not too sweet, not too dry. That’s a really, that’s a really unique flavor.

 

Margaret: It’s so good, right? And what I alluded to in the episode, is that EsoTerra could not exist anywhere else, and it’s because of the applesAnd I think this is truly what it means for a business to be rooted in place. 

 

Delaney: And, while Mesa Park Vineyards, up next in this episode, is not innovative by product, since boutique wineries have been established in Colorado for a while now… the specialty and story behind the Cab Franc (I say as a total wine amateur) is fascinating.  

 

Margaret: Alright, let’s give it a listen.

 

MESA PARK VINEYARDS

 

Sound of feet crunching across dirt.

 

Laura: So this is our Cabernet Franc. And as you can see, it's just big bushes. So basically, what we did was we cut all the old wood out down to the ground, the roots survived because they were in the ground and insulated from this cold weather.

 

Margaret: That’s Laura Black. In 2018, she and her husband Brandon purchased Mesa Park Vineyards, a boutique winery situated beside the Colorado River in Palisade. We’re walking down a dirt path between rows of grape vines. In the distance, the arid Book Cliffs fill the desert skyline. 

 

Last October, a winter storm swept through the region and destroyed 100% of their crop, along with many others in the area. But the roots survived, and now the vineyard workers are retraining the vines. 

 

Laura: About a month ago, we picked two or three different shoots that came up from the new growth, and tied them to a bamboo pole. And so now they are laying them down on the wires, and then cutting off the ends, like I said, so that will force the shoot here that's horizontal, or parallel to the ground to shoot some verticals. And then like I said, that'll produce the vines, or the grapes for the coming years. 

 

Margaret: We start heading back to the tasting room, which sits inside a big red barn along with the barrel room and rest of the winery. There are picnic tables and umbrellas outside in a little gravel courtyard. It’s very cheerful.

 

Around us are fields and fields of vineyards. This is where Colorado’s wine industry began in the late 1800s, here in The Grand Valley near the Utah border. 

 

And while the desert landscape isn’t exactly what you’d imagine wine country to look like, the region’s microclimate allows for Syrah, Viognier, and even Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Franc. 

 

Laura: Cabernet Franc is a grape that grows really well in Colorado, a lot of people have coined it Colorado's cab. It doesn't need the growing season length that Cab Sav does, and it does really, really well in our climate… So generally speaking, Cab Franc is less of a fruity grape, and more, you get more earthy undertones, vegetative undertones…. So cab franc is another one in Brandon's opinion that he's going to do in French oak versus American oak. Because it is a little bit more delicate… 

 

Margaret: I follow Laura through to the tasting room and into the back of the barn where Brandon has just finished bottling wine. They both seem so at ease and comfortable, you would never know they’ve only been in the industry since 2018.  

 

Laura: We were both wine lovers. But that was really the extent of our knowledge before we bought a winery as crazy as that sounds.

 

Margaret: Laura and Brandon were both working in Denver. Laura had a real estate business and Brandon was building homes. Then, one weekend, they took a quick little vacation to the Grand Valley.  

 

Laura: And so, when we were over here for a weekend we were sitting on a patio … end the day, having a glass of wine. And we were, let's see what's for sale. And Mesa Park was for sale. 

 

Margaret: On a total whim, they called the agent. 

 

Phone rings

 

Laura: Hey, we're total looky loos, we're not serious at all.

 

Margaret: They drove out the next day and met the owners Chuck and Patty. 

 

Laura: And he took us on this tour of the vineyard. And, you know, there were fermentations happening in the back, and he's throwing pH numbers at us and ta numbers, and it's all flying over our heads. Like, we had no idea…

 

Margaret: So, Laura and Brandon got to talking. And, you know how these things go, one thing led to another, and they bought a vineyard?

 

Laura: It was sort of just one of those crazy things that happened in our lives and an opportunity presented. And so we jumped on it.

 

Margaret: I mean, but like that is such a huge leap to go from real estate to winemaking. I mean, like, I had it ever been in the back of your mind, just kind of as a Oh, wouldn't that be cool to do someday?

 

Laura: It was one of those things I had always wanted to own a vineyard. And Brandon had, he said, Hey, if I ever had the opportunity to get back into agriculture, I would love to. And we were like, well, this is a new business venture and a new opportunity. And it gets him back into agriculture. We've got a vineyard.

 

Margaret: That first year, Laura and Brandon worked closely with Chuck, just learning the ropes. Figuring out how to not only grow grapes, but make wine with them. And then sell the wine.

 

Laura: I give Brandon a ton of credit because he went from building luxury homes, to being a farmer and a winemaker. And that learning curve, especially the winemaking side, is steep. And it came at him fast and, and he’s, he's handled it really well. And just recently, one of his wines got a gold medal in a competition. And so he's, you know, three years into winemaking, and he's doing great.  

 

Margaret: Mesa Park Vineyards is a boutique winery, only producing 1000 to 1500 cases of wine per year, which is a lot, but it means a lot of the work is still very hands on. 

 

Laura: So everybody asks you crush the grapes in your feet. We don't we usually crushed 60,000 pounds of grapes years and like that your feet would be pretty sore. If you did all that by with your feet.  

 

Margaret: Ok, so maybe not that hands on. Or foots on. Feets on? Anyway, we head back into the labeling room.

 

Laura: Basically, this machine, you just stick a bottle and this these two rollers right here, hit a button, it rolls both the labels on goes over to the capsular right here, stick a capsule on top and pull that lever down. And so one bottle at a time.

 

Labeling machine sounds

 

Laura: Brandon's up at 3am during harvest, doing punch downs and pump overs and making sure the tank the, you know, the electricity didn't shut off to it and, and he always jokes, you know, people are like, Oh, I love your barn owl white and he's like, good. I lost a lot of sleep over that wine. You know?

 

Margaret: Since the freeze event destroyed their crop last year, Laura and Brandon will be importing grapes for the next couple of seasons. They hope to be back on Colorado grapes within three years. 

 

I asked Laura what agriculture was like for a new comer and she was quick to admit. Agriculture was a lot more work than she anticipated. 

 

Laura: I mean, agriculture is, it is non-stop, you know, even in the winter, people are like, what do you do in the winter? And it's like, do all the things that you didn't have time to do in the summer, so you're ready for the next season? … Just the the amount of pride and work that these people put into their places to grow, whether it's grapes, or peaches, or cherries, or whatever it is, it's admirable. I mean, it's, it's hard work.

 

Margaret: But for first time vintners, the Grand Valley was a great place to start. Laura said there are several other winemakers in the area, who were new to the craft, just like them. 

 

Laura: It's cool, because it's it's still a small enough industry that you can get in that way. Whereas if you went to Napa Valley and tried to buy a winery that you were gonna run yourself, you're not it's, it's not happening. (MesaZoom, 06:55) It’s a cool valley because there's a lot of classically trained winemakers. But there's a lot of people that are self-taught, and a lot of just talking to each other and learning from each other.

 

Margaret: So, this is a theme that, I think is going to continue cropping up throughout this season of the podcast: young entrepreneurs and small business owners fleeing the city in favor of rural places. 

 

And for Laura and Brandon, it wasn’t just business. This was a lifestyle and place where they wanted to start a family. 

 

Laura: So we're having a baby girl, we're due in October. And I'm really excited to just have her grow up in this setting and see the hard work that goes into a place like this. And, you know, I hope that she, develops an appreciation for it. We've talked a lot about it. Like, it'd be awesome if she wants to take this over. But it would also be okay, if she doesn't.

 

Delaney: I think their next release should be called leap of faith.  Because that is an incredible theme between EsoTerra and Mesa Park. I mean, these are both couples who leap into business together.  No doubt, they could teach the world something about marriage, and actually raising a family.  Both of these couples are just starting families and welcoming new babies this summer.  Right? 

 

Margaret: Yep, yep, Laura’s due soon and Elizabeth just gave birth a few weeks ago, and she’s already got that kid out picking apples!

 

Delaney: I love that the families are out picking apples together. And here we have legit craft cider.  Specialty cab franc.  And now onto the new invention of THC seltzers. These people are Western Colorado magic makers!  They give me so much hope that the future of Colorado’s culture is still built with the grit and pioneering spirit that we all value so much.  

 


 

OH HI

 

Matt V: When we're doing all of our testing, we're not testing THC…

 

Erik: When we're sampling the how the, what we call the source material, the CBD or this THC, how that affects the flavor that we have. It's all with CBD. And you know, and so we make up a batch of CBD liquid. And then we dose flavors into it.

 

Matt V: So we're not all sitting around drinking THC beverages getting high, trying to sample it. Erik: We’re all very relaxed.

 

Laughter, chatter

 

Margaret: When we talk about craft beverages, the first thing that usually  comes to mind is beer. Then wine, cider, whisky, vodka, rum, etc. 

 

But, now there’s a new kid on the block. And this is that kid, that’s like, on the other side of the sandbox by himself, wearing leopard skin leggings, building an intergalactic castle and laying out the blueprint for a new society. 

 

Because none of the rules, regulations, and long-established ways of doing things that the other kids know how to do, apply to him. And it’s not like this kid doesn’t like beer and whiskey, I mean, he’s fine with them, it’s just that he’d prefer getting high instead. 

 

And this analogy is not going the way I intended at all, so let’s just hop back over to my interview at Oh Hi THC Beverages in Durango. 

 

Matt: Two of my buddies own some dispensaries and had an opportunity to open up a manufacturing facility and they thought that a beverage would be a good idea to introduce to the cannabis market.

 

Margaret: That’s Matt Vincent, one of Oh Hi’s co-founders. He’s been in the craft beverage and canning business for a long time, as a co-founder of Ska Brewing and Ska Fabricating in Durango. 

 

The team behind Oh Hi is kind of a perfect example of how the THC drink industry has evolved. Matt’s fellow co-founders as well as their Director of Operations are from the cannabis world, but Matt and their Production Manager are both craft beer guys.

 

Matt: I had always dreamed about figuring out some way to put weed in a can. And I was thinking more along the lines of actual flower in the can, but when they kind of introduced me to the idea that cannabis could be a beverage as well, my mind exploded.

 

Margaret: Oh Hi makes four different flavors of THC infused seltzers, from Pomegranate to Ginger Basil Limeade. They also recently introduced a high-volume, 100mg THC drink with caffeine, plus a line of CBD seltzers. 

 

In and of itself, consuming marijuana as a beverage is not a new idea, but the recent development of water-soluble THC has changed the game. 

 

John: In the very beginning, you know, you would get them in like a beer bottle. And it would literally be hash oil thrown in like a carbonated Kool Aid mixture. 

 

Margaret: That’s John Lynch, the Director of Operations.

 

John: And the hash oil would usually float to the top and stick to the lid. And they just were super inconsistent, like if you shared it with your buddy, and you poured half in a glass and half in the other glass like your buddy may get the whole dose and you may get none of it. So I would say, really, in the last three to four years, the science has really come along to where we've been able to keep THC or CBD fully suspended up to what would be a typical shelf life for a product.

 

Margaret: I follow Matt, John, and Erik Maxson, the Production Manager, into a narrow room with a cement floor, stainless steel tanks, and a canning line. 

 

John: Well, it all starts here in the kettle. As far as batching goes, we throw, you know our flavors, preservatives, sugar in here, and then we then transfer it into the brine tank over here (fade out)

 

Margaret: I chase after John with the microphone as he strides toward the kettle, explaining how the seltzer is made. Unlike the other drinks we’ve been discussing in this episode, there’s no fermentation involved in making seltzer. 

 

So, I wanted to know how they come up with their different flavors, especially considering the strong taste of THC. Erik Maxson, who actually owned a brewery in Durango before coming to Oh Hi, chimes in. 

 

Erik: It's similar to beer in that what you're trying to cover are these bitter flavors that maybe too maybe not inappropriate, they may be inappropriate for that flavor. And so you're trying to cover that up.

 

Margaret: So what is the absolute worst flavor you've come up with? 

 

Erik: None. 

 

Chatter.

 

Erik: You know, I when I first got here, there was a lot of emphasis in mango. And I really like mango. Haven't haven't had a bit of luck with mango.

 

Matt: Tried to go with mango right off the bat. Nobody. We could just not get it right. Like man just yeah, just doesn't taste good.

 

Margaret VO: Ok, so they come up with their flavors. Then all of the ingredients are mixed together – the last of which is THC, because it’s the most expensive…

 

John: And then it sits in there and it only takes about 24 hours to carbonate, but we want to carbonate it we want the finished product that we then pull off and send to the lab.

 

Margaret: Every batch of THC seltzer that comes out of Oh Hi has to be tested by an independent lab to verify the consistency of the THC and to check for microbials. A few days later when the lab results are in, the seltzers are ready to go. 

 

Easy peesy, right? Well, this is where things start to get complicated. 

 

Matt V: The biggest challenge that I have seen in the cannabis industry is how sales and distribution is done.

 

Margaret: That’s Matt, again.

 

Matt V: In cannabis, you actually have, they don't have distributors, they have couriers, so you actually have to sell the product to the customer, from the manufacturer, and then a courier delivers it straight to the customer. So, we don't have the ability to really warehouse product and have a distributor sales force.

 

Margaret: Whereas with beer, for example, a brewery would work with a distributor to warehouse the product and organize sales logistics to liquor and grocery stores. 

 

Meanwhile, the Oh Hi facility is packed floor to ceiling with boxes full of seltzer ready to be ferried away by the next courier. It doesn’t leave a lot of floor space to move around. 

 

It really is like witnessing the growing pains of a brand-new industry. Oh Hi, and other cannabis businesses like it, really are like pioneers, figuring out the rules of the game and how to make it work. 

 

John: I think the marketing side, getting beverages in people's hands and what we call a liquid to lips. It's been it's been a challenge. 

 

Margaret: John says that while most consumers are quite familiar with the traditional means of consuming cannabis – i.e. smoking and eating – drinks are still kind of a new frontier. 

 

John: Colorado is an interesting market, because it is a more mature market where individuals walk in already knowing what they want most of the time.   

 

Margaret: For Oh Hi, marketing is as much an educational process as it is a promotional one. They work directly with bud tenders at dispensaries to introduce them to product, offer incentives, and encourage them to recommend it to their customers. 

 

John: As we like to say, the bud tenders are the gatekeepers, you know, like, it's kind of like, people walking up to a bar, and they have no idea what they want to drink, you know, the bartender is going to make a suggestion, and that's probably what they're going to order.

 

Margaret: But even still, you can’t go into a dispensary, like you would a bar, and sample a seltzer. Here’s Matt again. 

 

Matt V: Coming from the beer industry, where there's festivals, and there's tents set up, and there's 30 breweries along the way, and people are just going down the line, they don't really have that in cannabis, that much, those opportunities to be one on one with the customer, you know, make it challenging to get these things in front of people.

 

Margaret: Despite the challenges, Oh Hi has picked up several awards, expanded their distribution – for lack of a better word – and even partnered with a producer in Oklahoma to begin selling seltzer out of state.

 

As I mentioned earlier, Oh Hi recently released a 100mg THC drink called the Bud Tender’s Reserve. And to give you some perspective, their seltzers are around 10mg. So, it’s, uh, potent to say the least. I asked them what’s next on the docket. 

 

Erik: We can't tell you everything. Jiminy Crickets. 

 

Chatter.

 

Margaret (continuous): What can you tell me?

 

Erik (continuous): You know, I would, I've only been here about a year, and what I know is that the process it took to come up with the 100 milligram product is gonna lead us to another great product. Like we just I think we've got some really keen insights and, and palates.


 

Margaret: So, another, kind of unexpected theme that came out of all this is how pioneers like Oh Hi and EsoTerra are becoming incubators for other businesses. 

And business models like EsoTerra’s custom crush are actually creating space for what isn’t necessarily competition, but rather evolution. 

 

Delaney: It’s true, and Oh Hi - has me soooooo curious.  Admittedly, and it’s a bit of a confessional, but the only thing I have ever purchased from a dispensary was a CBD bath bomb, I am not a big wine drinker, I don’t really drink beer (unless it’s cheap beer) so the microbrewery trend hasn’t been my bag either and, well, I knew zero about ciders until today. So Im a consumer outsider in this episode, but, but in some ways that’s a good thing. And listening here today I’ve realized I now know where I’m doing my holiday shopping. And Santa, is a beverage maker.  But, Margaret, you, you’re going to get leopard skin leggings for Christmas.

 

Margaret: Oooh! Cannot wait, it’s my new style. 2022.

 

Delaney: You’re Welcome!

 

Laughter

 

Margaret: Thanks for listening to this week’s show. If you want to know more, or get involved with Colorado’s rural entrepreneurs, join our free, peer to peer network at startupcolorado.org. And don’t forget to check out the show notes on our website for pictures and links to the businesses we spoke to today. And finally, a big thanks to all of our sponsors. The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, The Foundry Group, Zoma Lab, and Visa. Startup Colorado is an outreach program of the Silicon Flatirons center at the University of Colorado school of law.

 

Margaret: The Startup Colorado Podcast is produced and edited by me, Margaret Hedderman. Narration and analysis is provided by Delaney Keating, Startup Colorado’s Executive Director. Our show’s music is produced by Erin Roberts of Porlolo. Additional research and support are provided by our podcast assistant Daniel Shanahan. 

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