Painted Turtle Hard Cider: A Family Affair

by Chiara Licari • photography by Two Eagles Marcus 

Marie and Bob Loughlin were considering retirement when their daughter Tracy came home from Bali with an idea that put their 401k on the back burner.

Tracy, in need of a break from her stressful engineering job, had bought herself a one-way ticket out of the States in search of some inspiration and a creative outlet. She returned home refreshed, with one bold idea dominating her thoughts—cider.

“First, I came home thinking of beer, but the more I talked with my dad, the more things clicked,” Tracy explained.

As an apple farmer of 30 years, Bob had years of insight, experience and knowledge to offer his daughter. Realizing how popular hard cider was overseas, Tracy decided to shift her idea a bit and amp its appeal here in America.

Tracy’s family lined the living room as she pitched her idea to dabble in hard cider production. The project would quickly change their quiet lifestyle, including sister-in-law Melissa Loughlin’s.

“The excitement was contagious, but the idea seemed absolutely ludicrous,” Melissa said.

Despite any doubts sparked by Tracy’s proposal, the whole family jumped on board and supported her. After experimenting with home cider kits and working at Honey Creek Farmer’s Market to familiarize herself with different types of apples, Tracy decided to take the next step and get certified.

Tracy Loughlin of Painted Turtle Hard Cider

She and her mother, Marie, drove to Seattle to attend cider school in Washington where they cultivated a new perspective and created a plan to launch their own cider business when they returned to Lowell.

When it came to picking a name and designing a logo, Marie was excited to be in charge. Her artistic mind churned out multiple drafts until she found the perfect design. Michigan’s state reptile, the painted turtle, served as the main inspiration for the businesses logo and motto, “Dare to Drink Different.”

Each batch is brewed with fresh apples from the family’s farm and incorporates fresh local ingredients, including cinnamon sticks and roasted coffee beans.

While wine lovers and beer connoisseurs have their niche, hard cider is often cast aside in the bar scene. The family questioned how they would be able to make cider more popular in the area. The answer didn’t come solely from the ingredients they use in their cider; it also came from the collaborative and experimental nature shared among the family members.

The Loughlin family is proud of the product they’ve brewed. Relying on both creativity and science, they’ve conjured up a concoction that defies an old brewing stereotype.

“People have the perception of that old brown jug in grandpa’s basement—but we’re not selling moonshine!” Marie said.

Before they opened for business, the family hosted a cider tasting party to help determine which flavors they would start selling. Tracy developed a system that allowed volunteer tasters to rate each cider and choose their favorite. It was important for the family to include a participation aspect in their business journey to ensure they were producing ciders that appealed to many different palates. Much to their surprise, some of the unique flavors the Loughlins didn’t anticipate being popular, turned out to be crowd-pleasers.

“We wanted something we could get behind,” Marie said. “You should feel like you’re giving a customer the best there is.”

So far, five different cider flavors are available in stores, including: Traditional, Apple Crisp, Blueberry Bliss, Java Vanilla and a limited-time winter cider, Cozy Cabin.

To celebrate their first business anniversary next month, the Loughlins will be releasing a dry hop cider. In the future, the family hopes to open a tasting room, create an online domain to sell their products and occupy shelf space at a large grocery store like Meijer.

Melissa, often described as the cheerleader of the family, loves being in charge of the tastings and promoting the business. She said the family has been learning as they go, accumulating as much experience as they can.

“We’re both on this roller coaster, and I’m screaming, and she’s got her hands in the air,” Marie said of Melissa.

With their experiences in the greater Grand Rapids area, the Loughlins are thrilled and honored to be part of such an accepting environment that values giving back just as much as they do.

“You can still be in business and help people and be involved in charity—that’s important to us,” Marie said. “At least I can get the grandkids involved in something like that.”

One of the ways the Loughlins have given back is by collecting donations around Lowell and distributing them to families in need of cozy winter clothes. The event consisted of gathering up warm hats, mittens, scarves and socks, and fit perfectly with their winter-themed cider, Cozy Cabin.

The Loughlins are equally as grateful for each other, and the talents each member brings to the business table. Melissa handles most of the marketing and sales with her husband Rob, and Marie’s creativity complements Bob’s business background, collectively making a dynamic and efficient team.

Melissa and Rob’s children are very excited about what their family has accomplished. They know all about carbonation and the fermentation process–for them, it’s a science project every day.

“As a mom, it’s great to see my kids’— especially my nine-year-old-daughter’s,— minds ticking,” Melissa said. “She sees what she can do and accomplish. She sees there’s just this flame that is lit in our family.”

The business has empowered Melissa to be a leading woman in a male-dominated business. She is invested in the company and maintains incredibly close ties with her family, which has allowed her to see the impact the business has had on her children. She feels being a mother offers her an advantage.

“I look at our family and see so much hard work and perseverance,” Melissa said. “My mother and father-in-law are the ultimate mentors and examples of marriage.”

Marie and Bob are excited for this new chapter in their lives and are ready for everything it will bring forth. After working together for most of their lives, the two couldn’t imagine anything different.


Chiara Licari

chiaralicarionline
Chiara Licari is a Writing and Advertising/Public Relations double major at GVSU venturing out in West Michigan and getting a taste of the writing life.  


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