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  • Writer's pictureAshley Wenger

Sage Bird Ciderworks

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

How does a front porch cider-making hobby turn into a full-scale cidery? Just ask Zach and Amberlee Carlson, owners of Sage Bird Ciderworks in Harrisonburg!

Filling a gap

In 2015, Zach and Amberlee found a love for making hard cider at home out of gallon jugs. A few years later they acquired their own apple press and were able to expand their understanding of using cider-specific apples. What started out as a fun pastime, and something to share with friends and family, soon presented itself as a viable business plan. “In 2018 we were driving through downtown (Harrisonburg) and realized a cidery would be a great addition to downtown.” Although there are a number of breweries in Downtown Harrisonburg (the area is a major hub on the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail), there weren’t any cideries close by. Zach and Amberlee sensed that their community could use a place for cider lovers to gather and the idea of Sage Bird was born.

From hobby to business plan

At this point in their idea phase, neither Zach nor Amberlee had a formal background in business. Amberlee was working as a school English teacher and Zach was a graphic designer. Knowing that they needed more training in order to be successful, Zach enrolled in craft brewing business courses at Portland State University. The courses helped them test their idea for feasibility and begin developing their business plan. Like many other self-starters, they also turned to the internet for guidance. “We did a lot of Googling and looking things up on YouTube to teach ourselves some of the production skills we needed,” said Amberlee. Luckily, the cidery business model Zach and Amberlee wanted for Sage Bird is not much different from a brewery business model, and there are plenty of those in the area. The pair is thankful to have received a lot of help from nearby business owners. “Pale Fire Brewing Company took us under their wing when we were starting out and really helped teach us a lot.”

A rising tide lifts all ships

We at SCCF believe a rising tide lifts all boats, which is why we love seeing business owners rooting for each other. But trading industry knowledge with a direct competitor? That surprised even us, so we dug a little deeper to find out how supportive the community in Harrisonburg really is. What has it been like, owning a business in Harrisonburg? “A big part of our success is that we were already part of the Harrisonburg community. We had already invested in this community for years, so those relationships helped us a lot. We would never have wanted to do this anywhere else, it had to be Harrisonburg,” said the Sage Bird duo. In addition to the support of fellow entrepreneurs, Zach and Amberlee also turned to Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, who helped them with the logistics of establishing their business, and getting their feet off the ground.

Sage Bird officially opened its doors in 2020, and to date has hired three full-time employees and developed a scholarship program for its staff. “We want to put a big focus on our staff development because they’re going to be the best for us if they’re the best for themselves.” The staff scholarship FUNd, as it’s called, is for employees (who have been at Sage Bird for six months or more) to invest in themselves- in something they want to know more about, something they’ve always wanted to do, or something that will improve their lives.

Since opening, the cidery has become a key part of the downtown community, hosting Thursday night trivia, rooting on the JMU football team on Saturdays, and hosting Pride Nights every month in partnership with Friendly City Safe Space!

Visit SageBird Wednesday thru Sunday to try one of their eight drafts on rotation, or a special cider cocktail! Check out their website, or follow them on Instagram to stay updated on events, new ciders, and more!

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