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4 Cidermakers to Watch in 2014

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Brent Miles of Seattle Cider Company

We've been keeping tabs on the American cider scene since the launch of SE: Drinks, and it's been exciting to watch the cider industry around the country grow. Last year we rounded up a few new cider folks to watch, focusing on amateurs and apprentices planting fields of cider apples and taking their passion to the professional level. But 2014 is already shaping up quite differently.

By all indications, this year is going to be a year of easy drinking ciders that even cider newbies can love. We're already seeing young guns and old pros alike pressing maximum flavor out of sweet dessert apples (the type you see at your supermarket, not the bittersweet or bittersharp cider fruit that isn't meant for eating out of hand.) There's a lot of new cider hitting the shelves in 2014 and my prediction is that most of it will be pretty mediocre, but here are four cideries who are getting it right.

Brent Miles, Seattle Cider Company

What does a brewer do when he becomes gluten intolerant? For Brent Miles (pictured above) the answer was to start a cidery. Along with his then-boss Joel Vandenbrink (founder of Two Beers Brewing Company) Miles started Seattle Cider Company in 2013 to bring quality cider in a can to the Seattle scene. "[We want] our customers to appreciate good cider in all its formats and styles, we make great, accessible cider from dessert apples but also craft a long-maturation cider from heirloom and cider apples."

Their Dry Cider, made from 100% fresh-pressed Washington apples and busting with citrus and green apple flavors, may just be what the American cider drinker needs most in 2014. It is one of our favorites for sharing with new cider drinkers. In addition, Seattle Cider Company offers seasonally flavored options—Pumpkin Spice, New England Style, Gin Botanical, and Pacific Northwest Berry— for people who want more than just apples in their glass. "We set ourselves apart," Brent Miles tells us, "because we ferment with all of our ingredients as opposed to just adding them post-fermentation to a base blend. This gives the flavors depth and nuance," he says. "Flavors that might be harsh or overpowering if added post-fermentation, such as gin botanicals, are softened and leave room for the cider itself to shine through."

Alejandro del Peral Nine Pin Cider Works

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If Seattle Cider Company had an East coast counterpart, it would be Albany, New York's Nine Pin Cider where Alejandro del Peral is busy bottling up the spirit of the Hudson Valley. He learned to make cider while interning with Bryan Holmes at Vermont's Citizen Cider. After that crash course in fermentation science, del Peral returned home to open Nine Pin using fresh-pressed apples from local orchards.

Nine Pin Cider is a family affair. Alejandro del Peral's mother handles the business side while his father helps keep the equipment running smoothly. They already won gold in the 2013 Great Lakes International Cider & Perry Competition non-commercial division. Their namesake Nine Pin Cider—an off-dry, sparkling offering—hits tap handles and retailers around the state this month.

David Cordtz, Dwight Harrington, and Robert Cordtz, Sonoma Cider

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[Photo: Matthew Hall courtesy of Sonoma Cider]

While California's Sonoma Cider is less than a year old, their fermentation roots run deep. Cider master David Cordtz was a winemaker at Cordtz Brothers Cellars, the founder of a Vibranz Tea (an unpasteurized kombucha line) and worked as a cidermaker and sales manager for the California Cider Company. Along with son Robert and their partner Dwight Harrington, Cortdz is looking to fill the space in the California cider between mass-produced Ace Cider and smaller, artisan producers such as Tilted Shed and Devoto Orchards. Sonoma Cider's three organic offerings—The Hatchet (apple), The Pitchfork (pear), and The Anvil (bourbon-flavored)—are made primarily with Washington state apples.

Roman Roth, Wölffer Estate Vineyard

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We're seeing quite a few winemakers get into the cider game this year and one of our favorites is Roman Roth of Wölffer Estate Vineyards in Sagaponack, NY. A German native, Roth has been the winemaker at Wölffer Estate for over 20 years. Last year, Roth sourced apples from nearby Halsey Farm and created Wölffer No. 139 Cider. Max Rohn, Wölffer's General Manager, tells us that "the Hamptons have shown us the need for more refreshing summer drinks that people can drink socially in the daytime besides beer and wine."

The ciders have a little wine inspiration: there's a drier 'white' and a slightly sweeter 'rosé', packaged in lavishly-decorated 355mL bottles. Both are fermented from a blend of Long Island apples including Braeburn and Gold Rush varieties for a summery mix of floral and citrus flavors. They're also offering a single-varietal Gold Rush Big Apple Wine, full of its namesake apple's characteristic tart, tropical flavor.

Have you discovered any new cider-makers lately? Add your 'cideries to watch' to the comments below.

About the author: Christopher Lehault is a New Jersey-based cider journalist, craft beer documentarian, and home brewer. Follow his cider adventures on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

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