It wasn’t the greatest of weekends for outdoor events, but intermittent rain last Saturday didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the hard cider fanciers who converged on the Cider Market and Tasting hosted by Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz. Under the shelter of a white canopy, dozens of eager tasters clustered around the tables featuring tempting selections from an array of cideries from the mid-Hudson and beyond. A five-dollar entry fee entitled visitors to unlimited samples of ciders fizzy and still, plain and flavored, and the lively attendees seemed determined to try just about everything.
Tim Dressel, who founded the Kettleborough Cider House line at Dressel Farms on the New Paltz/Gardiner border in 2011, declared himself pleased with the turnout at the event, which wrapped up a weeklong regional celebration of this recently rediscovered traditional beverage called Cider Week Hudson Valley. Featuring promotional events from Albany to Westchester, Cider Week was the brainchild of the Glynwood Center in Cold Spring, an agricultural think tank dedicated to developing new markets for locally sourced, sustainably grown farm products.
“The promotion for Cider Week has been very good. Glynwood’s been spearheading that,” noted a busy Dressel in between pouring samples and selling bottles of his products. “The reaction today has been very positive. Being here in this historic setting has been very beneficial.”
He had brought a special new product just for the occasion: Huguenot Crab, a still cider “made with crabapples the way the Huguenots would’ve done.” Early settlers in the area “weren’t drinking water” because pure sources of potable water were hard to come by, Dressel explained. Crabapple cider was the standard beverage for the Huguenots, made by a simple process of pressing the fruit and drinking it over time, at first fresh and then hard as it gradually fermented from airborne wild yeast.
Dressel found it a challenge to replicate the low-tech Colonial process. “We pressed 60 percent crabapples and 40 percent heirloom pears; we put it in barrels in a cold dark room. We didn’t add any yeast or sugar. It took six months to ferment.” But the reception for the new product was so positive on Saturday that he said that he would consider making Huguenot Crab a permanent addition to the product line, “if I found a better way to do it, get better output for my input…. Crabapples are a pain to work with. I only made about 40 gallons.”
Kettleborough’s regular offerings, both sparkling, are Dry Cider, made from Granny Smith and Northern Spy apples, which Dressel described at “like an apple Prosecco, bone-dry,” and Strawberry Cider. All the products are made from fruit grown in the Dressel orchards. “I started planting cider-specific varieties in 2009,” Dressel said, many of which had fallen out of widespread cultivation during Prohibition. Since then he has planted about 500 new trees in such heirloom varieties as Brown Snout, Michelin, Dabinette and Kingston Black.
Most of Kettleborough’s approximately 500 cases of cider a year are sold in the New Paltz area, with restaurants especially interested in the products to complement their autumnal menus. But distribution is likely to expand in the near future, according to Dressel. “We just built a new production facility, with more tank space. We expect to increase hard cider production dramatically over the next few years.”
Another hard cider producer from the New Paltz area present at Saturday’s Cider Market event, Yankee Folly Cidery, based at Jenkins & Lueken Orchards, already enjoys wider distribution: from Albany to Long Island, according to cidermaker Edmund Tomaselli. “I’ve been selling it for about a year-and-a-half now, but my father was making cider 40 or 50 years ago in Woodstock, where I grew up.” Tomaselli recounted how Jenkins & Lueken always had the reputation for selling the tastiest apples, so he began partnering with that farm’s Eric James. Yankee Folly presses Northern Spy, Winesap, Gala, Golden Russett, MacIntosh and Empire apples to make its single line of cider, which has a sweeter taste and rounder mouthfeel than Dressel’s drier, lighter products.
The granddaddy of mid-Hudson cideries is Doc’s Draft Hard Ciders, produced in Black Dirt country at Warwick Valley Winery, which began production in 1994. It also has the widest reach, with the New Paltz-based Craft Beer Guild distributing its products to about 30 states, England and Norway. “We’re New York State’s first hard cider company since Prohibition,” said brand representative Mark Morton at the Cider Market. He claimed that the company’s original line, Doc’s Apple Cider, was rated one of the top five hard ciders in the world by The New York Times.
Doc’s Draft makes about ten different types of cider each year; apple, pear and raspberry are available year-round, while seasonal varieties cycle in and out of production depending on what is in season. “We source everything from Orange County and Columbia County farmers,” Morton said. There is a delicious Cassis flavor, made with blackcurrants that only recently became legal to grow in New York State. “We’ll have peach soon, and pumpkin in the fall. That’s the crazy one that everybody goes nuts for, that we run out of weekly.”
If you missed the Cider Market, fear not: This beverage trend isn’t going away anytime soon. Many of the hard ciders sampled on Saturday can be purchased by the bottle at local beer and wine merchants and by the glass at local restaurants. Expect more venues to make them available as existing farm-based cideries ramp up their production and new ones jump on the bandwagon. So when the Catskill Aqueduct shuts down for repairs, maybe we should all just start drinking cider regularly, like the Huguenots before us.