Get Your Apple-a-Day the Hard Cider Way

Originally Posted: Thursday, October 3, 2013


Are you eating an apple a day? It’s time. You know what they say … and this year drink your apple too, but in a new way. Dry hard ciders filled with delicious goodness are worth investing in given the hard work of these farmstead entrepreneurs. Do your part by buying local — direct from the farm. It gives a whole new meaning to drinking responsibly!


Handcrafted hard cider is officially a trend. Don’t tell — but rumor has it this month Gov. Cuomo is signing legislation during “to help our growing cideries and eliminate red tape to make doing business in New York easier. The Farm Cideries Bill [Governor’s Program Bill #18] will authorize and promote the manufacturing and sale of hard cider made from crops grown right here in New York,” Cuomo said in a June release.


In the 20th century, hard cider was a commonly consumed alcoholic beverage. Colonists brought hard cider from England and routinely planted apple trees in the tradition by barreling the nectar to drink throughout the winter.


It was cheaper than beer and safer than water. Hard cider lost its popularity by way of prohibition and many of the cider apple trees became lumber to make way for edible apples better to eat fresh or cook. Cider traditions never recovered when liquor became legal again and the ancient apple trees were mostly felled and lost.


American hard cider is making a comeback and the next generation is more enthusiastic than their apple pioneer predecessors in the Hudson Valley region. What we think of as “fizzy sweet stuff in the bottle is not what we are making, these artisinal ciders taste like they are from another era — and in many ways they are, from very old trees with heirloom varietals that are tannic and sour to eat but yield dry, elegant, complex cider from true talents in the Hudson Valley,” said Elizabeth Ryan of Breezy Hill at Stone Ridge Orchard.


In the 90s, the Hudson Valley began to see cideries reemerge and the birth of the burgeoning American hard cider movement resurface. Ugly heirloom inedible apples became a new revenue stream with hard cider products offering enormous economic development opportunities for New York state and inspired folks to sustain the nostalgia of land stewardship, the romance of the apple orchard and develop value-added products at the farm. But the laws needed updating and awareness required revival for the economics to work effectively.


“Tis the season,” Alejandro del Peral told me, with 4,000 gallons of cider fermenting and another 8,000 gallons to craft. His Nine Pin Cider Works Company proudly promotes itself as New York Hard Cider sourcing from Hudson Valley Apple Orchards like Samascott Orchards, Indian Ladder Farms, Lindsey’s Idyllwood Orchard and varietals from his own family farm he bottles at his warehouse in downtown Albany (soon to have a tasting room!).


Alejandro is the story of succession on the farm we can all root for to succeed. A first generation American, his father Casiano del Peral is from Barcelona and moved to Ghent 32 years ago where he planted apple and other fruit trees from seed on 14 acres at their family farm. They took 10 to 15 years to blossom and produce fruit.


The result of his hobby as a homesteader was cider apples — sour, inedible and ugly — perfectly awaiting his son’s business acumen as he continued to care for the trees “with a green thumb and uncanny ability to grow stuff!” Alejandro told me, laughing. After completing graduate school in Vermont, Alejandro began an apprenticeship making cider. His love for the family farm, curiosity for science and creativity blending flavors gave way to the business he is launching today.


“Local orchards were throwing fruit away and struggling because they couldn’t compete with bigger farms,” he said. The idea compelled Alejandro to craft hard  cider. “Pride from where I grew up paired with a skill set I learned in Vermont at a large cidery made me evaluate the possibility of coming home and making a product that supports my community by helping to create a NYS cider brand that means something, convenient timing helps as cider is in demand as an alternative to beer and well paired with food, something my dad is great at.”


The 28-year-old Nine Pin Cider Works founder went on, “I don’t filter any of my products but the yeast chosen to ferment settles the beverage out nicely and in my opinion it’s authentic — so for now one flavor dominates my small batch process and will bring folks in to see what we are creating.”


Nine Pin Cider Works will start to sell retail on draft in January. Alejandro has a great advantage as his first ever hard cider batch was a 330-gallon yield — not home brewing as most family farms start out. “As an apprentice I learned how to scale and the experience lent me confidence in apple selection and equipment. I started by talking to local orchards for two seasons and many were interested in working with me. My favorite part is helping apple growers unload apples they wouldn’t sell for eating bringing the orchard to people all year round. I have a blend I use and certain acid profile from many varieties to help the grower rid of stock — trying to use apples up helps them out and by blending — I yield a superior product — rich and complex hard apple cider.”


When I asked whom he admires in the field being so new to an ancient practice he couldn’t wait to tell me Aaron Burr and Dan Wilson from Slyborough. “Burr does this cool thing raking apples roadside from wild trees and foraging unique flavors for small batch artisanal ciders that are high in demand. And Wilson makes a great farmstead cider from growing his own apples for years at his orchard.”


Elizabeth Ryan is a Hudson Valley pioneer cider maker. She came to the Hudson Valley in the 80s and her own son Peter grew up on a farm during a time when it didn’t feel so popular — but instilled in him with a love of eating local. Peter posted online, “Who knew that farming would become so weirdly trendy!” But because of this trend Ryan noted, “sons and daughters are coming home to the farm and making it more interesting and exciting.”


She created her first barrel of hard cider at Cornell in 1980 as a student, and joked, “we were very popular with our friends.” In 1996, her first commercial cider was crafted at the farm the family bought to save — Breezy Hill Orchards.


Ryan then officially studied cider-making with Glynwood and in 2011 she journeyed overseas to see what worked in their apple culture that was lacking in NYS.


“My very first harvest I brought to the Dutchess County Fair in 1984. This month, for Cider Week, Glynwood is shining a spotlight on farmstead local cider — the timing is right and the community supportive. We need the public to embrace these local beverages. I’m making unconventional unfiltered and in the moment, yeasty effervescent ciders. Our newest peach hard cider is fruit forward with aroma and super fun.” I just call it gorgeous. The bellini is officially out of favor.


Ryan added the support from the governor’s office to bring awareness and tourism to cider making at family farms began the successful dialog and, “together we became one voice — unified in a position as farmers and cider producers and got the opportunity we wished for with policy change — a great leap forward — we have a moment!”


Hard cider will be for sale everywhere during Cider Week — so ask for it when you are out and about leaf peeping this fall. Cheers to the hard work of local farmers and Governor Cuomo!


Get involved and buy local hard cider at any farmer’s market, on tap or from the farms directly. You too will fall in love with an ancient tradition worth savoring — and saving.
The Farm Cideries Bill


This bill would authorize the establishment and licensure of farm cideries for the manufacture and sale of cider made from crops grown in New York State and would exclude licensed farm cideries from the sales tax information return filing requirements. In order to obtain a farm cidery license, the hard cider must be made exclusively from apples grown in New York State and no more than 150,000 gallons may be produced annually. Farm cideries would be allowed to offer tastings of and sell not only cider, but also beer, wine, and spirits made from New York products. By allowing farm cideries to expand the activities that can be conducted at the licensed premises, these businesses, much like farm wineries, will become destination locations that will promote tourism within their communities. In addition, the need for apples in the manufacture of New York State labeled cider would create a sustained demand for products from New York’s farmers.


Copyright © 2013 Columbia-Greene Media