By Deb Boucher Stetson
Less than two years ago, Rob Brosofsky was jetting to places as far-flung as China and South Africa making deals for a Fortune 200 company. Now, most of the travel he does is by car, traversing the state to bring tastings of his craft hard cider to people he hopes will talk it up to others. Having relocated to the Cape-tip town he loves, he has traded business conferences for brew fests and cider summits — and he couldn’t be happier.
Brosofsky launched Shoal Hope Ciderworks in 2017, about the same time he moved to Provincetown full-time — a dream that first took root after he rode the Pan Mass Challenge and fell in love with P’town, where the annual fundraiser concludes. He bought a home there five or six years ago so he and his family could vacation there, with the goal of making a permanent move.
“My ultimate goal was to relocate,” but that goal was twinned with another when he discovered hard cider and began making it as a hobby. “I didn’t think, ‘I want to make hard cider.’ It was, ‘I want to make hard cider in Provincetown,’” he said.
Not a beer drinker, Brosofsky gets headaches from the sulfates most wines contain, so finding hard cider was a revelation. Curious about how cider was made, he began reading everything he could find about hard cider — and as he had never been much of a reader he was surprised to find himself reading thousands of pages on the subject. Soon he was taking a cider-making course at Cornell University and attending cider conferences, and in 2015 he founded his company, starting production two years later.
“Hard cider is defined basically as wine made from apples instead of grapes,” he explains. Like wine, cider is influenced by the growing conditions of the fruit — so soil, weather and other factors come into play.
“It’s really kind of nurturing the flavors of the apple as opposed to making it rubber stamped,” he says, likening cider to a craft beer as opposed to say, a Budweiser.
Because land on the Cape is so limited, he has no aspirations to grow his own apples, and because he is based in Provincetown where square footage is at a premium, he does not have the space to press his own juice. Instead, he buys his juice from New England Apple Products, based in Leominster.
“It’s fresh-pressed,” he says of the juice he uses, “it’s just not fresh pressed on site.”
What is done on site is the carefully-monitored fermenting — anywhere from three to six weeks, depending on the season and other factors — and blending of sweeteners (honey or sugar) and other juices to produce the unique varietals for which Shoal Hope Ciderworks is quickly becoming known. Right now, “the family,” as he fondly calls his product line, includes Monument, Honey Baby, Empty Barrel and Little Tart. He also produced a seasonal hops cider for Oktoberfest.
“Now I’m working on another that will be a dessert or cocktail cider — more like an aperitif,” he says. He is also mulling a summer varietal that will likely feature a blend of seasonal fruit juices.
The name Brosofsky came up with for his business is a nod to Cape Cod history: When explorer Bartholomew Gosnold first sailed toward Provincetown Harbor in 1602, he called it Shoal Hope.
While there are other cider firms in Massachusetts, “I’m the only cider maker on Cape Cod,” says Brosofsky
He has come to know other cider producers, and says they are not only friendly but generous. “The industry’s a really open and sharing industry,” he says. “Everybody is always willing to help. It’s really a nice friendly industry.”
In addition, Provincetown is a friendly town, one that is supportive of local businesses. Brosofsky says he chose it as a locale for his new cider venture for two reasons: “I really wanted to live there, and I knew if the product was really good, the entire town would rally around it.”
He was right. Local restaurants and shops embraced the product, enabling Shoal Hope Ciderworks to develop a local base from which to grow. “We started very local, in Provincetown, and then really from recommendations, started building out. We did the Cape Cod Brew Fest,” which led to more contacts, and soon the product was in a number of package stores and restaurants.
Now, Shoal Hope Ciderworks can be found in 110 stores and restaurants, with more being added every month. The ciders are now being distributed statewide by Berkshire Brewing Company.
“Pretty much everybodywho tries it buys least a bottle, because it’s so different from anything else out there,” he says — thus the travel. “It’s all about outreach, and it’s all about tasting,” he says. “I’m doing the outreach, getting people to try the product.” People who try it and like it, he says, not only buy some but encourage their favorite restaurants to stock it.
Hard cider is becoming more mainstream, according to Brosofsky, who says the industry is much the way the craft beer industry was a decade ago. And while 10 or 15 years ago the beverage was more likely to attract women than men, he says it’s now a 50-50 mix drinking it. “Now men are saying, I don’t really need so much gluten,” he observes. “It’s really transitioning.”
Brosofsky is clearly on top of the marketing angle, but he says his corporate experience enabled him to quickly own many other aspects of the business.
“My background is in business and I think that has really helped me in terms of financing the business,” he says.
It also helped that the business he was in had a scientific bent: The firm was involved in both oil exploration and medical developments. “That really allowed me to get my head around the science behind hard cider,” he says. “I’m glad I’m not in corporate America anymore but I definitely learned a lot.”
Starting a business and relocating were both big life changes for Brosofsky, but he has no regrets. “I loved my corporate career, but it was time to move on,” he says. And while the business is not yet profitable, it’s getting there. “I’m not making money but I’m not losing it anymore.”
More importantly, “I’m doing what I love to do in a town where I love to be — what could be better?” Bottom line? “I’m happy.”