apples, honey & earth friendly business
co-founders of The apiary tasting room - nole & rachna.
santa barbara, california.
The definition of sustainability within the context of business, big and small, is complex. What does it look like to build a business, sustainably? From production to distribution and everything in between, it can be challenging to maintain the integrity of the source. Nole & Rachna, co-founders of The Apiary, a home-grown cider & mead tasting room in Carpinteria, spoke with us about nature & business, the unsexy behind-the-scenes, and the power of throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks.
Nole: I stumbled into fermentation a few years ago, just from playing in the kitchen, experimenting with kombucha. That’s how I learned how alcohol was made. A light bulb went off when I realized you can use any sugar source to make alcohol.
Rachna: When I met Nole, he was making jung, which is a kombucha style mead made from green tea and honey. We were both fermenting in our own ways. I definitely learned more about fermentation just from falling in love with Nole, then I did from culinary school! So much precious time experimenting in the kitchen together. I had this formal training but it’s hard to learn from a pamphlet alone. You have to explore. And do it over and over and over again.
The business has been a vehicle for us to feel connected to the earth and our environment. We are transforming raw nature - apples and honey - into something that can live sustainably, in the economy.
I definitely learned more about fermentation just from falling in love with Nole, then I did from culinary school!
Nole: Rachna and I started The Apiary because of an itch to work for ourselves and make something that we could feel good about - but, we also like to have a good time, so we thought - what’s the best possible sugar source that we can turn into alcohol? To us, we figured it was local apples and raw honey.
The business has been a vehicle for us to feel connected to the earth and our environment. We are transforming raw nature - apples and honey - into something that can live sustainably, in the economy. I grew up on a ranch in California and always struggled with the question of how to be an active participant in the world while also staying connected to the environment. I realized it doesn’t have to be one or the other.
Rachna: The most important thing is that we have a strong relationship with our suppliers - the apple orchard and beekeepers. It’s a pretty direct process and that’s a huge part of our guiding principles. We want to know exactly where it’s coming from. As soon as you add another layer between us and the source it gets foggy and there’s no guarantee.
We want people to order a drink because it tastes good, and then low key get a little education about the ecosystem behind what they’re drinking.
Rachna: We are stewards of a much larger process - the sunshine, rain, plants and animals turn all this natural abundance into a raw material. And we continue the evolution of that raw material into an end product that people can enjoy! The Apiary is an extension of our kitchen and is inspired by local farms. There is really no limit in California because things grow year round. We just had to learn how to scale the business and move out of our kitchen.
Nole: The Apiary just celebrated our 2nd anniversary. Our first year was 100% trial and error. Every mead batch we put on tap was something new. Our batches were only 15 gallons - one regular sized keg. We were flying through them and throwing a whole bunch of stuff at the wall to see what would stick. Since then, we’ve learned what temperature controls to put in place to ferment things on a much greater scale.
Rachna: The cider came along later once we had done a lot of experimentation with honey. We were like ‘what else is there that has the most magical ingredient ever?’ and that led us to cider, and apples.
Nole: We encounter a whole spectrum of people at The Apiary. From people who visit farmers markets and care about eating local, to people from the opposite end, and they’re like ‘what kind of beer is this?’ What we love about mead and cider is that it’s an entry point. We want people to order a drink because it tastes good, and then low key get a little education about the ecosystem behind what they’re drinking.
You can’t separate the process from the end product. It can’t be anything but where it came from. We just help with the reincarnation process.
Nole: The cool thing about mead is that it was likely the first form of alcohol. The proto-agricultural hunter gatherer could have stumbled across a bee hive that was flooded in a hollow tree and there you go, you have a ton of sugar in one place mixed with water, and fermentation happens. It’s otherwise pretty hard to get that much fermentable sugar in one place and turn it into alcohol without the use of agriculture. In order to get enough grapes to make wine you have to cultivate enough grapes in one place and grow them intentionally for alcohol.
Rachna: Mead is an education just through the experience. I can’t believe you can make alcohol out of honey, and I can’t believe it can taste like this! People expect something sweet and get something that’s almost never sweet. We have a rainbow of flavors that we work with - it’s balanced and varied. You can’t separate the process from the end product. It can’t be anything but where it came from. We just help with the reincarnation process.
Nole: And it’s funny, the environment of our little business has changed so much and so often since we started. It’s gone from us doing 100% of the fermentation and the service, to hiring a team of people to do that work. So all of a sudden, we’re not the ones blending up the honey and the water to make mead. As the business grows, we graduate from one creative realm and get to tackle another one. It’s not very sexy at times, like, right now I’m learning the financial side of business and working with a bookkeeper.
Rachna: At the beginning we thought, oh we’re just going to create this beautiful extension of our life, for money, forever. It’s hilarious, because all of a sudden, we don’t do all the production work and are focusing on...how do we run this business?
Nole: Exactly. And regardless of whether we are elbow deep in honey and apples or if we’re at home on our computers, we’re continuously inspired by seasonal changes, super radical ingredients and feeling connected to the earth through our ingredients.
we’re continuously inspired by seasonal changes, super radical ingredients and feeling connected to the earth through our ingredients.
Rachna: And we have this wonderful team of people that work with The Apiary and reach out and say hey guys, what should we put into this batch, what’s blooming, what’s fruiting? It’s awesome to support our team in the creative process of making mead and cider.
Nole: I really wish that everyday was 100 hours long. There’s just too much good stuff to do. Right now, we’re figuring out how to make a business like this function and operate. We’re getting comfortable with the mechanics of what we’re doing. We are creating a strong foundation so we can grow our business in a meaningful and sustainable way. We’d like to grow our local presence and hone in on recipes that can be scaled into bigger batches and spread further into the world. We’re excited about canning mead so everyone can drink tasty honey alcohol made from the best possible, earth-friendly ingredients.