About Us

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The Empire Cider Company LLC (“ECC”) was founded in New York State in 2013 by Jacob Israelow and James Chuck with the mission of integrating family-owned orchards into the hard cider market for the benefit of New York State apple growers and hard cider consumers.

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ECC achieves this by using only apples and juice from family-owned orchards in New York State in its award-winning, premium-craft hard ciders. In response to market need, ECC has added Chicago-based investment and advisory capabilities to further its mission of increasing the use of locally-grown fruit in the growing premium-craft hard cider segment. To purchase online, please visit our online store for shipments to Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. For Michigan and South Dakota, please contact us via email.  

ECC is located in the heart of New York State’s Finger Lakes apple and wine country at the Cornell Agriculture and Food Technology Park in Geneva, NY (“TechFarm”). Situated between Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station and the Finger Lakes Community College’s Viticulture and Wine Center, ECC draws on the region’s vast natural and human resources to serve as a catalyst for the growth and development of New York State and America’s hard cider industry.

Awards & Accolades

Great Lakes International Cider & Perry Competition

  • Silver medal:
    • The Cider Lab Series – Empire Blanc (2017)
    • The Cider Lab Series – Empire Golden (2017, 2018)
    • The Cider Lab Series – Empire Cherry Rosé (2018)
  • Bronze medal:
    • The Cider Lab Series – Empire Cherry Rosé (2017)
    • The Cider Lab Series – Empire Basil (2017)
    • The Cider Lab Series – Empire Blanc (2018)

Several ciders and cider portfolios developed in our cider lab in Geneva, NY for clients have won best in show and other awards at GLINTCAP and Portland International Cider Competitions, but due to client confidentiality agreements, we are not able to say which clients and which awards. 

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Where to Find Our Award-Winning Premium-Craft Ciders

To order our ciders for delivery direct to your door, please visit our online store

Leadership

Jacob Israelow and James Chuck, friends from their MBA days at Columbia Business School in New York City, founded the Empire Cider Company LLC (“ECC”) in New York State in 2013 with a mission of integrating New York State apple growers into the US hard cider renaissance.

During their time at Columbia, Jacob and James explored a variety of venture ideas focused on supporting family farms within resilient and fair food economies. While surveying the rapidly growing US cider segment in 2012, they were surprised to see that though New York City was the largest cider market in America and New York State its second largest apple producer, the New York cider market was dominated by big-brand national ciders made with imported apple juice concentrate. Seeing an opportunity to positively impact New York apple growers by using their apples in best-in-class hard ciders, Jacob and James founded ECC and have been supplying consumers with best-in-class premium-craft ciders ever since.

Angela Eliasz, Chief Cider Maker

Angela comes to ECC through a long and winding path. Starting in Hollywood, her journey began as a special effects artist in Los Angeles. She brought light to her art on the big screen in feature film franchises such as Harry Potter, The Matrix and Spiderman. Creating visual magic was her job, but it left an unquenchable desire to create something that was all encompassing.

The dark studio was begging to open a window and let the sun shine in when a simple glass of wine became the realization that this, in the glass, was an art form like no other. It blends the scientific with nature and allows artistic expression for all the senses. The wine/cidermaker is allowed to transform a simple gift from nature into something that is visually stunning, arouses memories and emotion from scent, titillates the taste buds, quenches the bodies basic needs and brings relaxation and imagination to the mind.

It is because of this magic that she chose wine and cider making as her next adventure and craft. She made her way across the country to the beautiful lakes of New York and finally found that fresh air while working outside under the sun amongst the vines and trees.

Today, instead of sitting behind a computer, you can find Angela as the Chief Cider Maker for ECC. In The Cider Lab, she has created award winning ciders for ECC as well as developed recipes and products for other cider facilities across the country. She has made award winning wines along with taking home the distinction of “Best Wine in Limited Production” for the 2016 New York State Food and Wine Classic.

Although her canvas has changed, creating art is still at the forefront of everything she does. Enjoy a glass of cider from “The Cider Lab” where we practice “Science for the Art of Cidermaking.”

James Chuck, Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer 

James Chuck is a co-founder and managing member of ECC and is responsible for providing strategic leadership and establishing long-range goals, strategies, plans and policies. In addition, James serves on the Marketing Committees for both the US Association of Cider Makers and the New York Cider Association.

As an entrepreneur, inventor and investor active in consumer goods, real estate, travel technology and transportation, James is committed to creating positive economic and social impacts through innovation. Prior to ECC, James spent five years in Croatia split between co-founding Euris Capital Partners, a Zagreb-based boutique investment bank focused on consumer packaged goods and renewable energy, and serving as a Regional Director for Dolphin Capital Partners, the leading investor and developer of large-scale, luxury resorts in the Mediterranean. Prior to Croatia, James was a Fortune 500 management consultant at Katzenbach Partners (acquired by Booz & Co in 2009). Before earning his MBA, James spent five years working in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina as a diplomat and social entrepreneur, and was honored with a World Economic Forum Award for Social Enterprise.

James has an MBA from Columbia Business School, an International Economics Diploma from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques (Aix-en-Provence, FR) and a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Jacob Israelow, Co-Founder

Jacob is a co-founder of ECC. His passion for sustainable food systems and local farming led him to found Dirt Capital Partners, which invests in farmland in partnership with farmers throughout the Northeast United States, promoting sustainable farmers’ land access and security. In addition, Jacob serves as a Board Director and former Treasurer of the National Young Farmers Coalition, as well as to the New York Advisory Council of the American Farmland Trust. Jacob is also an investor and advisor to several food companies in the Northeast US. Previously, Jacob was a Vice President at Goldman Sachs in Asia, where he spent five years acquiring and developing real estate and infrastructure on behalf of the firm.

Jacob has an MBA from Columbia Business School, an MA from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a BA from Williams College.

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Ventures to Grow the Cider Segment

The Cider Lab

In 2016, ECC created “The Cider Lab” in Geneva, NY to leverage science for the art of cidermaking, and use its expertise and experience to support hard cider business incubation, scientific product testing, research and product development, and small-batch production. We are proud to be New York State’s first and only one-stop shop for hard cider businesses, creating the cure for the common cider by coaxing luscious, full-bodied, award-winning ciders from a wide variety of apples and setting a new standard in American craft cider.

Since 2016, we’ve performed more than 200 fermentation trials using different apple types and a wide variety of yeasts. We’ve also developed cider portfolios for several US cider clients using their region’s fruit, which won multiple competitions including the Portland International Cider Cup and the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition. As a side note and a testament to our earned cider expertise, both Cornell and the USDA asked us to perform original fermentation research for them.

The Cider Lab is located in the heart of Finger Lakes apple and wine country at the Cornell University’s  “TechFarm”. Situated between Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station and the Finger Lakes Community College’s Viticulture Center, The Cider Lab draws on the region’s vast natural and human resources to serve the Finger Lakes Region’s growing hard cider industry and serve as a catalyst for the growth and development of New York State’s hard cider industry.

The Cider Lab – Services

Juice and cider testing

Clients will be able bring apples and/or juice for robust scientific lab services to test samples. The results provide insight into understanding what type and quality of cider can and should be made for highest market success and economic return.

As an approximate estimate, juice pressing will cost $2.50/gallon. Juice and cider testing will be performed in-house or, if needed, at Cornell’s Geneva-based New York State Wine Analytical Laboratory, a close friend and neighbor to The Cider Lab. These two activities may take one to two weeks to complete. 

Research & Product Development

Expert, on-staff cider makers will help Clients evolve and improve their existing ciders, and create new and better ones for increased market competitiveness. Whether a Client is an existing cidery or a new start-up, our scientific approach to the art of cider making will increase chances for success in a competitive market. Our cider development services have yielded numerous award-winning ciders for customers from several regions of the United States. Regardless of the origin of your fruit or juice, The Cider Lab will create the best possible cider from it for you to reproduce using our step-by-step instructions. And all clients also are able to contact us for further support, as needed for the life of their cidery. These R&D services cost between $2,750 and $5,000 for two rounds of three cider samples, or more depending on the complexity and breadth of the client’s needs. Prospective clients should count on this taking eight to ten weeks to complete. 

Small-batch Production

Large minimum production batches at co-packers and cost of required equipment are barriers to entry. Client batches between 10-1000 gallons and our bottling capabilities ensure a professional presentation for all Client products to increase venture success right from the start. As an approximate estimate, production and packaging services (materials are extra) costs $25/gallon and six weeks to complete. 

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Empire Investment & Advisory

Advising & Investing in Great Cider Ideas, Teams & Companies

ECC advises and invests in innovative and transformational cider brands.

Through our private equity fund, we help cider companies grow and stand out in a dynamic and competitive industry. Headquartered in Chicago, with offices in New York, the ECC I&A team specializes in providing growth capital to emerging juice and cider companies, as well as value-added services including support with distribution, supply chain, strategic planning, marketing, operations, finance, board development and human resources.

What We Look For

  • People, Product and Brand:
    • Quality team with the highest level of integrity, desire and commitment
    • Founders who embrace active strategic and financial guidance
    • Brand that is positioned for rapid growth in its category
  • Company Profile:
    • Annual revenues of $100,000 to $1 million
    • Strong and sustainable gross margins
    • All categories related to juice and cider manufacturing: brands, suppliers, technology
    • Clear and reasonable capital requirements to achieve cash flow positive
  • Geography: Based in the U.S. and/or majority of sales in U.S.A.
  • Transaction:
    • Investment sizes between US$25,000 and US$250,000
    • Growth capital investments: > 20% of company

Please contact us if you are interested in:

  • Learning how we can help your cider or juice company grow.
  • Putting your orchard’s apples into premium-craft ciders.
  • Investing capital in the rapidly growing premium-craft hard cider segment alongside ECC.

Cider Heritage

A Long Time Ago…

Evidence of apple trees growing along the banks to the Nile River can be found dating back to about 1300 B.C., but there’s no evidence that ancient Egyptians ever used them for cider. By the time the first Romans sailed to the British Isles in 55 B.C., the locals were drinking a cider-like drink made from apples, which their new visitors quickly fell in love with.

Soon enough, cider spread throughout the Roman Empire and across Europe, becoming popular with people from the Germanic tribes to the Normans, whose conquest of England in the 9th century brought apple orchards and the very word “cider” into the English language. Apple trees had long ago migrated from forests around Kazakhstan and were well established across Europe and Asia.

It was in southern England, France, and Spain that the technique of fermenting—and later distilling—the fruit was perfected. Evidence of this ancient art can be found in the European countryside today, where large circular apple grinding stones used to crush the fruit are still half buried in the fields.

Because the oldest orchards were seedling orchards—meaning that every tree was started from seed, resulting in a mishmash of novel and never-before-seen apples—early cider would have been made from a blend of all the fruit in the orchard not sweet enough to eat. The only way to reproduce a popular apple cultivar was to graft it onto the rootstock of another tree, a technique that had been used on and off since 50 BC. Apple farmers started making clones through grafting, and those popular varieties eventually acquired names. In the late 1500s, there were at least sixty-five named apples in Normandy.

Coming to America…

Europe and the Mediterranean aren’t the only places with an abiding love for cider: the earliest colonists brought it with them to the Americas as well. While beer was more popular across the pond at the time, the first Europeans to settle in the colonies had a hard time growing grains and barley needed to brew it.

Because apples can grow easily by grafting branches onto existing apple trees, colonial New England quickly fell in love with cider. But it was a very different drink than the dark brown, syrupy-sweet drink found at the farmer’s market. This cider was boozy, making it safer to drink than much of the water available and full of nutrition to get them through the hard winters. There was even a less-alcoholic variation brewed for children called “applekin.”

Over the past two centuries, cider’s popularity in America began to wane. Waves of immigration from Germany and eastern Europe over the years brought a deep love of beer and settled in the Midwest—a region much more friendly to growing grains and hops than the Atlantic coast.

The biggest blow came in the form of Prohibition, which wiped out nearly all American cideries for decades as apple growers replaced cider apple trees with culinary apples. But true to its deep roots, ciders are starting to make a comeback around the country, making this hardy drink a serious survivor. 

Sources: Smithsonian Magazine; National Geographic; Utne Magazine

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Empire Cider Company LLC Logos:

Brands: for downloadable images and information, please visit our Brands page.