SOUTH GARDINER — When David Boucher sits down to stick labels on his bottles of Crooked Halo hard cider, the first few are never perfectly straight.
It takes a couple of bottles to get it right, and then he’s in his rhythm.
“I get in a routine, and I zone out,” Boucher said in the cavernous space in the former Associated Grocers warehouse on River Avenue that smells faintly of cider.
Labeling the bottles himself is just one in a long list of tasks on Boucher’s list as founder and president of Lost Orchard Brewing Company.
Others are making sales calls and building a list of bars, restaurants and bottle shops to carry his hard cider and filling last-minute orders from those establishments as he was doing Friday afternoon.
The calls are welcome.
“Money keeps going out without any money coming in,” he said, but that’s changing.
In February, the company shipped its first order. Both Pine State Trading Company and Nappi Distributors are expected to deliver products throughout central Maine and into other parts of the state.
If all goes as planned, Lost Orchard will add the Portland area, New Hampshire and Massachusetts to its distribution territory and possibly stretch into Rhode Island before too much longer, said Gina Nugent, who serves as both Boucher’s assistant and sales representative.
“So far, the reception has been really warm,” Nugent said. “People have already heard of us.”
“We have a pretty large following for not having product out there for a while,” Boucher said.
Boucher, a Massachusetts native who relocated to Maine 11 years ago, has an established network in the restaurant industry, and he’s using it to promote his business. He worked for a number of years for bars and restaurants before pursuing Lost Orchard Brewing and the Crooked Halo Cider House with the support of family and additional funding via the Community Development Block Grant program.
While the magic of fermentation takes place on River Avenue, the tasting room will be in a converted former Congregational church on Church Street in downtown Gardiner. That will feature small batch brews for sale as well as branded merchandise including T-shirts. Boucher said he’s targeting Memorial Day for the opening. That’s another item on the task list. The building, which will also house the company’s administrative offices, needs a new roof.
When it’s open, the tasting room will augment Gardiner’s growing reputation as a local food hub. Lost Orchard sources everything it can in Maine from cider and berries to the tap handles manufactured from barrel staves.
Playing a role in that has been a little nerve-wracking, he said, but that’s due solely to the pressure he has put on himself. His business plan called for the first batch of cider to be ready to ship in the middle of last year, but that date was delayed by factors outside his control, like the orchard supplying his cider changing hands.
“We were hoping to do 50,000 gallons this year, but we’re planning on 30,000 this year to play it safe,” he said.
Boucher and his assistant, Michael Nugent, are planning for upcoming releases — Dante’s Inferno, a cinnamon whiskey barrel-aged cider this month; the Rapture, a blackberry cider with black Madagascar vanilla aged in French cognac barrels in April; and an as-yet unnamed pineapple cider with agave aged in tequila barrels.
In the meantime, he’s labeling bottles by hand, bottles that are expected to be in stores around the capital region as soon as the end of the week.
Jessica Lowell — 621-5632