It all began with an old stump in the backyard.
That's where Elise Smith Barnard and Eric Smith's father and late uncle used to hide their homemade hard cider from their wives. The phrase "let's go blow up some stumps" became code for backyard swilling, because the cider was so strong.
Decades later, Barnard and Smith are using the family tale as the inspiration for their hard cidery on Conesus Lake, Original Stump Blower Ciderworks. The idea came to Smith a few years ago as he was drinking a mass-produced, bottled cider. "Our dad and uncle were making better cider," he says. "I'd been wanting to start a brewery for a few years at that point, but then those started popping up everywhere and it seemed like the market was saturated. So I thought, 'Why not start a cidery?'"
Smith did some research and discovered there were less than 50 hard cider producers in New York State in 2014 (by the time they had paperwork in hand a year later, OSB was number 66). Meanwhile, his younger sister, Barnard, was living in San Diego — but her brother's pitch for her to move back and become the CEO of Lakeville's first hard cidery intrigued her. "I wanted Elise to be part of this because of her artistic background," Smith says. "It's something I can't do. I can make the cider, but Elise was the best person for everything else — so I talked her into moving back from California, and she fell for it."
Barnard laughs at what her brother says, and it's clear the two have a familiar back-and-forth when it comes to this story. "I did; he tricked me," she says. "I'm doing everything except for actually making the cider." Barnard signed for ownership of the company the day before her 30th birthday on May 12, 2015.
The past year has been a crash course in everything from liquor laws and trademark battles (OSB's original branding was too close to a similarly-named business out west) to marketing and labor laws. "When you start a business, it's not like they give you a welcome packet," Barnard says. "It can be overwhelming, but you figure it out and make it happen."
As both a female and sole owner of a hard cidery, Barnard is a rarity in New York State. (The next closest female owner is Melanie Collins at Cider Creek Hard Cider in Canisteo.) But Barnard says that "being a female business owner isn't always sunny." People always assume that she is eligible for grants, but grants often require time (which many small business owners don't have) and a proven success rate before they're given.
Fortunately, the proximity to the Finger Lakes wine region has provided resources like cider classes and events at Cornell University, and Smith specifically mentions the high-quality tanks and hardware they purchased from Vance Manufacturing in Geneva (which also supplies area wineries). "We're trying to do local whenever we can," Barnard says.
They used reclaimed wood to fashion the cidery's bar for $500, and found 9-foot-tall vintage church doors inside an old barn in Bergen. The tasting room glassware is from Fairport, and Tiny Fish is printing a giant decal for the cidery wall, along with some stickers. Barnard's brother-in-law owns a T-shirt shop in Batavia, and he's printing all of their apparel. EvenOdd Creative will sell tote bags in the gift shop, and the duo's brother, Corning-based glassblower Elijiah Smith, handcrafted glass apples to sell as well.
In addition to opening the cidery, Barnard is working as a bartender at Restaurant Good Luck in Rochester and recently competed in a nationwide speed bartending competition. Smith, who is 37 years old, is a Culinary Institute of America graduate who spent time as a chef at the New York Wine and Culinary Center and 2Vine for almost a decade. During his time at NYWCC, he met a lot of winemakers and decided he wanted to go into the beverage industry eventually.
He makes the cider with the help of OSB's only other employee, Mark "Professor" Havens. "He's my 'cider Walter White' because he actually knows the chemistry behind the process," Smith says. The cider ingredients are sourced locally: the apples are all from Cahoon Farms in Wolcott, and the Concord grapes come from Empire Growers downstate.
Currently, OSB is developing four distinct types of cider: the Original, the Little Lakes, the Ginger Citrus, and a rotating Flavor Profile (including a blackberry-blueberry concoction). The Original (11 percent ABV) is barrel-aged in Black Button Distilling whiskey barrels, and the Ginger Citrus is stored in gin barrels Joe Fee aged his orange bitters in for a year. Last year, the business made 200 test gallons of cider, and the favorite so far has been the Little Lakes (6.9 percent ABV) — a nod to Conesus Lake's status as the "pinky finger" of the Finger Lakes. (OSB is on the north end of the lake, near Vitale Park.)
Although Smith lives in Lakeville and Barnard lives in Rochester, they're both natives of rural Wayland, where their parents still operate a catering company, a chicken barbecue business, and a pizzeria. "We come from a long line of people who do things for themselves," Barnard says, "and we see the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into everyone's endeavors and how supportive everyone is of one another."
Barnard adds that they've also funded the cidery venture completely through her savings and zero-percent interest credit cards. "We didn't Kickstart or crowdfund or take out a loan," she said. ""It's a DIY business, and I'm very proud of that."
OSB Ciderworks will have a grand opening celebration Memorial Day weekend — almost a year to the day Barnard signed the paperwork — with live music from Amanda Lee Peers, Kody Tagg, and The Bloodroots.