Business Briefing: Queer owner's garage fermentation trials produce thriving cider business

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday September 13, 2023
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Bex Pezzullo has hit her stride with her Sincere Cider products. Photo: Cynthia Laird
Bex Pezzullo has hit her stride with her Sincere Cider products. Photo: Cynthia Laird

While working at various San Francisco restaurants in the late 1990s and 2000s, Bex Pezzullo was studying to earn her certification as a sommelier. It led the queer California native to an Italian winery where she helped make wine during the 2009 grape harvest.

Several years later, after moving into an Oakland apartment with a spacious garage, Pezzullo began to experiment with making her own wines. Alas, her ability to pair wines with complimentary entrees was far superior to her winemaking skills.

"As is true with many people who have a refined taste in certain things, my wine palate is very high and my winemaking talent is very low. I made probably the worst wine I ever tasted," recalled Pezzullo, 46, who also discovered her beer-making skills were wanting. "I started fermenting beer, but it was too beery. I then stumbled across apples and went down a rabbit hole of research and refinement."

Turns out, Pezzullo has a deftness for taking apples and turning them into alcoholic ciders. After refining her recipes, Pezzullo opted to take a risk in launching her own brand Sincere Cider in March 2020. Her timing couldn't have been worse, as she did so a week prior to bars and restaurants being forced to close because of the COVID pandemic.

Rather than give up on the business, Pezzullo gave up her lease, packed up her belongings into a 1993 Dodge Pleasureway Van, and hit the byways of California. The self-described Johnny Appleseed of ciders joked she can now recommend the best place to find a burger along any backroad in the Golden State.

"After living in the Bay Area and being tied to rent-controlled apartments for most of my life, it was extremely liberating to just sleep where I parked and not pay rent," said Pezzullo, who noted she can "speak country" having grown up in Susanville in rural Lassen County and felt at ease traveling to more conservative parts of the state. "I didn't feel threatened or in danger or worried at any point, after all it is California."

For the next three years she crisscrossed the state promoting Sincere Cider to business owners she met along the way. Most of the time Pezzullo would pull into a town, cold-call small groceries and other businesses, and offer the owners or managers samples of her cider.

"I would give them a cold can, share it with them, and tell my story. Usually, they would buy it," recalled Pezzullo in a recent interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "I spent the last three years building a brand through sheer will power with no marketing, with no budget, with no nothing."

Sincere Cider comes in three core flavors, as well as seasonal offerings. Photo: Matthew S. Bajko  

Her tenacity and determination paid off, as Sincere Cider can now be found at locations spanning California from Eureka in the north to San Diego in the south. Multiple Nevadan businesses carry her product in the Lake Tahoe and Reno areas.

"I think people are health conscious and value alcoholic beverages that are made cleaner and more simplistically. People definitely are conscious of the provenance and origin of their beverages," said Pezzullo when asked about the growing embrace of cider by drinkers.

One sign of how popular the alcoholic beverages have become is Sincere Cider can be found at Whole Foods stores around the Bay Area. In San Francisco, the brand is also on the shelves at BevMo, Safeway, and Mollie Stone's locations, as well as carried by local grocers like Bi-Rite Market and Denhard's Market.

With nightlife venues beginning to rebound last year, as COVID became a more manageable disease due to people being vaccinated for it, more LGBTQ bar owners began stocking Sincere Cider. It is now available at numerous bars in San Francisco's LGBTQ Castro district, while audiences at the city's LGBTQ film festival Frameline could find it on offer at screenings held at the Castro Theatre.

"It is not a heavy drink. You can drink a 16-ounce can and not feel full," noted Pezzullo.

She makes a mainstay dry apple cider with culinary apples sourced from Washington's Yakima Valley and blended with French wine yeast. Throughout the year Pezzullo will release seasonal flavors, such as the pineapple flavored cider that debuted in June during Pride Month.

She also that month rolled out two new core flavors, one made with ginger juice and agave and another made with pomegranate juice with Seville orange zest. On Thursday, September 14, she is rolling out a blood orange cider with rosemary as her seasonal flavor for the fall and upcoming holiday season.

"The color is beautiful and it is a winter fruit. I wanted to play with ingredients from my Italian heritage," explained Pezzullo when asked how she had landed on using blood oranges.

Initially, she was renting out a Napa winery during its offseason to make her ciders. As the business has taken off, Pezzullo now uses shared facilities in Napa, Lodi, and San Jose to produce her product.

"I am incredibly proud with where I have grown the company. Last year sales outpaced production. This year, with the three facilities and partnerships forged, I can keep up with the new core flavors and seasonal ciders," said Pezzullo, who would only divulge that she has already produced twice the amount of cider that she did in 2022.

Customers can order directly from Sincere Cider via its website, where the ciders come in quantities of 16 ($56) packaged in 16 ounce aluminum cans. Pezzullo chose the material due to its sustainability, since it can be recycled into something else.

"It is nearly a closed loop," noted Pezzullo, who is a member of The Good Food Guild and 1% for the Planet, as she has pledged to donate at least 1% of Sincere Cider sales directly to environmental causes.

Last month, Pezzullo moved back to Oakland in the Longfellow neighborhood adjacent to the city of Emeryville. She told the B.A.R. she is interested in opening a tasting room for Sincere Cider at some point in the future.

"Either the East Bay or San Francisco would be fine," Pezzullo said as for a location. "How soon? That is a question for city planning. I have no timeline, literally I am just exploring it."

Asked about selling her cider brand to a larger beverage company, Pezzullo told the B.A.R. it isn't something she is currently considering.

"I built this company so I could live and I could spend my days doing things I am passionate about. I am all in on Sincere," said Pezzullo.

To learn more about Sincere Cider, or to order its ciders online, visit its website at

Got a tip on LGBTQ business news? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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