Every time you take home a pack of Schilling Hard Cider, you are leaving the store with friends. Each can comes embellished with a whimsical cast of characters, including a hipster lion, a sunbathing koala, and a giraffe in a spacesuit. And though their eccentric branding is recognized coast to coast, it’s perhaps the boombox-toting Sasquatch that gives the best clue as to where these deliciously crisp and refreshing beverages originate: the illustrious apple orchards of Washington.
More specifically, the company was born in the garage of Co-Founder and CEO Colin Schilling, whose house in Queen Anne was actually the first permitted craft cidery in Seattle. “I grew up making cider in Idaho,” he recalls. “My parents have been doing it since the ’70s. I literally made cider in my dorm room. It has always been a passion of mine.” To this day, he is still heavily involved in the cider-making process.
When Schilling graduated from Willamette University with his MBA, he spent just over five months with Microsoft before he decided to take his creative juices in a different direction. In November 2012, during a hike with college friend Mark Kornei, Schilling shared his admiration for craft beer culture in the Pacific Northwest, and the duo mapped out a path to success in a relatively untapped market. They quit their corporate jobs, got to work, and by April of the next year had their first cider for sale.
“For us, it’s all about being adventurous, being disruptive, having fun along the way, but really innovating and bringing super cool things to market that people love and enjoy,” Schilling says. “The mission of the company was to take hard cider and make it in a way that was authentic, using high-quality local ingredients, but not sell it at astronomical prices.”
They’ve certainly set a high bar in the industry, delivering classic apple taste while gaining wider appeal with more experimental projects, such as Grapefruit and Chill or the seasonal Chaider. But over the past year, they’ve taken the tinkering to a new level.
In a sea of seltzers, the newly released Waveline makes a splash on the shelves. Subtle in flavor and only 80 calories, this fizzy hard lemonade is fashioned from a fruit alcohol base and a proprietary electrolyte blend designed to offer a functional benefit. “It’s about creating a beverage that’s elevated and more unique than what else is out there,” Schilling says. “I don’t know about you, but I get a little older every year, so for me, I like to wake up feeling better in the morning if I’ve had a few drinks the night before.”
Those looking for even more of a pick-me-up will enjoy Schilling’s next cutting-edge venture: a hard yerba mate, complete with 50 milligrams of naturally occurring caffeine, set to debut this fall.
At Schilling’s cider houses in Fremont and Portland, the massive, rotating tap lists always emphasize independent and local, often promoting different small-batch ciders next to Schilling’s own wares. The CEO adds, “Our thesis was and still is: today, hard cider is such an amazing drink that the more people know about it and appreciate it, it’s an all-boats-rise kind of mentality.”
This cooperative approach is emblematic of the positive company culture the leadership team has cultivated over the past nine years. “We have something called the BCS perk, which stands for ‘Buy Cool Shit,’'' Schilling says. “We give everyone a pile of money every year explicitly to spend on something that brings joy to their life, whether that’s a hobby or a donation to charity. You could take a trip. You could send your parents on a trip. You can literally do anything that brings you happiness.”
Looking out for one another is just part of the job. It’s how they were able to keep employees safe and avoid production setbacks amid the pandemic, and giving back goes beyond the walls of HQ. Their Local Champions program highlights and provides funding to members of the community who are doing amazing things, and Schilling supports educators with grants as well. This summer, Waveline is teaming up with the Alki Volleyball Association to sponsor a beach cleanup event.
Schilling’s main office has three on-site electric vehicle charging stations, and it also utilizes the heat emitted during fermentation to offset thousands of kilowatts of power. “We were the first cidery on the West Coast to use cans, which have a much lower carbon footprint than glass,” Schilling explains. “In the Northwest, a recycled can can be a new can in as little as 60 days, which is pretty amazing, and oftentimes the recycle rates are north of 90 percent.” Ultimately, sustainability and meeting the triple bottom line boils down to caring about where you’re from, and loyalty to the PNW is something we can all get behind.
The adventurous journey that Schilling and Kornei set out on nearly a decade ago has become the overall theme of their entire marketing effort, as "Adventure Awaits" in every can. What are we waiting for? Cheers to adventure.