Will Work for Booze: Thoughts from an HCC Intern

By now you’ve probably met the proud men of Harvard Cider Company. Sass, smiles and all. Knowing all of the giggles that occur in that office, you might find it a little hard to imagine that they ever get any actual work done. You might even think to yourself, ‘there must be an army of workers, hidden behind the scenes to explain all this output’—and you’d be half right. There certainly is no army; however, on rare occasions, there stand the few, the proud: The Harvard Cider Company Interns. Mainly, myself, Katie Finnegan.

Now, being a senior in the final stages of university, you can imagine that the last plans I had for my six-week winter break involved standing on my feet in sticky puddles for 12 hours a day or spraying gunk off of large plastic containers. Lucky for the boys at HCC, I had little to no choice. For the majority of my time spent in Harvard, MA, I partook in what we jokingly labeled an internship—before realizing that due to the hours, amount of labor and overall skills developed, it truly was one.

Don’t get me wrong—it wasn’t that I didn’t want to get involved or wasn’t excited to. I’ve watched HCC grow from the basement of my house and feel a tremendous amount of pride in its success. After all, not only am I the sister of one of the founders, but I also attended Holderness, the high school that brought the three men together in the first place. No doubt, I felt connected to the company. I just never imagined being a true part of it, aside from a doting sister and schoolmate—and obviously, an avid consumer. Instead, I now get to say I’ve worked in (almost) every part of the company—teach me the ways of Excel and I’m all yours for accounting, Sam! Anyways, after completing an internship with the hardworking men of HCC, I am now proud to claim a true role in its start up: the intern.

I began my internship as a casual volunteer, simply lending a helping hand and support in the days leading up to the big December Launch. Being an art major, I was naturally recruited to paint the retail space in the few days before the Grand Opening. The culmination of four years of studies in Fine Arts were coming down to my ability to run an 8-inch roller dripping with eggshell paint across a white wall—I was very proud. But really, I challenge you to find even a sliver of white on those gorgeous eggshell walls! (I don’t challenge you to check the trim…that wasn’t done in my finest hour). After a few days of bringing coffee to the boys and beaming over my freshly painted walls, the true necessity of my role came to light. In the two days before the big launch, I found my true role as an intern: Katie Finnegan, bottling and labeling extraordinaire.

Have you ever operated a bottling line by hand? Neither had I. Now, a few thousand bottles later, I can safely say that I will never feel the need to do that again. Ever. What sounds like a somewhat methodical, easy task turns out to be extremely hard on the hands but even harder on the mind. From sanitization of the bottles to filling to capping and eventually labeling and packaging, I did it all. It was my first real sense of “I’m a part of this.” It may not seem difficult to place a bottle under a filler, cap, wash and label it, but the quantity and nitty gritty details were the real trick to master; finding the right levels of CO2 with the slightest of adjustments, perfectly cooling the bottles, being quick and efficient enough to avoid wasting due to underfills required constant attention to detail. We started off at a slow pace, mastering the basics, but eventually, the Mark-Katie duo was pumping out 100 bottles an hour. It was pretty impressive considering the lack of automation in the system. And it felt incredibly badass. Every time I crack open a bottle, I instantly flash back to memories of what went into that bottle that I now hold in my hand. I remember the aches in my fingers, the bruises in weird places and the foot massages I craved. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not a baby when it comes to working with my hands. I’ve lead canoe trips professionally and rock climb whenever I can. But all the canoeing and climbing in the world wouldn’t prepare my hands for grabbing ice cold bottles by the neck and tossing them around for hours on end. And on top of the aches of bottling, nothing smells worse than the latex reacting to the cider. I can (unfortunately) call that scent to mind whenever I please.  But in the end, it was all worth it when I sat down and drank a bottle of Missing Link.

Preparing for the launch was one thing, but the real rush came during launch week when we ran out of bottled Paradise. All of a sudden, it was just me and the bottling line versus the masses. It became as direct to consumer as can be. I remember the adrenaline rush that came with having to hand bottle and label 12 packs, tossing them into boxes, then walking them out and placing them into the hands of the waiting customer. There is little else as satisfying as such an interaction. Despite the excitement, by the end of the launch, I thought I would be retired from bottling for good.

When I finally returned in March for a few bottling sessions, I realized how far the guys had come in the few months that I was gone. Systems were streamlined and efficiency skyrocketed, labels could be applied beforehand, nixing the washing and hand drying process that had I deemed the bane of my existence (labeling post fill meant attempting to dry cold bottles that were continuously producing condensation and was therefore a nearly impossible task). The hardest thing to grasp was that they invested in a manifold. I have yet to use it but hearing about how streamlined the process had become was almost a cruel joke. Sometimes I feel like I’m bragging about walking home in a blizzard, uphill both ways, but knowing all that I had put in I feel justified in saying that anyone coming after me to intern will have an easier time. But the truth is, these growths signified success. You never truly appreciate how much work goes into the beginning of something unless you were there to witness it. My HCC internship was extremely rewarding. To see how far these guys have come is truly inspiring. Their ability to giggle in the most frustrating of situations is astounding—and in the startup game, that’s truly one of the most important things. In the end, I’m incredibly proud to be a part of HCC’s beginnings. From now on though, I think I’ll stick to taste testing. Cheers, boys!

About the Author

Katie Finnegan