TURNER — At the headquarters of his family’s 211-year-old farm, Andy Ricker has turned a cool, looming space built for apple storage into a 23,000-gallon tank room.

He’s turned an oversized closet into a lab with a beverage engineer.

The ninth-generation farmer aims to become the largest hard apple cider producer in Maine.

The first cans of Ricker’s Hard Cider Mainiac Gold should roll off his new production line in the next few weeks.

Ricker is leading the charge on an investment that he jokes has the rest of the family a little nervous. He’s built capacity for 100,000 cases a year and hopes to get there in three years.

“Three years from now, I hope to knock down that wall and double the size of the building,” Ricker, 29, said during a tour at Ricker Hill Orchard last week.

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Across the country, while alcohol sales have been close to flat, hard cider sales have nearly doubled every year the past three years, he said. “Nationwide, it’s absolutely exploding. It’s a good time to be getting in.”

Ricker began exploring the idea in college. He considered installing three 500-gallon fermenters but early research showed people who had started small regretted it; they’d quickly outgrown capacity. So his pitch was to go big.

“It took a while to convince the rest of the family to come around,” Ricker said. “We realized the market demand was there.”

One half of his canning line arrived a week ago. It’s the same style as the line used at Baxter Brewing Co. in Lewiston, which he toured. Ricker said he liked having another brewer with the same equipment so close.

Apple juice was frozen at the end of harvest last year so production could start as soon as the Ricker Hill Hard Cider Plant & Winery received a state license this summer. It’s already fermenting in giant, stainless steel vats.

Justin Lagassey is the new cider maker/beverage engineer. In a small side room filled with samples, he’s working on the final taste of Mainiac Gold, a mix of golden delicious, gala, empire and Macintosh apples. Other flavors are planned.

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The hard cider is labeled for 5 percent alcohol by volume.

It’s being left a little tart on purpose, Ricker said. Sweet has been done.

“This is for camping, hiking, all summer long, all winter long,” Lagassey said.

In one to four years, the pair plan a line of high-end apple wines from apples and grapes being planted now.

“A lot more hand-crafted, a lot more checking it everyday, a lot more TLC,” Lagassey said.

Construction is underway for a new 24- by 48-foot tasting room just outside the new brewery. Ricker plans samples and tours.

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He’s signed with Pine State Trading Co. for statewide distribution of the cans in Maine. It’ll also be on tap in bars in a week. Cans will be on shelves in early September. A six-pack should retail for about $9.99.

The Four Seasons, the restaurant at the Turner Highlands golf course, will also have it on tap in about a week.

Ricker said he’s aware of other hard cider makers in Maine but none have production on the scale he hopes to take it.

“We sell the juice to most of them — I’ve got a pretty good idea what their volume is,” he said.

Should it run out of apples, they’ll source juice locally, Ricker said. Last December, the family also bought a farm in Greene off Coburn Road.

“It wasn’t an apple farm; it is now,” Ricker said. It’ll take several years, though, to bear fruit.

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He estimated the orchard’s investment at several hundred thousand dollars, which includes upgrading a cider press.

At the same time as the farm launches the hard cider line, it’s also launching a canned, family-friendly Ricker Hill Cider in apple and apple cranberry, both carbonated, non-alcoholic versions of its traditional sweet cider.

“Hopefully, this is a core business for the next hundred years,” Ricker said.

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