Shortly after arriving in New Brunswick from England, engineer Adam Clawson and his partner, Nicola Mason, were looking for a drink on a cold stormy night at a campus bar in Fredericton. “I asked about craft beer and they mentioned Picaroons, a local brand,” says Clawson. “Nicola asked about cider; they looked around and found a dusty can of some U.S. brand.”
The pair had been making cider for themselves and for friends, but recognized a real commercial opportunity — there was a market niche not being filled.
The result is Red Rover Craft Cider, New Brunswick’s first craft cider company. Using the finest hand-picked New Brunswick apples to create unique and refreshing English style cider, Red Rover now offers four core (award-winning) cider styles.
Opportunities NB (ONB) spoke with Adam Clawson to learn more about immigrating to Canada and growing a business in New Brunswick.
ONB: You’re a graduate of the University of Leeds with a Master’s in Engineering. We’re curious what brought you to Canada.
Clawson: A decade ago, Nicola was here studying at McMaster University. We did some travelling here and both fell in love with Canada. In 2007 we decided to make it home.
I looked at locations where I could perform the research I was interested in — upper limb prosthetics. After contacting the right experts I found the best place for that research in Canada was at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) in Fredericton.
I ended up as lead mechanical engineer on The UNB Hand through the Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IBME). After that contract finished I had the option of working elsewhere, but we chose to find a solution that would allow us to stay in Fredericton, the place we’d come to call home.
That’s when you decided to produce cider commercially?
Yes, we began planning in 2012. Unlike a microbrewery where you can start in your basement, the logistics of cider are complicated. Obtaining juice takes time; we don’t buy off the shelf, we press specific varietals in great quantities to get our juice. So we incorporated in 2012 but opened in 2014. Since then we’ve grown our availability and styles, and have been fortunate enough to win multiple awards.
Let’s run those down.
Fire Cider won gold at 2015’s Canadian Brewing Awards, and Fall Cider took silver for 2016. We won 2015’s Cidery of the Year from the Atlantic Brewing Awards—the first cidery of the year recognition in Canada—while winning gold and two silvers in that competition for Fire Cider, The Blues Cider, and VeRRY PeRRy.
We also won multiple international awards via the 2016 Great Lakes Cider and Perry Competition.
New Brunswick has a tightly-knit business community. You mentioned Picaroons; tell us about their role in helping you get started.
Since cider is its own category—not really beer, not really wine—we had a choice. Did we align with a wine-based product marketing strategy or go beer-based? We wanted to create a high-quality product, so wine made sense. Beer, however, was far more successful in this region, so we reached out to Sean Dunbar.
Sean was tremendously supportive in those early days. He was there to answer questions we had regarding liquor regulations and how to navigate them. There wasn’t a category for our cider, so we were breaking new ground both on product and policy levels; Sean’s guidance was essential.
How do you go about marketing?
When we said ‘cidery’ nobody knew what it meant, it wasn’t a known term here. Plus we do cold infusions which would be classed as a brewing method, so we incorporated as Red Rover Brewing Company. Much of our marketing focuses on beer festivals as a result.
Our first craft beer festival was in Fredericton, and we’ve been attending it ever since. A couple of years ago I chatted with the festival’s organizers, explaining how there were more ciders entering the market and that it was time for a cider festival. In conjunction with Brewbakers and the Fredericton Craft Beer Festival, we held the first Fredericton Cider Festival in October 2015.
We’ve don’t do traditional media buying. We’ve relied on word of mouth and channels like Facebook and Twitter. That’s proved effective as the craft community is highly engaged with social media; it’s a great way to keep people up-to-date on events we’re attending.
How are you and Nicola enjoying life in New Brunswick?
I come from the big city; Leeds has a population of about 2.3 million. Coming to Fredericton was like breathing out; it was a sigh of relief. It was a different pace of life that was simultaneously relaxing and exciting. It’s opening and embracing, and unlike a big city you can walk down the street and within weeks you’ll know at least one or two people. People are willing to have a chat.
What’s your best advice for entrepreneurs?
When I was young I dove off piers into the North Sea. You would always worry about hitting something in the water so you would do small jumps from the bottom of the steps, then move higher and higher. One nice thing about starting an entrepreneurial journey is that you choose how big your steps are before you take the next jump. The thing you don’t realize, however, until you really get into it is that there are great support agencies here able to help with that next big leap. If you have a good idea you should take the chance; you have a better shot at survival than you think, because of that support network.
That’s a good place to segue into your relationship with ONB.
That relationship began in 2013 when a growth grant allowed us to purchase our first equipment. That meant we could afford a proper production facility and make the company a reality. Since then we have broken new ground as it relates to policy, and when we’ve encountered hurdles ONB has been there. We’re now heading into a growth phase where we’re focused on international markets, and hopefully growing the production facility. We are confident ONB will continue to play an important role with Red Rover.
Red Rover is available in 750ml format via NB Liquor. If you’re in downtown Fredericton, visit them at 546 Queen St to try one of their refillable 1-litre flagons.
Written by Jason Boies
All images via Red Rover