Saturday, 10 September 2011

Stage 1: New England.

What a country and what lovely people. We've been a whistle stop mission with very little time for much else and this is the first chance I've really had to jack in to the web (which makes a pleasant change for me, somewhat more frustrating for Pete!) Looking at these photos now, only 3 or 4 days old they seem so much older already which is a phenomenom you notice when you're really cramming stuff in. I normally need more time, a few weeks even, for my memory to forget about them then refresh when I see them. New England is a fantastic cidermaking area, each cider producer offering us something so completely different from the last. Their cider heritage here is so much older than I had realised and was indeed something that came over with the settlers and thrived here until prohibition. Much of my ignorance relating to their cider culture (or hard cider as they call it) can be viewed here in a strange interpretation of a discussion I had with BBC journalist just before I left. And on that note I would like to clarify the following points: I'm not or never have been a cider judge (yet!), my primary mission here is to photograph their cider scene, I was invited over by the Great Lakes Cider & Perry Association to learn more and document their whats going on and was asked by some connections back home to encourage some more entries in an ambassadorial capacity if at all possible. Not quite sure how that transformed in to the article appears online but nevermind! And I also hate it when they crop my images.


It was interesting to see their industrial cider scene too, that gave us a good idea of the market size here and how fast its growing... its incredible. Woodchuck cider are growing about 25% a year...J

What is also interesting is how different their cider flavour profile is here. Its predomanentnly made from dessert apples with some traditional cider varieties included to introduce some tannin, but no where near what you might expect in comparison to a traditional Somerset cider. the market just ins't here at the moment for really dry tannic ciders so their tradition has a milder approach. There are of course exceptions to every rule and Judith Maloney from West County Cider is the one we found. Her ciders are much more familiar in flavour to me and one you could compare quite readily to a well made UK artisan cider. They're really delicious, we only had about 45mins there because we had a flight to catch but it left an impression.

Ice Cider is a new thing to me and its delicious. We stayed overnight at Eden Cider Cider right up at the top of Vermont. I can't go into the intricacies of making it, but its delicious. More of a dessert or aperitif style wine and goes SO well the cheese.

Because much of the cider is made from dessert apples and the hard cider tradition seems to have been re-born out of a 'U-pick' your own fruit basis, the orchards have a very different look too. The trees here often look more like the tree you see in your grannys garden because they're pruned to pick fruit from the ground. Coupled with the fact that the law here prevents growers from grazing the same land with livestock the rest of the year if they want to sell juice (something I find crazy) there's no need to have the standard or semi standard tree that you would associate with a traditional UK cider orchard. They look prettier here, lower fatter branches that the kids would love to scramble all over and more picturesque. Slyboro had particularly lovely looking orchards but it was pissing with rain no stop the short time I was there so I was unable to photograph anything spectacular unfortunately. They're really worth a visit if you are in New York state.

Farnhum Hill are doing some really interesting stuff and Steve Woods has been steering the cider scene in New England for about 20 years and is a well known character in cider. He's been trailblazing the US cidermaking scene here for 20 years or more.

Anyway, today is the Great Lakes Cider & Perry Association festival held at the funnest cider farm I've ever been to Uncle Johns Cider where Pete Brown & I are giving a joint talk on our adventures in cider so far so I best go and prepare.


  1. Have you found any ciders over there that are made with the natural wild yeasts rather than by pitching a commercial strain? I spoke to a number of people in and around the cider business when I was living in Boston and when I mentioned the concept of spontaneous fermentation most seemed rather nonplussed. I think the outlook on artisan ciders over there is rather different to ours. They seem to be more pitched at the higher end wine-drinking market whereas ours traditionally tend to be more aligned with beer & pub culture.

  2. I really love the photo of Judith Maloney!! Really beautiful.

  3. fantastic photos as ever Bill. Looking forward to hearing all about your 'lecture' at the festival!

  4. Chriso,

    We spoke to a few people who had tried spontaneous fermentation and none of them were happy with the results, so they mostly use carefully selected strains of wine, champagne or even ale yeast.

    As for wine, yes, there was an awful lot of that (you have to have a wine licence if you want to make cider) but there's a good chunk aimed at beer drinkers too.

  5. Mmm, bring us back a fresh cider donut Bill...

  6. CHRISO: I spoke to numerous people about using wild yeasts and apparently, as Pete said, most have tried it and then avoided it! I believe you will always get more of an interesting final product because different yeasts and bacterias produce a range of flavours adding to a more complex finish but it also creates the really difficult situation for consitancy. Careful consideration, some aging and blending might help that to some degree but create even more work still. Maybe in time, people will try and isolate the wild yeasts local to them that do work and create their own regional cider strains that they can pitch and re-pitch etc getting the best of both worlds (thats what I would do anyway!) Given the technical ability and facilities of many of the people we met, I think this would be both achievable and worth exploring.

    DAN: I did bring you some back, but then I ate them. And I'm not repentant because they're better than I can describe.

  7. SUSAN: Glad you like the picture of Judith, we had very little time there (about 45mins) and that included a trip around the cellar, the orchard and lunch too. Really glad I got to meet her, she has a really interesting story and makes lovely ciders.I only wish I had more time to produce something more special, as was the case with most of my flying visits! Thanks again for looking after us and I'm looking forward to reading the 'Johnny Appleseed' book. Keep in touch!

  8. Your photos are gorgeous. I am a Michigan cider lover and found your blog through a link from a local cider mill. Uncle John's is in my hometown (village) stomping grounds. This piece makes me want to head out on a New England cider tour.

  9. CHRISTINE: Thanks for the kind words! We were at Uncle Johns last week and had a fantastic time. My next post, going up sometime later this week, will be about stage 2 of our trip in and around Michigan.