An old industry is being revived in New York State: one that hearkens to pre-Colonial times – and one that hasn’t changed all that much in the interim. The fermenting and bottling of apple juice is making a big comeback through the efforts of producers both big and small, and the consumption of hard cider is on the rise. “In the pre-industrial times, everybody had a cider press in their barn. It was a way to preserve the crop,” says Elizabeth Ryan of Breezy Hill and Stone Ridge Orchards.
Ryan’s small-batch operation that turns out Hudson Valley Farmhouse Cider is one of a slew of contemporary producers who will be on hand on Saturday, June 20 for a celebration of the beverage. Visitors to Hudson Valley Cider Week at the Deyo House lawn on Huguenot Street in New Paltz will be invited to taste the rich variety of ciders produced by the newest and best local cidermakers, including Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery, maker of Doc’s® Draft Ciders; Glorie Farm Winery in Marlboro; the Standard Cider Company, owned by Brotherhood Winery in Washingtonville; Aaron Burr Cidery of Wurtsboro; Orchard Hill Cider Mill, located at Soons Orchard, New Hampton; Kettleborough Cider House of New Paltz; Pitchfork Hard Cider of Poughkeepsie; Glynwood in Cold Spring; and Angry Orchard of Sam Adams fame, recently moved to Walden.
As a part of New York State’s Path through History Weekend, vendors at the local event will strive to educate visitors with cider’s fascinating history in our region. It was made, stored and consumed all over the US from early times, and especially in upstate New York, where the fertile hills were covered with apple orchards. When Temperance politics and Prohibition ended legal sales of hard cider, apple-growers were forced to replace their cider orchards with “apple pie orchards,” and most of the varieties of apples that could make great cider lost value. Fortunately, contemporary orchardists are reintroducing cider apples back onto their farms, and the mixing of varieties has resulted in ciders of unique and subtle flavor differences.
Historic Huguenot Street and Kettleborough Cider House will introduce a special crabapple hard cider, much like the early founders of New Paltz might have made. Since the end product is not brewed or cooked or added to in any way, the flavors of a good cider truly reflect the land that grew the fruit and, being locally grown, might offer localized antioxidant effects to those who drink it.
Ryan, who studied cidermaking in Somerset and Hereford in England, and who has a degree in Pomology from Cornell University, made her first barrel of cider there as a student in 1980. More recently, she was a keynote speaker at the New York State Governor’s Alcohol Summit, where she pushed for policy that would be more supportive of small-scale hard cider operations.
“We have a set of fairly archaic laws dating back to Prohibition,” she says. “They don’t reflect the industry and are often contradictory. Until now, we’ve never had a big enough industry to address that. To this governor’s credit, and some other forward-looking people in Albany, we’re beginning to address issues. For example, the definition of ‘hard cider’ was confusing, stating a maximum alcohol content of seven percent. But if you use apples with higher sugar, the resulting percentage might be too high. We needed to determine: What constitutes a hard cider?
“To my amazement, we were invited to meet with lawmakers, and we worked hard to come up with definitions that made sense. Eventually, the State of New York raised the alcohol content to 8.5 percent, which cleared one of the impediments. Then we suggested that it shouldn’t be easier for someone from Europe to sell cider at higher alcohol content than what New Yorkers are allowed to produce. The industry is now growing by leaps and bounds. What’s new is that people are gearing up because of the new regulations. There’s a lot of interest in hard cider. I’m filled with a mix of thrill and trepidation: I worry a bit that large producers will overrun the small producers.”
At the same time, Ryan comments how big producers like Sam Adams’ Angry Orchard working with small producers to have federal-level laws enacted that jibe with state laws is a good thing. As of now there is a great variance in local, state and federal regulations, which makes it difficult for producers to operate outside their own regions.
Tim Dressel of Dressel Farms is a fourth-generation farmer. He has been producing hard cider at Kettleborough for three years, specializing in a dry cider. “Bone dry,” he says, “a champagne style like an apple Prosecco made 100 percent from our own apples. We’re also making a strawberry cider, mixing strawberries and apples. It’s unfiltered and carbonated in the bottle. Also dry and neat.” Dressel comments on the Hudson Valley cider boom, saying that he sees new faces every year joining the industry. “Despite being competitors, we’re all very friendly with each other and enjoy tasting each other’s products.”
One of the original founding members of the Hudson Valley Cider Alliance, whose mission is to revive our orchard heritage and develop a thriving cider and spirits industry in the state, Dressel and other members traveled to Le Perche in Normandy, France, to visit with and learn from producers of French cidre and Calvados. They then hosted a French group who came to check out the apple-growing region of upstate New York. “This is the first time we’re holding Cider Week in June,” he says. “Most of the cidermakers are also orchardists, and October [when it was previously held] is the worst time for us. So this year we’re trying June: a good time to offer a refreshing drink for summer.” Vendors will also be selling ciders and other products from their farms.
Cider Week connects cidermakers from New York’s Hudson Valley to buyers from top restaurants, bars and retail shops across the region. By promoting an awareness of craft cider in both consumers and the trades, the event will serve to bring profitability to local orchards that are working to revive heirloom apple varieties. According to Ryan, who started producing cider at Breezy Hill in 1996, educating the public about hard cider through tastings and other events is both crucial and fun. “Cider should be poured at every restaurant in the Hudson Valley,” she says. “This is our iconic beverage.”
Hudson Valley Cider Week Tasting Event, Saturday, June 20, 12 noon-4 p.m., $5, 21+, Deyo House lawn, 81 Huguenot Street, New Paltz: (845) 255-1889, www.huguenotstreet.org, https://ciderweekhv.com/locations.