Artifact Cider to open taproom in Florence, double its staff

Daily Hampshire Gazette, March 3, 2019. By Bera Dunau

Artifact Cider has returned to western Massachusetts, and childhood friends Soham Bhatt and Jake Mazar are hard at work writing the next chapter of the hard cider business they founded together.

Artifact Cider is a hard cider maker that makes alcoholic beverage from apples from western Massachusetts and the surrounding region. The company is in the process of setting up a taproom at its new facility in Florence and will significantly increase its workforce.

Bhatt is the chief cider maker for artifact, while Mazar is the business manager, but their friendship began in elementary school when they were growing up in Worcester County in neighboring towns.

“My dad was our soccer coach in the fourth grade,” said Mazar.

“We had the same group of friends,” said Bhatt. “It was just five or six of us that hung out all the time.”

The pair both went to college in Boston, albeit at different schools, and they got an apartment together after college. Mazar was working in management consulting while Bhatt was working in biotech. However, Bhatt said that he and Mazar became dissatisfied with working for big companies.

“There was something unfulfilling about it,” said Bhatt.

Mazar pulled the trigger first on exiting big corporate life, moving to Amherst to work on a farm. And it was this agricultural background that helped Mazar make the connection with Pine Hill Orchard in Colrain, which remains Artifact’s biggest apple supplier, and also presses apples for them.

Bhatt said that they had a desire to work in an industry that they believed in.

“We wanted to make something on our own terms,” he said.

And he said that what drew them to hard cider was their love for the beverage itself.

Bhatt said that he and Mazar discovered cider around the same time they discovered beer and wine.

“Cider was just part of the conversation for us,” he said.

Bhatt has been cooking since he was a little kid, and he describes food and drink as his “biggest hobby.”

He also said that cider was the first thing he ever fermented that was alcoholic. However, at that time he said that there were not many ciders available and that many of them were too sweet for his liking.

A turning point came for him when he discovered the cider maker West County Cider. In 2009, he drank a Baldwin from West County Cider and his reaction was, “This is amazing.”

This inspired him to make a flavor profile inspired by the style, and he made his first batch of cider.

Both men also described being inspired by cider’s deep history in the area.

“The region that we’re in, is an apple region,” said Mazar. “We grow some of the best apples in the country.”

“We have the oldest apple trees in the country,” Bhatt said. “The history’s already there.”

Indeed, in speaking about apples, Bhatt described apples as, “The blood of the land.”

However, Bhatt said that he isn’t as interested in the past of cider as much as what can be done with it today.

“What stories can it tell in today’s world?” said Bhatt.

Bhatt said that the goal is to create a cider culture that gives rise to the assumption that “great cider is made in the northeast.”

“That’s really where we want to get to,” he said.

Indeed Mazar said that, “I would love for the region to be celebrated as the Napa Valley of apples.”

In the beginning, Bhatt said Artifact was an experiment.

“Can I just make some artisanal stuff that we can sell,” was how he described it.

Artifact, which will celebrate 5 years in June, had its first location in Springfield on Gasoline Alley, where it stayed for about two years. The first batch, which was 500 gallons, came from cider that began fermenting in 2013.

Artifact then moved east to Everett, just outside of Boston, and leased space there for two years. It was during this period that Bhatt entered the business full time, as he was making more than 40,000 gallons of cider while holding another job.

“I physically couldn’t hold two jobs,” he said.

Mazar said that the intention was always to return to western Massachusetts, because it is closer to the cider maker’s supply of apples, which come from farms in Connecticut, Massachusetts, southern Vermont and eastern New York.

Artifact closed on the Florence property, which is located at 34 North Maple St, in July and began construction in September.

In February, the move to Florence was completed, and the new space is currently in the midst of a renovation.

“This is our only facility in the world,” said Mazar.

Located off the bike path in Florence, the space currently houses all of Artifact’s production capabilities. And come the spring it will also host a full tap room, complete with large glass windows and a dedicated staff. The facility will also be open to tours.

“People will be able to come here,” he said. “We’ve never had that before.”

Indeed, Mazar said that they’d dreamed about a taproom for quite some time.

“From the very beginning, the one thing we said we wanted was a taproom,” he said. “I am so stoked about having a place people can visit.”

Mazar said that this will be the first cider taproom in western Massachusetts and that there are only a few such taprooms in New England.

“I hope so,” said Mazar, if he thought it would make it a destination.

However, he said that his main focus is on the local community.

On why Florence, Mazar said that a number of different locations in a number of different towns were looked at.

“A lot of it came down to just the right building,” said Mazar. “It is remarkably hard to find a space that is adequately suited for what we are trying to do.”

Artifact currently employs six people, but Mazar said that when the new facility is fully up and running it will “at least” double its workforce to about a dozen people.

“I hope that we can offer more jobs than that in the future,” he said.

Artifact currently has four different varieties of cider on sale, with two more coming out in April, and Mazar said that over the course of the year it will offer 10 different products, in addition to smaller batch projects that will be made possible by the taproom.

Mazar said that artifact doesn’t offer many fruited flavors of cider, instead keeping its attention on the apples themselves.

“We really try to hone in on and focus on apples,” said Mazar.

“I’m much more interested in what can we do with apples,” said Bhatt.

And aside from a desire to branch out into pear cider, Mazar said the company has no interest in making other types of beverages.

Bhatt said that he is trying to showcase a wide variety of apples, with a portfolio of ciders that appeals to the diverse range of artifact’s customers.

One thing Bhatt said he can care less about is the pedigree of apples, or whether they are heritage or heirloom.

“At the end of the day I’m all about high-quality fruit,” Bhatt said. “I don’t care what it’s called.”

Mazar, who lives in Amherst, owns Wheelhouse, a farm-to-table catering company, in addition to Artifact. Bhatt, who lives in Cambridge, still works at Artifact full-time.

“As much as I would like to get him to move out here I think he’s staying in Cambridge,” said Mazar.

Currently, Artifact sells only in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, although they’re looking to expand into Maine soon.

“We’re still relatively small,” he said.

Mazar also revealed that a long-term goal is to also have a facility closer to Boston as well.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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