It’s always shameful to admit to prejudice, and in this case I owe an apology to hard cider because I thought it was a girl drink. You know what I’m talking about: fermented fruit soda, alcoholic apple juice. Cloying and commercial is the kind that comes in a six-pack at the grocery store, way down on the wrong end of the beer aisle.
Cheers to Devin Britton and Albert Wilklow of Bad Seed Cider Company for righting my mind when it comes to the hard cider facts. The lifelong friends turned their home hobby into a full-fledged business and professional cidery in January, overseeing a small army of 150-gallon tanks in an old apple cooler with cork walls on Baileys Gap Road in Highland. These vessels hold inventive and invigorating microbatches: Dry Hard Cider, Belgian Witte Reserve, Belgian Abbey, Raspberry, Blueberry and IPC – India Pale Cider. Britton, a professional cook, writes the recipes; Wilklow, a sixth-generation farmer, grows and selects the produce. Rounding out the fruit flavors are top-notch beer hops, aromatics from orange peel to coriander, and specialty wine and beast yeasts.
They’re not sweet. The Belgian Abbey is closer to champagne with an apple nose that finishes with a slight apple-skin acidity. The IPC, brewed with American ale yeast and Cascade hops, imparts a pleasant citrus aroma and grapefruit notes.
This spring, the duo began testing their product on the public at the Fort Greene and Grand Army Plaza greenmarkets in Brooklyn, where it’s been a hit with the craft brewing crowd. But those with a cider bias (ahem) must be won over one by one.
“You have big companies saturating the market with the sweet stuff,” said Britton. “Now we’re getting a lot of people who are seeking out craft cider, asking ‘Is it really dry?’ but most people think of cider as a girl’s drink and keep walking. You want to yell ‘No, no, I have hops! It’s close to beer! Come back!’”
The beauty of the greenmarket is that those who do stop, taste and purchase generally return week after week. Their feedback has been invaluable for incubating the polished product.
“You get a lot of feedback: what they like, what they don’t like,” said Wilklow. “You put a bad taste in their mouth and that’s the last time you do that. You have to explain to customers that it’s not sweet, it’s not supposed to be sweet, and there can be variation. A lot of people appreciate that it is a little bit different because it’s a small batch.”
A new addition to the arsenal – a 400-gallon tank for blended batches – should contribute to consistency, but part of the fun of farmhouse cider are the subtle variations that remind us that the product is only a few steps removed from the orchard. There are good fruit years, and a varietal may shine in any given season. This year, the ciders were made from sturdy local staples including Empires, Ever Reds and Stamens. “It’s my mission to prove you don’t need a fancy heirloom apple to make a good cider,” said Wilklow.
Production is poised to boom at the end of this month, when early tart varieties will bend the boughs. Most Bad Seed ciders require at least a month of aging; those made with white wine yeasts can be bottled after three months. Belgian-style ciders require four to five months before they’re drinkable. Britton and Wilklow plan to age some batches in red or white wine casks, as well as bourbon barrels for a full-bodied sipping cider. Their ciders range from 5-6 percent ABV, with a 1.5-percent variance allowance (up to 7 percent). They are bottle conditioned and relatively temperature stable, holding cold for most of the greenmarket day when packed in cardboard boxes. These are the ingredients of a pretty perfect picnic potable.
Alas, we’re running short on picnic season for 2012 and Bad Seed ciders are not yet available to Hudson Valley customers. But by next spring, the ciders will sell to a few local restaurants and distributors. Look for the bottles with the black-and-white labels, marked with the ominous apple core. What’s inside ain’t sweet – but it’s the real deal.
“We really want to make ciders that don’t have a reference point,” said Britton. “Something you just have to try.”
Bad Seed Dry and Belgians are available in 22 oz. bottles, $8 each. Flavored ciders are available in 750-mL bottles for $12 each. Visit the Bad Seed Cider Company booth through November at the Fort Green Greenmarket on Saturdays, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., or Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket on Saturdays, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information, visit the company Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Badseedcider.