Beginner’s Cidermaking Workshop
While most cider festivals focus on tastings and dinners, Franklin County CiderDays included extensive education sessions as well. Visitors could geek out over apple varieties, try their hand at pressing fresh cider, or even learn the basics of home orchard management. Our favorite seminar was the Beginner's Cidermaking Workshop with local home cider makers Bob Delisle and Charlie Olchowski. After a few hours with these semi-pros, the fifty-odd attendees left with enough knowledge—and juice—to get their first batch of cider bubbling.
Apple Tasting at the Shelburne Buckland Community Center
Without apples, there would be no cider—and CiderDays had apples by the bin full. At Shelburne Buckland Community Center in Shelburne Falls, attendees could sample heirloom and cider varieties including apples named Winter Banana, Caville Blanc d'Hiver, and Cox's Orange Pippin.
Citizen Cider Bourbon Barrel-Aged Cider
Vermont's little cidery that could is quickly on its way to dominating the Vermont cider scene. They have a new tasting room in the works in downtown Burlington and a hefty dose of enthusiasm. Our favorite Citizen Cider is their bourbon barrel aged variation. A touch of sweetness, bourbon-y richness, and a spirituous backbone add complexity to this otherwise easy-going cider.
L.L. Draughon's Fishing Creek Hard Cider
Our goal at the Cider Salon was to focus on New England ciders, but somehow a glass of L.L. Draughon's Fishing Creek Hard Cider—from Whitakers, North Carolina—made its way into our glass. And, boy, were we glad that it did. With a slight funk, earthy apple flavors, and natural carbonation, Flying Creek is a proper farmhouse cider that can hold its own against the nation's best and has firmly planted North Carolina on the cider map.
West County Cider Catamount Hill Orchard Cider
15 years ago, this cidery organized the first CiderDays and they have been an integral part ever since. They generously poured their Catamount Hill Orchard cider throughout the week. An estate cider produced entirely from apples grown in their own orchard, Catamount Hill is delicate and refined, with layers of floral, apple and honey flavors. This depth makes it an incredibly versatile cider for pairing over a long meal with multiple courses. Needless to day, we brought a few bottles home!
Headwater Cider Company Ashton Blend
It takes a bit of crazy to start producing cider in a dry county. But that's just what Peter Mitchell at Headwater Cider Company set out to do in 2011. His orchards produce exemplary New England fruit—notably Macintosh, Cortland and Empire apples—which make for a definitively New England cider. His Ashton Blend combines these apples with traditional bittersweet cider fruit from nearby Poverty Lane Orchards (home of Farnum Hill Ciders) for a cider that starts with big apple and floral flavors then takes a turn for the funk and finishes with long, lingering tannins. It's a journey in a bottle and worth seeking out.
Bear Swamp Orchards Ice Cider
Bear Swamp Orchards combines all the elements we love about small cideries. They are organic, use all their own fruit, ferment using the wild yeast on the apples, and do it all in the basement under their house. And while their standard cider is worth seeking out, the true prize from Bear Swamp is their ice cider. Pressed from late harvest, estate-grown Freedom apples, these juices are concentrated in the cold of the Massachusetts winter before fermentation. The final cider is a concentrated blast of apple flavor for sure, but those flavors are layered over a dense yeast character unlike any other ice cider we've tried. Sadly, these are sold out for 2013 but hopefully we'll score a bottle from this year's harvest next fall.
Urban Farm Fermentory Dry Cidah
For a few of the more purist cider makers at CiderDays, the only 'real' way to make cider is through wild fermentation. Maine’s Urban Farm Fermentory has been working under this model since the beginning. Their flagship Dry Cidah is made entirely from Maine apples and is dominated by wild yeast funk character without all of the abrasive, vinegar notes you’d find in a Lambic or Flanders Red. The resulting cider is ideal for sour beer fans but easy drinking enough to gulp by the pint.
Eden Ice Cider Company Sparkling Cider
It seems that Vermont’s Eden Ice Cider Company can do no wrong. Their ice ciders are still among our favorites worldwide, their line of aperitifs are providing local alternatives to classic cocktail mixers and now, their new Sparkling Cider is in the running for our favorite new cider of 2013. Eden Sparkling Cider is made from the late runnings of frozen apple juice destined to become ice cider. This lower-alcohol juice is fermented slowly—over two years—before it's blended with fresh juice from Kingston Black apples and fermented further. The final cider is elegant and completely dry with a complex, English apple character. Sparkling Cider does retain some whispers of the original apples that began fermenting two years prior. But is largely dominated by the Kingston Black apple’s long, rolling tannins.
Slyboro Ciderhouse Night Pasture
We’ve seen quite a few still ciders popping up this year but Slyboro Night Pasture remains one of our favorites. Like all Slyboro ciders, Night Pasture is fermented from a blend of traditional, English Bittersweet fruit and American favorites such as Golden Delicious and Northern Spy. After a long, slow ferment and time spent on oak, the cider finishes completely dry and with layers of subtle spices and orchard fruit flavors over soft tannins and vanilla notes from the oak.
Whetstone Ciderworks Orchard King
I had never heard of Whetstone Ciderworks before coming to CiderDays but was immediately impressed by their Orchard King cider. Bone dry with delicate citrus and earthy flavors, Orchard King is indicative of the English cider fruit from which it is made. Sought after varieties such as Yarlington Mill, Orleans Reinette, and Major all make their way from local orchards into the blend.
Still River Winery Sparkling Apfel Eis
There is something incredibly fun about sparkling ice cider. The carbonation takes an elegant desert drink and adds a festive element. Massachusettes’ Still River Winery produce both still and sparking ice ciders but their Sparkling Apfel Eis—produced from late harvest apples frozen before pressing—is their real prize. With its concentrated, classic apple flavors, Apfel Eis is a great way to finish out a meal.
So You Want to Be a Commercial Cidermaker
One of the unique aspects of CiderDays is that it features both commercial and home cider makers. For those home producers thinking of going pro, CiderDays featured a workshop with cider makers Steve Gougeon from Bear Swamp Orchards and Andy Brennan from Aaron Burr Cider. Both Steve and Andy bootstrapped their way into the cider game with no investors and very little upstart cash. Their seminar—backdropped by Steve’s organic orchards—discussed legal hurdles, financial shortcuts, and cider design. Needless to say, but we’ll probably see a few of the seminar’s attendees on the other side of the pouring tables next year.