Hard Time to Hard Cider: How Ironbound is Brewing Change

By Features

At Its Core: Ironbound Hard Apple Cider Helps Former Inmates

From prison to the farm; how one New Jersey hard cider startup is helping inmates while changing the industry.

Charles Rosen doesn’t know anything about the cider business, or farming apples for that matter. He admits it. And yet, this lawyer turned film producer turned ad executive is now manning the helm of a 108 acre New Jersey orchard, diving head first into the $216 billion cut-throat industry of booze.

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Rosen is the CEO and founder of Jersey Cider Works, which produces Ironbound Hard Cider. Because of New Jersey regulations requiring cider/wine producers to also be engaged in agriculture on site, Rosen purchased an abandoned farm in Asbury, (just west of Newark) and in 2015 he threw open the doors to Jersey Cider Works, New Ark Farms and Ironbound Hard Cider. 

“Ironbound Hard Cider is locally sourced, fresh-pressed apples only from small-scale growers and taps into our New Jersey heritage and we decided to launch it as an accessible craft brand” Rosen told FOXBusiness.com.

Because of the local nature of the product, Ironbound Hard Cider can only be found in New Jersey.  Having shipped over 5,000 cases and 350 kegs to date, the company’s success shows positive growth.

However, after seeing a need that stretched way beyond his business, cider is the last thing on Rosen’s mind. Newark is one of the most dangerous cities in America with a violent crime rate 54% higher than other similar-sized cities, according to an FBI report, and an incarceration rate through the roof.

“The goal of the company was to actually rekindle the Newark economy… we felt that there was a huge portion of the population primarily the formerly incarcerated that needed to be engaged in not only job creation but actually helping them navigate their community,” he said.

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Employing formerly incarcerated persons to man the fields, Rosen and his team offer hands on job training, counseling and a safe place for former inmates to learn real skills in a real environment outside of the crime infested city.

“My life would probably hit rock bottom if I didn’t work here if I didn’t meet that man [Rosen]” said Derek Blackwell, an orchardist and former inmate.

For Rosen’s employees “just simply getting through the day is a massive achievement.” The temptation to fall back into their old ways is lucrative and threatens their freedom. By offering positive environment, Rosen allows for these men and woman to literally get their hands dirty and cultivate a new life.

“I don’t got to worry about the police, the robbers, the haters and everything that comes with the streets, I got the opportunity to come home with paycheck” said James Williams, now a New Ark Farm crew chief.

Hard cider sales dropped 8.2% through April 2016, according to an IRI Report (a research company focusing on market intelligence)  and for Rosen it's an uphill battle to take on major corporations like AB InBev (BUD) and Angry Orchard (SAM). Those challenges, though, still don’t make cider a priority.

“At the heart of what we are trying to do is build a strong community by building stronger members of that community”

- Charles Rosen, Founder Ironbound Hard Cider

“We decided we do not want to take Ironbound nationwide. What we would like to export is a model. So we are looking at doing moonshine in Virginia and looking at doing a beer in Detroit,” Rosen said.

His ultimate mission is to prove that sustainable farming and a sustainable community is the most important business lesson to be learned.

“At the heart of what we are trying to do is build a strong community by building stronger members of that community” Rosen said.

As we celebrate National Apple Cider Day, be sure to watch Charles Rosen’s full interview above and see just how Ironbound is changing the hard cider industry, the economy and people’s lives for good.

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