La Familia Cider Co. named Manufacturer of the Year for its inventive ciders

La Familia Cider, a Salem cider company with a distinctly Mexican spin on the alcoholic beverage, was cited recently as the Manufacturer of the Year by the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce.

The company began producing and distributing its cider in 2017 with the help of Portland Cider Co. It was founded by the Gonzalez family – José Gonzalez, a real estate agent and Salem city councilor, his wife Shani Gonzalez, and two children, JJ Gonzalez and Jazzelle Gonzalez.

The family was honored at the chamber’s awards ceremony at the Salem Convention Center on June 10. Tom Hoffer, chamber CEO, told the audience why the company had been selected.

“From its humble beginnings, our 2024 manufacturer of the year has evolved from a beacon of quality and innovation demonstrating that the foundation of success in business is built on unwavering dedication and passion for excellence,” Hoffert said. “Their journey is a shining example of how a family can come together, pooling their unique talents and shared values to create a product that resonates with both heart and soul.” 

La Familia opened its first tap room at 231 Court Street N.E. in Salem in 2020, and recently opened a second taproom in Portland at 3638 S.E. Hawthorne Boulevard, where the Portland Cider Co. taproom used to be. In Salem, the cider can be purchased at local stores including the American Market, 1420 State Street, where a 19.5 ounce can sells for $4.49. It can also be enjoyed by the glass at the taproom downtown. 

JJ Gonzalez is in charge of the day-to-day business operations for La Famila, and spends his time focused on the Portland location, while his sister, Jazzelle Gonzalez, is focused on running the company’s tap room in Salem. 

Portland Cider Co. produces La Familia’s cider, offering support and its expertise in brewing, said JJ Gonzalez. The idea, he said, was sparked by a newly discovered appreciation for the beverage, but the appeal really comes from the authentic Mexican flavors that create the soul of the company’s products.

Gonzalez said the cidery’s offerings are based on family recipes for non-alcoholic aguas frescas, or the traditional Mexican fruit beverages he grew up drinking. 

“Here in Salem, the Mexican population is growing,” he said. “We really wanted to be representative of our heritage. Being proud of being Mexican and being innovative by trying to bring Mexican culture into the cider industry…That is our goal. We want to put it on for our people.” 

Gonzalez said his grandmother’s aguas frescas are made from water, fresh fruit and sugar. He said aguas frescas are emblematic of his family’s culture, and he has noticed the interest from the community and other Oregonians of Mexican heritage when they first try cider at La Familia’s tap rooms. 

“It is old recipes passed down that she (Gonzalez’s grandmother) created. And there is so much of it too. You can do a watermelon agua fresca, cantaloupe, mango, almost any fruit you can really do,” Gonzalez said. “Cider is kind of like the cousin of wine. You can ferment fruit and it will develop the alcohol and you can add other things to make it enjoyable.” 

Gonzalez said before the founding of La Familia, he never heard of a cider company mixing the alcoholic beverage made from fermented apples with Mexican agua fresca flavors. 

Gonzalez recalled having his grandmother make two of her classic flavors, tamarindo, or tamarind in English, and jamaica, which is the Spanish word for hibiscus. 

“We had my grandmother make a jamaica and tamarindo, a really concentrated form of it, with no added water, because we didn’t want that to mess with the taste when we added it to the hard cider,” Gonzalez said. “When we did that we were like, ‘Oh shoot, we are onto something.’”

Growing up, Gonzalez said his favorite aguas frescas were the tamarind flavor and if it was available, the watermelon flavor. He didn’t much care for hibiscus flavor, which can be very tart. As an adult, he has found a newfound appreciation for the hibiscus flavor now that it’s mixed with cider. 

“Jamaica cider, I’ve come to really enjoy it, to the point where I’m like, ‘Alright, I actually like jamaica now,’” Gonzalez said. “I grew up very picky as well.” 

The 19.2 ounce cans of La Familia cider are available at stores around Salem and go for $4.49 a can at the American Market at 1420 State Street (Joe Siess/Salem Reporter)

Aside from the agua fresca ciders, La Familia puts out a cider michelada, which Gonzalez said despite sounding weird, has become one of their best sellers. 

A michelada, another traditional Mexican beverage, is often made with beer, lime juice, tomato juice, sauces, spices and chili peppers served in a glass with a salted rim. A cider michelada is certainly an interesting spin on it. 

Gonzalez said he has big plans to grow the business after the Portland taproom is more established. He said he hopes to introduce the joys of cider especially to the older generations of people who may have not discovered it yet. He also has a vision for expansion. 

“Once we’ve established being kind of a staple in southeast Portland, I’d like to try to get into California, southern California because aguas frescas are really popular there. They are huge,” he said. 

In April, Gonzalez said he flew to Japan for the Japan Cider Cup Tasting Competition & International Event, where La Familia won silver for its guayaba, or guava flavored cider. 

Gonzalez said La Familia wouldn’t be where it is today without the support of the city and the Salem community, especially during the height of Covid. 

“This town. I love it. Without them, I wouldn’t be in Portland,” Gonzalez said. “Because we wouldn’t have made it through Covid or continued to grow. It’s been a huge help, and I appreciate it.”

Contact reporter Joe Siess: [email protected] or 503-335-7790.

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Joe Siess is a reporter for Salem Reporter. Joe joined Salem Reporter in 2024 and primarily covers city and county government but loves surprises. Joe previously reported for the Redmond Spokesman, the Bulletin in Bend, Klamath Falls Herald and News and the Malheur Enterprise. He was born in Independence, MO, where the Oregon Trail officially starts, and grew up in the Kansas City area.