If you’re in search of cider — soft or hard — Glynwood Farm in Cold Spring wants to help you find it. Last year, the company launched the Cider Route to shine light on the region’s cider makers. In fact, they hope to help create a “cider region” in the Hudson Valley and Capital Region areas.
Americans love their cider, and they have for more than 300 years, long before the United States came into being. When Colonists arrived at Plymouth Rock, they found a healthy crop of crab apples that weren’t particularly pleasant for eating. As a result, they brought seeds from Europe and began planting apple trees on the new continent, and it wasn’t long before cider became a part of everyday life. In fact, until 1930, when orange juice surged in popularity, Americans consumed apple cider more than any other fruit juice.
Sweet vs. hard cider
New Yorkers have long enjoyed sweet cider as a fall staple, cold or mulled with spices and served warm as temperatures outside drop. Sweet cider, also called “soft” cider, is what results when apples are put through a press and their juice squeezed out. Unlike apple juice, cider isn’t filtered to remove coarse particles or sediment, so its color remains opaque.
Hard cider, which has alcochol in it, is another story. In American’s early days, the wealth of a town could be measured by the number of barrels of cider it stored. President John Adams was known for drinking a tankard of cider every morning before breakfast. Over the years, interest in hard cider declined to a point where there were few domestic producers. In fact, the United States imported most of its hard cider from the United Kingdom and France.
In the past decade, there’s been a resurgence in interest in artisanal ciders. Glynwood’s creation of the Cider Route is designed to boost that interest, highlighting the efforts of local cider producers and drawing visitors to local orchards and cideries.
Cider, both hard and soft, is a major economic boon to local orchards. Duane Lindsey, the farm manager at Lindsey’s Country Store in Clifton Park, has been making sweet cider for the business since 1976. Apples go onto an inspection roller, where anything that’s bad is removed, then they go through a pressure washer and the grinder. What’s left is pumped out into layers between racks and the juice is pressed out hydraulically before it goes through an ultraviolet process and is bottled for sale.
Following an E. coli outbreak in the Clinton County town of Peru in 2004, New York legislators became the first to pass a law, which went into effect in 2006, requiring that cider producers pasteurize their product. Many growers prefer the ultraviolet process to heating the cider, both because of its lower cost and because it preserves the flavor better than heat pasteurization.
Richard Pearce, president of Lakeside Farms in Ballston Lake, has been making cider since 1948 with a press built in the 1890s. The farm produces between 1,000 and 1,500 gallons a week, with peak production in September and October of up to 5,000 gallons.
Toll on crop
The warm weather in March followed by a frost a few weeks later, has taken its toll on this year’s apple crop. New York growers usually produce about 30.7 million bushels of apples a year. This year, they produced about 14 million. It takes 10 to 15 pounds of apples to produce 1 gallon of cider. Overall apple production is down by 54 percent this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the price of cider — $6 to $8 a gallon — is higher than usual.
Bowman Orchards in Rexford has been making cider since 2004. Unlike other area orchards, its crop was not affected by the weather. “Our elevation helps us,” said co-owner Kevin Bowman.
The flavor of cider varies from maker to maker and throughout the season based on the blend of apples used and the cider maker’s process. “We use a blend,” Bowman said. “As we’re making it, we’re tasting it and seeing what we need to add to it. It’s just a huge mix.”
Goold Orchards in Castleton is the only Capital Region hard cider maker on the Cider Route. The orchard has been making apple wine since 2006 under the label Brookview Station Winery, but it just began producing hard cider in August in response to customers’ requests.
Co-owner Sue Goold said that they experimented with different combinations in order to find just the right one. When yeast is added to unpasteurized soft cider and fermented, hard cider is the result.
“We tried different combinations of different cider with different yeast,” she said, noting that they experimented with three yeasts. It’s the byproduct given off during the process of the yeast eating the sugar to make alcohol that lends the hard cider its flavor.
“We chose three yeasts, tried them all, and then let people taste test them,” Goold said. The third weekend in November, the orchard introduced a new flavor, an apple-cranberry hard cider called “Joe-Daddy’s.”
Hard cider is only 6 percent alcohol, which is one of the reasons it has become popular, according to Goold. “People like to be drinking lower alcohol,” she said.
Economically, hard cider is a good value-added product for orchards because the fermentation time required is similar to beer, much shorter than the four to six months required for wine.
This year, Glynwood has updated the Cider Route to focus specifically on hard cider and apple spirits, according to Glynwood’s director of special projects, Sara Grady. “Hard cider and apple spirits can enhance the viability of orchards, so we hope that they will become signature products of the region, thereby helping orchards to thrive,” she said.