Monday, December 5, 2011

Thank you Slow Foods!

This past weekend we had the opportunity to showcase our Homestead Cider at the Slow Foods Show at the New Amsterdam Market and Jimmy's No.43. We'd like to thank:
-Branka Ruzak, for her work orchestrating the event and for her constant watch during the two-day stretch.
-Robert Lavalva, and to all at N.A.M, the city's best market.
-Sara Grady, who spotted this opportunity for us and put the wheels in motion.
-Jimmy's No.43, not just for hosting Saturday, but for promoting cider year-round.
-Our fellow vendors, for their professionalism and enthusiasm.
-And to all who sampled! I'm amazed at the cider-savvy out there, sharing our drink with you has made the entire year's farm and cellar work worth while.

So you know: Betting the farm on cider, our only product, has been a leap of faith rather then a sound business decision. Though we navigate blindly, our goal is still to find you and share our brand of historic, farm-centric cider with today's cider culture. Since we live on a farm, mostly isolated from the people we seek to serve, this past weekend has meant a great deal to us. It was like coming out of a long dark tunnel into the glory of light. Truly, thanks.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cider Days 2011

An autumn weekend in the Pioneer Valley, a jam-packed schedule of ciders tastings, non-stop conversation with North America's leading cider makers and apple growers... add them all together and you got Cider Days, the nations biggest cider event and a perfect example of a successful grass-routes food movement.
Not an ounce of pretentiousness floats as cider's well-known characters come together and sip home-made drink along side scores of home-cider makers. The goal is not to forward anyone or any particular style, but to collectively better the skills of all involved with the craft. Cider Days is a beautiful moment when the keepers of American tradition get together and strengthen each others commitment to self-sufficiency and higher standards. It's nothing short of the strongest cider culture in America since the 19th century.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Nap Time Over

I too am guilty of calling the recent surge in true cider a "re-emergence" and a "revival" but it's only because I'm not looking at extended history. Cider was popular in America all throughout the 17th century, the 18th century, and the 19th century; it was even popular for a good part of the 20th century. As far as American history is concerned, cider as a popular drink should be considered the norm; it's only been "missing" since about WWII. So even though it feels like a revival, the better way to say it is: Cider is awakening from a brief nap.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Fact and Possible Reason

True cider tastes nothing like freshly-pressed apple juice, or what Americans call "cider." The same is true for wine: fermentation, the natural progression of sugars into alcohol, results in flavor changes and a different mouth feel. Wine drinkers, of course, know this; they anticipate a sophisticated, dry and full-bodied drink, but why don't Americans know this about true cider?

Maybe it is because cider starts out so well compared to wine, we don't want to see the sweet appley taste go. Emerson noted this distinction while visiting an Italian winery; a sweet and hard cider lover, he was repulsed by the taste of freshly pressed grape juice. But also to blame is the production of "hard cider" in America, which is widely available in beer stores and manipulated to remind the drinker of fresh sweet cider. Though it is marketed as a natural drink made from apples, it is far from natural as set by the standard of true cider or the wine industry. If artificial carbonation, back-sweetening with sugar or concentrate, and use of "table fruit" were the staples in the wine industry we would be drinking Seagram's wine spritzers instead of a "Merlot" and "Pinot Noir". But such is the state of the "hard cider" industry in which true cider is trying to distinguish itself.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Order of Importance In Good Cider Making

How is great cider made? There are number of things a cidermaker needs and a number of steps one must follow but there is also an order of importance which is often overlooked. For instance, one reads that it is important to "use good apples" and eventually "rack the cider multiple times for clarity" but don't think for a second the two are equally important. If you had to pay special attention to just a few steps, here they are ranked from most to least important...

1- Good apples (which alone is the result of this hierarchy...)

A) Good, healthy soil and trees (ideally on slightly rocky, cool, breezy and sunny slopes.)
B) Good cultivars (right type of apples)
C) Good growing practices (I stress organic IPM but cider-apple growers needn't control much.)
D) A good season
(note how the most important things are all farm-centric!)

2- Hygiene. From inspecting the fruit to corking the bottles the environment must be clean. Nothing is learned without this variable in check.

3- Grinding and pressing practices should be hard cider-specific, not sweet cider-specific.

4- Yeast selection and cellar temperatures. (Hint: the two are related. Keep it cool, dark and consistent.)

5- Fermentation equipment and aeration. (Plastic is not as good as stainless steel, which is not as good as glass. The differences relates to hygiene and temperature, but all are acceptable.)

6- Bottle appearance and branding (Looks matter to taste. Sad, but true. Most people don't do blind-tastings and are heavily influenced by attractive labeling.)

7- Cider clarity and color (Similar to bottle appearance but maybe not as influential. Personally, I think there is way too much emphasis on this least important factor.)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Champagne and Cider

I was just talking with friends Steve and Jen Gougeon up at Bear Swamp Orchard about how we would like cider to remain farm-centric, rather then bottle-centric. This NY Times article says exactly what I feel, except it's about champagne not cider.
When we think of wine our impressions are all too often lead by the aesthetics of the bottle (including pricing) or by our prejudice toward certain grape cultivars (pinot, cabs, etc.). What we should be doing is investigating the farm on which the fruit was grown. This is where we taste terroir, not in post-card like impressions we have of, say, Tuscany or Bordeaux.
As cider aspires to mirror the successes in the wine industry (to which I'm 75% approving, BTW, after all it's a great thing that regional differences are sought, but...) I hesitate to turn the bottle over to wine-type marketing. First and foremost, the focus should not be on the vintner or cider-maker (the celebrity), nor should the marketing rest squarely on grape/apple cultivars. No, I think the focus should start with the farm and how those vines and trees are married to the soil. And one should follow the progress of the fruit as it was raised until harvest.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The fifth barrel

I had 6 barrels in my basement. They started with a high PH and I refused to use sulfides. Sitting on their lees for almost a year I knew things were going to be interesting. The first barrel was disgusting. Plain and simple. It was foul smelling and it had no business being on this planet. It met with the bushes near the stairwell. The second was drinkable. Then the third was even better. Disappointingly the fourth was only "OK", but the fifth...
The fifth barrel was without question the most revolting thing I have ever tasted. If putrid and rancid got married and they had a child so fetid they couldn't even stomach, sending this child off to live in a most noxious landfill. And then taking on the environmental corruption, that child decomposed into a cider. Then the cider was barreled and aged to bring out even more odoriferous horror... That, that was what barrel number 5 tasted like. Everything I have ever called 'vile' in the past is now just 'gross,' I have a new scale for all things disgusting.
Why am I telling you this when I'd rather you think of me as a talented cider maker? My goal is now to create the opposite: A cider so good that all other ciders need a new description. What is now "unbelievably awesome" will then be just, "very good." That's my goal. Here's to thinking optimistically.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

2011 plantings

New to 2011: Ashmedes Kernel, Stoke Red, Dabinette, Kingston Black, Chenango Straw, RI Greening, St. Edmonds Russet, Harrison crab, Hewes crab, Wickson crab, Baldwin, Roxbury Russet, Winter Banana, Northern Spy, Pomme Gris, Nonpareil (antique variety), Egremont Russet, Connecticut Rusty Coat, Bedan ,and Fameuse.
Existing: Winesap, Smokehouse, Quebec Belle, Golden Russet, Dolgo crab, Jonathan, McIntosh, Idared, Grimes Golden, Newtown Pippen, Esopus Spitzenburg, Cortland, Lady (antique variety), Maidens Blush, White Astrachen, Dudley, Braeburn, Empire, Magog Redstreak, 20 unnamed wild trees, and 9 unnamed estate pippens.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Vintage Virginia Apples

A long weekend down near Charlottesville, VA: Albemarle Ciderworks hosted a cider forum featuring speakers from Foggy Ridge, Farnum Hill as well as their own orchard. Ben Watson tied it all together and Jocelyn Kuzelka went over the science behind cider. Tom Buford was also in attendance.
Although cider can and should be made in home basements, there also needs to be local and national experts like the aforementioned. Too often I hear people say they don't like cider and I know it's because they've never had the real stuff. Unlike crappy cider made by producers and growers looking to unload apple tonnage, true artisanal cider is rare in New York. In fact, only New England has a diversity of true artisanal cider makers. So as our Hudson Valley now seems ready to embrace the drink I am relieved that cider has leadership to push for a new higher standard after a century of degradation.
I look forward to seeing regional differences and artisanal quality differences. I want cider to be marketed more like wine then beer but I would also like to see it emerge as something entirely unique. I'll be trying to do that in my marketing strategy this year.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cornell Organic Orchard Seminar

  Cornell hosted an Organic Apple Production Workshop last week in Balliston Spa, NY, which was well attended by conventional and organic apple farmers alike. There wasn't much beyond what Michael Philips covers in his The Apple Grower book, but what was of great interest was the disconnection between organic ideology and big farming.
  New Yorkers, unlike New Englanders, farm with aspirations of grandeur; they want to 'make it big.' It might also be said that New Yorkers are more competitive. But philosophically, the organic principle and the Wall Street mentality are at opposite poles: one defends nature's realities, the other mans' reality. Can the two philosophies share a common goal? My feeling in lieu of talking to the many farmers last week (mostly farmers managing farms over 50 acres,) the answer is:  NO.
NY farmers are living in a reality dominated by mans' needs and they put them above the needs of the land and environment. As they see it, they are responsible for hundreds of jobs and the state supports them because of the tax revenue so they have too many external pressures to prioritize eco and human health concerns.  It can be said though, if organic apples are worth big money then it would all be a different story. If it's economically feasible to switch over to organic then they would. But it won't be the farmer who forces that decision.

 It's up to the consumers to demand and pay for local and organic apples.  And consumers need to be organized at a higher level if NY farms are going to practice organic-only orcharding. Little farms can provide organic produce to small niche markets but if big farms are to convert to organic production then the organic markets need to be scaled up and biased to reward "local" produce. We have 100 million people within a days drive of New York, and of course some of them demand "local-organic", but are the masses ready to pay for it? Long story short: Don't expect big farmers to be leading the way, it's up to consumers to convert the local farms to organic.