Saturday, June 2, 2018

After bottling the 2017s

When cider is made, and grown, to the standards of traditional wine it has its triumphant years and its dud years according to the season. 2017 was an abundant year for wild apples in Sullivan County but the quality of apple was medium-to-poor. Due to disease set-backs in the Northeast last summer, and especially because of the cold, wet July and August, the fruit brix were lower than in any of my dozen-or-so years measuring such things. Summer’s rebound at the end of September was too-little-too-late for most trees, inevitably the sugars were too low and the stresses on yeasts were great. (Mind you, we don’t add nutrients, sugars, or Übermensch yeast strains to “correct” for seasons, as would most New World wine makers.)
Despite the year's abundance, only the late apples (picked in mid-October) were of use to us. All said and done, we omitted about 1/3rd third of our total 2017 production, an effort to raise the remaining 2/3rds to our standards. But even that, I'd grade 2017 a “C/ C+” against other years. Blending played a key role in balancing the ciders, thus our “locational ciders” (which are truly locational, not human-curated) are quite limited. We found only four of them worth focusing on (and surprising good, actually.) The bulk of our Homestead ciders were blended into our "Sullivan County" cider, which if you recall from 2015, is a blend of apples from all seven of our county’s USGS soil groups (what I've self-appellated in the “locational” ciders names.) 
Again, blending (and omitting) became the saving grace in 2017.

Everything about our ciders is the same in terms of format: The Locational Homesteads, Choke Pear and Malus Baccata are in 500ml; the Elderberry and Appinette are in 750ml; and the Sullivan County is in 1500ml “mags.” The only thing new is that the Sullivan County cider is also available for places that pour by the glass in kegs. (It’s an effort pet-nat producers have made to reduce our carbon footprint but the keg format is dominated by industrial drink-producers of industrial farm-products. I’m doubtful if such establishments will understand our comparatively high price, but who know?)

2017 tested my prowess as a cider maker and I’ll leave it for you to judge. Personally, I’m quite satisfied. It feels like a victory snatched from the hands of adversity. And trust me, I wouldn’t release them if I didn’t think they were good (and comparatively excellent in the market.) None-the-less, I don’t recommend the 2017 vintage be “saved.” Only the Malus Baccata, East Branch and Callicoon Creaks exhibit the tannin/ acid structure (and the overall density) worthy of setting aside. Everything else I recommend drinking between July 2018 and 2020.

As always, we will release the prior vintage on the Summer Solstice and CSA supporters will have first option. Send us an email request and we'll send our price list and CSA Order Form (Minimum 2 cases.) CSA customers will also have the option to buy ciders from our personal stores of previous vintages -ciders which are quite nice at present.

We can honestly say that it's you -the customers and cider drinkers, the people who help us pick, press and bottle each year, and the land owners who allow us access to their trees –you are just as much the cider maker as I am. When Polly and I say thank you, believe that it’s not just for “supporting us”, it's for caring enough to make this world more than just OK. None of this focus, time, and energy needs to happen, cider could just be a basic drink from farmed apples while exceptional "real fruit" sits and rots on the ground, no worse for wear. But art and art-appreciation makes this world more than OK, it makes it exceptional. So sincerely: Thank You.

-Andy Brennan, 2018

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Blossom Report

   It's the best time of year to identify wild apples in the woods. Crab-apple trees are in blossom right now in the lower elevations of the Catskills, and this week the bulk of the apple trees will pop. By Friday we should be in full-bloom at the 600'-1,000' elevations, and by the following Friday the mid-to-upper elevations should be out. That's true for the Berkshires too, and I hear Northern New England is on pace for the third and fourth weeks of May.

   Note that I am always in the market for wild apples. If you want to forage fruit in October I will pay my unusually high price for them. But I have many, many rules about which apples to pick so I need to send you my two-page criteria sheet before you get too excited. Unless you live in Sullivan County and have dozens of trees to pick from it's probably not worth your time or mine (I need to visit the trees myself in late August or September , before the fruit is ripe.) Also note we require permission from the landowner to harvest. 

   Now is the best time to pin the trees on a GPS map as you drive by. Or, as apple lovers have been doing for decades, carry pen and paper in your glove compartment -Nothing beats a hand-drawn map. The white/ pinkish flowers are unmistakable from the roadside against the grey forest backdrop. When you decide on selling me apples please email me at AaronBurrCider@gmail this summer.

  And also note that friends, Mike Biltonen and Dan Pucci, are interested in your findings. They have formed a Catskill Wild Apple society to discuss and map the trees. Contact them on Facebook via my friends list (my facebook name is Andys Cidery.)

  Or just enjoy the show.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

New Year Reflections

For almost a decade I have written hundreds and hundreds of pages on the art of cider and the natural orchard that I believe cider-making is a part of. These pages end up as unpublished blog posts or stashed away on my computer to be used in a book I also will never publish. My efforts are futile and yet in my head I feel I'm tirelessly promoting for this way of life. And I do so at the exclusion of its opposite: farming and cider production that embraces scaled-up production, specialization of labor, mono-crop farming, artificial inputs… and so on and so on. (For shits and giggles you can revisit some of the previous blog posts that I actually did publish to catch a glimpse of what I wrestle with.) I script these drawn-out arguments like a Supreme Court justice submits their losing opinion in a 7-2 vote and yet the fight does not end when I put down the pen. It goes on and on in my head. It’s made me miserable. 

 I understand now why the baby boomers did what they did in the 1980’s. After decades of fighting for peace, equality, and freedom of behavior and expression they saw that those things could never be obtained in the real world as it had become. We were now a nation of upward mobility, progress, and the desire for ‘nice things’. These real desires with real rewards trumped our idealism and by the Reagan Era those ex-hippies were getting tired of losing the good fight. “Fuck it, make money," they said. And with that proclamation things like the ‘back-to-land movement’, free love, and many youthful ideals slipped away. Boomers joined the mainstream, and without a strong counter-movement to cause disturbances the door was left wide open in the mid-80's for unchecked market exuberance, popular shows of wealth, and conservative politicians who now stood to erase the advances of the civil-rights movement. In short, many Boomers sold out. 

I could argue that the children of baby-boomers, now the largest, most influential generation, are inching the U.S. toward history repeating itself. I could argue that the young idealism characterized by Millennial opposition to Rumsfeld and Cheney, or the corporate greed that caused the 2007 housing and 2008 economic collapses, or the “employee mentality” (as opposed to independent workers) …all those oppositional stances were fueled by a kind of idealism that hardens as one gets older. If you are not a liberal when you are young then you have no heart, but if you are not conservative when you get older then you have no brain. The world changes, seasons change, and people adjust. That’s all.

It seems completely obvious to me that trends in the “foodie” world (including cider) are following this exact transformation. Little by little the independent entrepreneurs who entered food production will see that they need to adapt to a world of insatiable growth. Perhaps they themselves grow, they have kids with new mouths to feed and school bills to pay. Or as business owners they see the need, for instance, to open another restaurant or expand production to increase revenue. They now have to compete with people who start without the idealism. Little by little individuals and micro-businesses alike get older and they become exactly what they once stood in opposition to. They become bosses and their labor becomes specialized, just to site one example. It’s happening already, we, in the Millennial Era are selling out. 

I'm not picking on any particular generation. That would be misguided. This essay is about the ebb and flow of eras and I'm just naming the dominant group as they are coming into their prime at that particular moment (an era involves all generations living then.) Is my portrait of contemporary foodie-ism, cider, and this Millennial Era over-generalized? Duh, of course it is. It’s way more complex than what I briefly characterize it to be and there are fantastic plot twists and exceptions worthy of our attention. But what I’m saying is generally true, it is happening. Will the Millennial generation say Fuck it, make money? Yes, I believe they will (and are.) Progress and consolidation are forces of nature now and I don’t know the use in fighting it.

So why do I? Why am I constantly sabotaging my own opportunities for growth? Why do I stonewall our development and force it to slow down? I wish I could resolve this with myself. Maybe I’m just jealous of other’s success? Maybe that jealousy is ballooning into a dogma that I now feel trapped into stancing? (I think I just made up that word.) All I know is that I continue to script these principles to validate a losing argument. And I do so all day long and most of the night. It’s an obsession. I’m fighting nature. I should be working on my selling out skills.
The losers of this world -to use that dichotomous 80's expression, and I'm thinking of myself here -might rest in their grave knowing they argued for something good albeit never achieving it. While the winners of this world can look down from their balconies and toast us probably convinced they stood for something just as moral (I know those people, that’s exactly what they think.) Everyone else, the ones who are not wrapped up in this fight, can spectator the struggles of the self-obsessed, the self-important and the greedy (and I don't know who's who) resting assured that they are the actual winners. Acceptance is next to Godliness.