Originally Posted on Apr 05, 2017
Are you curious to know about the people behind the beers you buy? Or perhaps you want to know what inspires brewers to brew and beer bloggers to blog? Our “Q&A” posts are a light hearted way of getting to know people working in, and connected to, the beer and alcohol industry.
This week sees us talking to Laura from SXOLLIE Cider, who are based in Cape Town, South Africa.
Who are you and what do you do? I am Laura Clacey, I am “The Fixer” at SXOLLIE cider. It’s just Karol and I in the business, so that means that between the two of us we pretty much do EVERYTHING!
When did your love affair with cider begin? Love of cider? Let’s call it a love-hate relationship. Like many, I began a short lust for cider in my late teens, it was sweet and cheap – and left a NASTY hangover. As I grew up this impassioned desire to drink cider quickly turned sour! It was only when Karol began making quality cider from fresh-pressed apples that my love of wine waned and a new love to cider started to emerge.
What we have done with our single varietal apple ciders just makes me fall more in love with cider every day!!
What was the inspiration for starting the brewery? Karol, my partner and I were living in Australia in 2014 and were about to get married. Although we loved Sydney we knew the fun couldn’t last for ever and we needed to be closer to family. Karol, my husband is English (well English of Polish descent after WW2) and to see family was a 24 hour epic journey across the globe, and trip to SA not much less hectic. Not to mention the time-zone difference which led to some confusing conversations at 3am.
So when we started to consider our options for a new home, we made a long list one rainy afternoon on huge sheets of white paper stuck to wall of tiny apartment to prioritise what meant most to us in life. I can’t remember all the details but essentially we agreed that we wanted to be close to family, but not on top of them; in warmer climates and near the beach with an abundance of beaches and nature. We wanted to run a business together and Karol having 4 years experience in running a cider brand made it obvious that we needed to be close to apples to replicate the success he created in Australia and I firmly believed in the opportunity that South Africa offers and missed my home dearly. So, in a nut-shell, Cape Town made so much sense to us. We have been in Cape Town for 3 years now and are loving every minute of the town that offers so much!
The idea of cider as a category is all credit to Karol. Karol is a born entrepreneur; one who sees opportunity if everything, never afraid to take calculated risks and an infectious passion for ideas he believes in. Karol was uninspired after 5 years at PwC, he wanted to find a business opportunity to start, so he packed up his house in London and set off on a 12 month adventure around the globe. After he met me while in South Africa for 6 weeks he progressed to Australia and began working with an apple farmer doing some manual labour. Karol, being a cider lover (and lover of all interesting/unique alcoholic products) quickly realised that the cider boom occurring in the UK was only burgeoning in Australia.
He started exploring this opportunity and quickly partnered with this farmer to set up The Apple Thief. This was the start of the passion for craft cider. While we were deciding whether to move back to SA or elsewhere in Europe we began researching whether there was in fact an opportunity for craft cider in South Africa and found that cider is fastest growing alcohol category in the world; South Africans are in the top 5 cider consuming countries in the world and South Africa has beautiful quality apples (of course!). With the low value of the Rand, setting up an export market makes sense as the craft cider market in South Africa is still small and experimental, so with our 5 years of cider experience under our belt, we knew we could convert South African’s to a proudly African hand-crafted quality cider that tastes amazing.
What’s the story behind the brewery name and logo? The name SXOLLIE. Before I tell the SXOLLIE Story, I need to point out that a SXOLLIE is a South African name affectionately given to a “hustler” or our rogueish friend. Well, this is where the passion and reality collide.
I am proudly South African and felt so proud to be back in SA starting a business in SA that would create employment, training, and joy to South Africans. I have always loved creative African design and believed that it has a place in the international stage that is currently hugely undervalued. I also did my undergraduate degree in Archaeology… so I knew I wanted to showcase what Africa, and South Africa has to offer the world, not the other way around.
I knew the name had to be of South African origin and not connected to any one language group. This had to a product for a rainbow nation. I wanted people to smile when they saw the name and to envoke a sense of pride that we as South Africans own this name. The design had to be proudly African too. From the colour pallet, to the design to the product.
The repeat X pattern of the bottle comes from my archaeological background where the repeat X pattern is often found on pottery throughout history and is one of the identification markers archaeologists use to both date and identify Souther and East African groups as they migrated across the continent.
We used bold, strong colours reminiscent of African bead work and textile design. I have travelled widely both through Africa, the East and Europe and have never seen the eclectic use of bold colour in fashion as I have in the cities of Nigeria, Cameroon, Mozam, Namibia and of Course SA – our continent ROCKS colour. We just had to embrace this.
So, Karol and I the endless optimists thought to ourselves; the case for craft cider in South Africa is a no brainer. We did it to success in Australia, how hard can it be to replicate the process?
Well, who were we kidding. Everything took so long to get set up here! Bank accounts, our licenses, phone lines, office space, rental facility, staff, bottles, bottling you name it… we struggled. But being tenacious we quickly learned to hustle to get by and as soon as we realised that doing business in South Africa is all about the hustle things started to move a bit faster. It took endless hours on the phone to get lines set up, many boxes of chocolates to the bank manager to allow Karol who is English, but with a spousal visa for SA to open a bank account. Wangling a way to get a business account which resulted me now being the only signing partner on our bank account (YIPPEE), slapping a 300 page business plan on the table of the CEO of the bottling plant for him to consider bottling a sample batch for us … gosh I could go on for EVER!
In a nutshell – the best way we could describe our process was that we were hustling for everything, and no one hustles better than a SXOLLIE. We proudly salute everyone who has had to hustle to get something started in SA and encourage more people to hustle as that is how we are going to build our proudly African city!!
What makes SXOLLIE unique? SXOLLIE Cider is a premium, single varietal cider brand. All of our ciders are made from fresh pressed apples only – no water, no concentrate no added sugar.
First and foremost we are totally unique in that we produce only single varietal ciders. The idea behind our single varietal ciders comes from our passion for wine (drinking). Like everyone has their favourite wine varietal be it sauvignon blanc, chenin or a juicy pinotage everyone notices subtle differences in each wine that stick with you and make you fall in love. We wanted to create the same thing with ciders. See, every day when you go to the supermarket to buy your goodies, you make those same decisions… do you feel like a crispy tart Granny Smith or are you more for the sweet and lovely Golden Delicious or even a Packham Pear to shake things up a bit? Now you can experience those same natural flavours with a bit of a kick.
We are so passionate about getting the natural characteristics out of each apple that we unequivocally will not use any artificial products. It is literally only the single varietal apple/pear and some champagne yeast.
Unlike most of our South African and international competitors both those who term themselves as craft as well as mass market ciders, use apple concentrate or cane sugar to both ferment and sweeten the product. We on the other hand ferment from fresh pressed apples and gain sweetness by blending back fresh pressed apple juice that was pressed merely hours before adding it.
Also, unlike some of our competitors we are have put in many controls to ensure that we get the best from every batch. Yes, like with wine from vintage to vintage there will be some subtle differences, but it should always taste good. So we use hyper sterile equipment from pressing through fermentation and even into bottling. We sterile filter all our ciders to give them a 2 year shelf life too.
But mostly, ours taste like apple… I dare you, line up 8 ciders and do the taste test. Harrods did this with over 50 ciders and chose to list us, the first cider in over a decade. Waitrose also listed us after 6 months of being in the UK.
Where do you see, or hope to see, the brewery in 5 years time? EVERYWHERE!!! We are out for world domination… we hope to be in at least 15 countries and be the preferred premium cider to all loyal cider drinkers. I just want to be on a beach somewhere…
Looking ahead, what new things can we expect from SXOLLIE over the coming months? Hmm – that’s a secret, but we are working on a few new products as we speak!
Are there any other breweries which have influenced you? Oh my word – SO MANY! We love Brewdog and their up-yours attitude. There is an iced-tea brand in South Africa (Bos) that massively influenced our thinking on branding and of course the big guys like SAB Miller, Heineken etc. with their awesome campaigns and long term strategies.
What have you found to be the hardest thing to master when learning to make cider? Patience! I know good things to come to those who wait, but I am on the cusp of being a Millennial – we thrive on instant gratification! I want SXOLLIE to be a household name now, and for everyone to have tasted and converted… but I am fast learning, these things all take time, patience and lot of hard work!
What do you think makes a great cider? Using quality, fresh apples. Paying a lot of attention to sterility while maintaining flavour.
What was your first drink and where were you when you had it? Sadly, it was Archers Schnapps… I was 16 and at a Friends 18th birthday party on a golf course. I thought it was like juice. Suffice it to say, the end result was not good. Before that though, my parents were pretty good at educating me on wine and often let me have sips of good/ interesting wine long before the aaarrrrrccchhhheeeeerrrsss incident.
What drink can you no longer face having had one too many? Archers Schnapps, I can’t even drink peach juice.
What is your favourite style of cider? I’m loving hopped ciders at the moment, as well as ciders in a champagne style.
What is the silliest thing you’ve done whilst drunk? Hmmm… probably while sitting in Vang Vien, Vietnam drinking cheap rice wine and deciding to go off with a total stranger on a 3 week motorbike trip through rural Vietnam. Luckily my guardian angel made sure the bloke I decided to tootle off with was really sweet and looked after me. It is still one of the best, most crazy adventures I’ve had.
What is the best part of your job? Meeting so many interesting people, from barmen through to private equity fund managers and everything in-between. Everyone always has an interesting tale to regale. I also love waking up every morning knowing that everything I have and will have is up to me to determine, no one is paying me a salary- I am totally in control of my own destiny. That AMAZING and f@#$%ing scary!
You are stuck on a desert island, what three things are you taking with you? Cider of course, the most refreshing thing you can take and packed with vitamins! I would survive for weeks! I could also use the empty bottles for collecting water, storing food I gather and making a loud noise to scare away the monkeys and snakes.
My phone (I assume there is Wi-Fi?) I can’t live without it. Mostly for social media, but also to ask for help after a few days once we get bored of sand, sea and relaxing. I might message my mum to say we are alive.
Karol and our daughter Ella – that will make the stranding all the more worth it.
Oh damn… now I all I can think of is going down to the beach…. Sorry, got to run, the waves of Cape Town are calling! Cheers!
Thanks to Laura and SXOLLIE for taking the time to chat with us so enthusiastically about their brand.
Click here to browse and purchase SXOLLIE Cider.