Favorite New England (Hard) Ciders
It’s Cider Days time again! I’ve written about this fantastic festival in Western Massachusetts before, and I’m thrilled to be going back again. This two-day celebration of apples and hard cider, held each year on the first weekend in November, just keeps growing in popularity. If you haven’t been, I can’t recommend it enough. There are cider-making classes, apple tastings, pancake breakfasts, dinners, cider samplers, cooking lessons, and family activities at locations all over Franklin County. Many of the ticketed events sell out early, but there’s still plenty to do.
I’m so happy that hard cider has a dedicated festival in New England. There was a time when it was the most popular beverage in America. People pressed their apples, and absent pasteurization or refrigeration, the juice would naturally ferment into cider. In many places, cider was cleaner and safer than water, and everyone drank it, even children. John Adams began every day with a glass.
Cider fell out of favor in the later half of the 19th century, but it is experiencing a renaissance all over the country. In a 2012 article titled “You’d Be Hard-Pressed to Find a Hotter Alcoholic Beverage Than Hard Cider,” Time magazine noted that in 2011, sales of American hard cider increased by 31%. In many ways, we have the craft beer movement to thank. As consumers got used to the idea of trying small-batch products from local breweries, they were more willing to try cider, too.
New England leaders like West County Cider, Flag Hill, and Farnum Hill have been around for years and have earned well-deserved followings. But the past five years have seen so many new cideries coming to market that I can hardly keep track. And what a lucky thing for us! Cider is delicious, inexpensive, and local. I’ve been tasting as many new ciders and apple wines as I can, and here are some of my favorites. It’s just a small sampling of what’s out there, but it will get you started.
Bantam Cider, Cambridge, MA – Talk about new: Bantam has been around for less then a year. Cidermakers Dana Masterpolo and Michelle da Silva have just one cider so far, made with a mix of Cortland, McIntosh, Empire, and green apples. It’s bright and crisp, with vivid fruit that makes it accessible to first-time cider drinkers, but nothing like the super-sweet 6-pack ciders made from concentrate. bantamcider.com
Carr’s Ciderhouse, North Hadley, MA – Jonathan Carr’s cidery has been eight years in the making, but it is also new to market. He produces three ciders: a dry sparkler with wonderful acidity and vivid fruit, an sweet apple pommeau made with a blend of cider and brandy, and a fruit-infused sparkling cider that blends local fruit in season with dry cider. carrsciderhouse.com
Eden Ice Cider, West Charleston, VT – Albert and Eleanor Leger started their cidery in the winter of 2007, and they now produce several gorgeous ice wines and an aperitif called Orleans. They use about 8 pounds of apples to make every 375ml bottle, including wonderful heirlooms like Calville Blanc, Esopus Spitzenberg, and Ashmead’s Kernel. edenicecider.com
Pup’s Cider Company, Greenfield, NH – Rich Stadnik produces two ciders using apples from southern New Hampshire. I’m a big fan of the Monadnock Harvest blend, which is wonderfully dry, with vibrant acidity and a pleasant effervescence. pupscider.com
Still River Winery, Harvard, MA – On a 2007 trip to Quebec, Wade and Margot Holtzman had their first taste of traditional apple ice wine, made with fresh cider concentrated by repeated freezing and thawing cycles. Inspired, they decided to try their hand at making wine in the same style, and soon began winning awards for their richly flavored, nectar-like product. Their sparkling ice wine is also wonderful. stillriverwinery.com