Friday, December 5, 2014

A Letter to You, the Customer, Regarding Your Role in Real, Traditional Cider.

  The amount of media focus we’ve received is flattering (and I’d like to think a little warranted), but it’s important to share that attention with the hundreds of small cideries recently opening and looking to use local apples in the tradition that once made cider America’s community drink and nightly beverage.  I point to Eric West’s “Cider Guide” map as a source for finding the cideries nearest you. 

  But it’s important to do your research!!! Not all cideries use local apples and very few abide by the rules of nature which dictates the flavor of cider.  It is the apple tree that dictates the flavor and it should not be over-ruled by customer expectation (or the cider-maker's guess for what the customer wants.) Therefore, it’s not possible to mass-produce real, traditional cider. Taste homogenization, year-round product availability and shelf-stability are the very things which brought inanimate drinks (like mass-market beers and wines) to fore-front.  Cost is not the main issue, it is knowledge. Without your knowledge we cider-makers stand on the other side of a wall. 

  Again, you must do your research. You must understand the life-cycle of the apple tree, the process of fermentation, and your responsibility in keeping a live beverage in proper storage.  And then you must communicate with the producers.  Yes, that’s work.  Does that sound unreasonable? I’m sorry, but if you want accountability, accessibility, and transparency then there is no other way.  Same goes for wine.  If I’m the first to challenge you on this issue then something’s wrong.  I’m telling you the truth about how real cider (and wine) is made, and anyone who doesn’t disclose where they got the fruit and how they process it is keeping you on the other side of the wall for a good reason.  It’s time to take back real cider.  It’s not up to the cider-makers alone.  It’s up to you as well.      

Saturday, April 12, 2014

5 True Micro Ciders for the Northeast

  Ideally cider will emerge with a true distinction for “micro,” since the word has become utterly meaningless amongst beer producers.  (A producer of 200,000 gallons per year classifies himself as a "micro-brewer," when, for the record, even if a brewer makes 10,000 gallons per year he-or-she is already employing economy-of-scale measures that are a corner-cutter's slippery slope away from “medium sized.”But I digress. We want true micro-cideries because we want someone- anyone- to make a product that is done the way it should be done: no compromises, no hurry.  
  I can make a sound argument as to why true mom-and-pop cideries are better for health, social, moral, ecological, and economic reasons but for now let me endorse 5 cideries in the northeast all committed to making the highest quality cider at or below 2000 gallons per year.  These are people making cider at that scale not because they are “starting-out”, but because cider is part of a whole homestead.  (Note: some excellent ciders are made in the 2,000 to 10,000 gallon range but they are more accurately termed "small producer", not "micro.")
  Without further ado:

Flag Hill Farm Cyder- Vershire, VT
The first cidery I visited in 2008 and still an inspiration to me. Sebastian, originally from the UK, grows organic apples and does everything himself in a corner of his old barn.  The Cyders are dry, sophisticated, and I recall farm and oak notes that are appropriate to his English upbringing.

Bear Swamp Cidery- Ashfield, MA
Steve and Jen Gougeon also grow their apples organically and produce quintessential American wild yeast ciders.  Cloudy, sometimes farmy, but also bright and vivacious, the ciders are literally produced in the home basement. 

Annandale Cidery- Redhook, NY
Doug Finke has had unusual apple varieties in the ground for a very long time and his son, Adam, honors the trees by keeping many batches single-variety.  They are not organic but a purist vein runs through them, they are the only ones in the Hudson Valley, if not NY, making a full diversity of single-variety ciders, many at the carboy scale.    

Whetstone Ciderworks- Marlboro, VT
No one better illustrates mom-and-pop cider than Jason and Lauren MacArthur fermenting in the basement in their modest self-built home.  Gallon-per-gallon they observe an enormous amount of focus on each blend resulting in quality simply unmatchable at a larger scale.

Red Byrd Cider, Trumansburg, NY
Eric Shatt and Deva Maas have an extensive background in ag-science and wine making, but their Red Byrd Cider is clearly the work of joy.  Again, at their scale they are free to experiment and one of the most sophisticated and interesting ciders I ever tasted was from wild apples Eric foraged in 2013.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The 2013 Crop Report

2013 Vintage, the Year of Plenty
 Unlike most farmers, for wine and cider makers the season does not conclude at harvest.  In fact, the collection of fruit is just the halfway point in a season that extends 12 months or more.  Think of the harvest like the caterpillar/ butterfly cocoon stage, cider emerges in a different form but the new appearance is the extension of the same life.  That said, we annually release our crop report in the spring rather than the fall because the winter affects this new life form just as much as the summer influences the apple.
   The 2013 year for apples here in the northeast will be remembered as a year of plenty.  An average weather season start-to-finish saw no significant frost damage, no setbacks from cicadas (as was expected) or other pests, the heat spell of July did not couple with humidity and we dodged a blight year, and the fast fall of September reversed course in October extending the season slightly later than usual.  This last part was welcome news for farmers because it took a long time to harvest the near record quantities of apples during this “on-year”, which was doubly bountiful a year after 2012’s decimating frost.  (Apple trees which are naturally biennial and triennial but they respond to reproductive interruptions like frost by putting out greater fruit quantities at their next opportunity.)  The pear crop was the exact opposite.  Pears survived the 2012 frost and produced a full crop the that year, and in turn, they took 2013 off to recover.  We foraged 6 bushels of wild pears compared to 220 bushels wild apples.  

  That’s the apples.  The cider, on the other hand, was adversely affected by the warm spell of October.  The early apples fermented too quickly and they will not play a significant roll in the blends, save for their tannic or acidic properties.  But the late apples were set-up perfectly by a frigid late autumn/ early winter.  The cellar temperature was a perfect 55 degrees December 21st and it slowly dropped at the ideal rate corresponding the sugar-to-alcohol conversion.  The ciders pressed in November and December reached 90% dryness and stopped fermenting in February when the cellar hit 48.  Now in March it is at 45.  We have never fermented in consistently frigid winter such as this, temperatures in each of the 4 winter months have been below zero, and the ciders have yet to clear and finish.  We hope for cosmetic reasons the turbidity breaks with the spring warm up, but if it does not clear we can say with sincerity that this unique vintage has found a visual way to express the season.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Italo Calvino on Cider?

We all know how embarrassing it is when someone tries to tell a joke but lacks tempo and gets everything wrong.  In defense of certain virtues in art Italo Calvino provides the perfect metaphor for the cider maker (here cider stands in for "novella")...

  Cider is a horse, a means of transport with its own pace, a trot or a gallop according to the distance and ground it has to travel over.  The listed defects of a clumsy cider maker are above all offenses against rhythm, as well as style, because he does not use the expressions appropriate either to the characters (the land, the season, the cultivar) or to cider itself.  In other words, even correctness of style is a question of quick adjustment, of agility of both thought and expression.