Sequim’s Jaiden Dökken and Mackenzie Grinnell look to have their Two Hooligans Cider available later this year. Submitted photo

Sequim’s Jaiden Dökken and Mackenzie Grinnell look to have their Two Hooligans Cider available later this year. Submitted photo

Spirited, sustainable in Sequim: Two Hooligans Cider entrepreneurs look to build business, community

Gleaning (definition) — 1. gather information from various sources; 2. collect leftover produce after a harvest

After years of experimentation, hundreds of gallons in peninsula-borne spirits, some key mentors and a big boost from a small business competition, their home-grown business is nearly ready for harvest.

Two Hooligans Cider, the creation of Sequim’s own Mackenzie Grinnell and Jaiden Dökken, looks to put into drinkable form the duo’s passion for community and sustainability.

Grinnell said he hopes to provide both alcohol and non-alcoholic cider varieties for the opening of Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s new hotel and expansion of 7 Cedars Casino later this year.

The 2012 Sequim High graduates initially went out-of-state for school but wound up transferring to Western Washington University in Bellingham a year later, both studying at WWU’s Fairhaven College and earning non-business degrees.

Two Hooligans Cider came about in somewhat serendipitous fashion, evolving more out of happenstance than a desire to start a business. After learning a bit of the process from Jaiden’s sister Makayla, the pair made a small batch — two bottles — to share with their parents one evening.

“It was so good,” Grinnell recalled.

Their parents, he remembered, made a light-hearted comment about their “two hooligans” making cider. The name stuck, and (eventually) so did the idea of creating a business.

Fruitful venture

Dökken and Grinnell, now in their mid-20s, began making more and more batches each year, the cider wrung from apples gleaned from apples across the Sequim-Dungeness area.

Gleaning — the practice of harvesting excess produce from farms, yards and gardens — fit the philosophy that Grinnell and Dökken later put into words for Two Hooligans Cider: “We want to use our passion for cider-making as a means to engage with issues of land preservation, waste reduction, local economic development, and the resiliency of our community’s social frameworks.”

Grinnell said it started on his parents’ property, and then the neighbors, and their neighbors. The pair now has adopted a pair of orchards locally that they’ll use for the first year’s product of Two Hooligans.

The early days of the burgeoning business were hard-scrabble, gathering loads of apples from Sequim, hand pressing gallon after gallon on borrowed cidery equipment from Lazy J Tree Farm and transporting the cider to Bellingham for the fermenting process.

The pair got very familiar with the glass recycling pickup routes in Bellingham, Grinnell said. Once people realized they weren’t going through their trash but actually reusing the glass bottles, he said, the Bellingham locals were quite supportive.

The duo got expertise in cider-making through a Washington State University Extension class in Mount Vernon, and were on their way to producing 600 gallons of cider in one year.

For their product testing, Grinnell and Dökken didn’t need to go far to test flavors of their cider. They’d make batches for friends and family, with the caveat that they would have to give some sort of feedback.

“Luckily, we have a lot of friends and family,” Grinnell said.

For cider flavors, they started out with wild berry and hop varieties, and have tried cider that includes such varietals as elderberry and coffee.

Regardless of flavor, Grinnell said, the pair always wanted to make sure there’s a sparkling (non-alcoholic) version to each. The goal, he said isn’t necessarily to get people together through alcohol, but rather together through community.

“We are apple focused, not alcohol focused,” Grinnell wrote, “meaning that for every alcoholic variation of cider that we serve we aim to offer a non-alcoholic equivalent for those who do not drink.”

Mentors, funding

With about five years of cider-making experience, the Two Hooligans got some guidance and mentorship to help along the way.

Grinnell said a key connection was with Kyle Johnson, executive director at Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe Economic Development Authority, who pointed him toward a few grant opportunities.

“(That was) a big push to get us going,” Grinnell noted.

One of these was the 2019 Coast Works Sustainable Small Business Competition. Two Hooligans Cider and 13 other burgeoning businesses competed for funds as the entrepreneurs learned about building through sustainable business practices.

The competition included a four-day intensive workshop at the Olympic Natural Resources Center in Forks, where participants get one-on-one technical assistance from experienced business advisors to develop and refine their business concepts.

“The workshop was huge,” Dökken said in an article in the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s August 2019 newsletter. “It was good to actually wipe the apple juice off our hands and come inside to work on the computer.

“The Coast Works contest was a really cool way to put a name to what we were doing.”

Eventually each participating business made a pitch to the competition’s judges. Competition organizers say judges look for solid business ideas that are sustainable and unique — not to mention viable ­— and which benefit the local economy and environment.

In the end, Two Hooligans received the Sustainability Award that came with a $10,000.

“All the other businesses were top-notch,” Grinnell said. “We were so ready to get started, with or without the prize money. (But) it came at the perfect time.”

The competition also proved to be fortuitous for Two Hooligans Cider’s future, as Grinnell and Dökken connected with Crystie Kisler and Andrew Byers of Chimacum’s Finnriver Farm & Cidery.

“We just hit it off,” Grinnell said.

The Finnriver friends have become mentors, Grinnell said, with Kisler helping out on the business side and Byer with the cider-making.

“We have dreamed of ways in which our business can be inclusive and sustainable, and Finnriver has shown us through their practices how necessary and tangible these dreams are,” Grinnell wrote. “They have illustrated how to build a cidery that builds a community.”

Growing future

The Two Hooligans have split up responsibilities evenly, Grinnell said, with both taking on aspects of the business and cider-making.

“We’d go up and down in our friendship, but then we’d go and make cider and (the strife) would all go away,” Grinnell said.

Grinnell bought a piece of land in Carlsborg where he’s at work building the Two Hooligans Cider’s new home, where he figures everything should be up and running for the next gleaning season in September.

“It’d be a dream to have a bar in Sequim or a taproom in Carlsborg,” he said.

Until then, he said, Finnriver offered the use of their facility so Two Hooligans will have a product to sell before their own facility is done.

Later this year, the cider is expected to make its debut at the Jamestown tribe’s hotel and expanded casino.

“We’ll see how that goes, if people like it,” Grinnell said.

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