Kathleen McLaughlin
The Bulletin

What: Atlas Cider Co.

What it does: Makes cider

Pictured: Dan and Samantha McCoy

Where: Bend, Portland area

Employees: 35

Website: www.atlascider.com

Dan and Samantha McCoy leveraged their home and multiple personal credit cards to lift Atlas Cider Co. into production.

That was five years ago, when both McCoys, a husband-and-wife team, were still teaching full time. Now Atlas, based in Bend, is Oregon’s second-largest cider maker, producing about 516 barrels a month and expecting to exceed 7,000 barrels this year. Atlas ciders are also distributed in Idaho and Washington, and the company is planning its third taproom, which will be in the heart of Portland’s Pearl District.

The new restaurant and taproom will give Atlas another way to connect with its fans, who are concentrated in the Portland area, Dan McCoy said. Earlier this year Atlas opened a taproom at the Washington Square Mall in Tigard, and its ciders are on-tap at the Moda Center, as Atlas is an official partner of the Portland Trail Blazers.

“It’s not just the Blazers games. All those handles stay there. There’s concerts going on constantly,” he said.

With a growing number of retail sales points, Atlas is preparing to add capacity to its production house on SE Wilson Avenue in Bend, McCoy said. A new line of tanks will add 16,000 gallons, doubling capacity, McCoy said. Atlas has also acquired its own canning line and hopes to snag more shelf space at grocery stores and bottle shops throughout the Northwest, Sam McCoy said.

Sitting in a conference area that once served as a tasting room, the McCoys talked about Atlas’ growth trajectory. Their responses have been edited for length and content.

Q: You’re both former teachers. When did you go full time with the business?

SM: I went on maternity leave in 2013 after I had our second child, Arden. (The company is named after the McCoys’ son.) Then the second year I decided not to go back at all, do this full-time. Dan was still teaching at the time.

DM: That was the most difficult time in starting the business. We knew we were going to risk it all in starting this.

SM: Dan would get off teaching at 3 (o’clock in the afternoon). He’d come straight here and work till like three in the morning. Come home, sleep for an hour or two, and then get up and have to be back in Redmond by seven to teach middle school. It was crazy.

DM: But it was exciting. This was starting to gain traction. It was like all right, let’s see if we can do this. We were so all-in at that point.

Q: Had you always wanted to start a business?

DM: We wouldn’t have started the business unless it was something we thought had a chance. The fact is we risked everything. Every dollar we had saved. We took out a small business loan, which we had to put our house on the line for that. And then we took out as many credit cards as we could, as fast as we could. To take that much risk and go all in on something like that, it has to be something you have a really good feeling about and something we thought we could pull off.

Q: What drew you to making cider?

DM: We would go to bars and restaurants. That’s the first thing we’d ask: “Hey, do you have a craft cider on draft?” A lot of times they didn’t. It wasn’t available, so we were like, hey, here’s a good opportunity to start a business as something we’re very passionate about and excited about.

Q: You didn’t open your first tasting room, which is at the Box Factory in Bend, until 2015. How did you get distribution?

SM: Timing was good on that. We kind of knew it was now or never. We knew we had to jump all-in before the market got too flooded.

DM: The distribution companies were smart at that point. One of the fastest-growing segments of alcohol was craft cider. So here’s us, being out of Bend. They saw the value in getting behind us.

Q: Other cider companies are growing, too. 2 Towns Ciderhouse in Corvallis sold 13,682 barrels of cider under 7 percent alcohol by-volume through September, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, and there are 10 more cider companies in Oregon. How much room for growth does the industry have?

DM: We’re already seeing more bars offer multiple tap handles of cider. If you’re a bar and you have 12 tap handles, do you really need 11 beers and one cider? How about nine beers, a dry cider, a fruit cider. To me, it’s that variety.

—Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com