Wednesday 21 September 2011

Stage 2: Michigan & the Great Lakes

'Be careful and good luck..' was our euphemistic farewell at the airport by the smiley lady who we showed our boarding cards too as we'd just told her we were heading to Detroit that night. As if that wasn't enough to shit us up a bit, two blokes in the lift at Detroit airport were swearing about how much they 'hate this goddamn city, got mugged for five bucks last time I was here.' So Pete and I were well chuffed... where's Axel Foley when you need him?

Actually Michigan is a lovely place and somewhere I'm keen to return to, its my kind place and it's people are my kind of people. They kept telling me that it was recently voted the most beautiful place in America and by the end of our journey I could see why. It was sunny, very welcoming and the whole place felt geared up for making sure visitors want to come back. Tourism seems to account for alot of what their businesses are good at. Detroit has had a hard time of it in recent years so a certain air of gloom is to be expected. But its funny how, the combination of a good nights sleep and daylight make a place seem a whole lot friendlier.

Anyway, the morning after our flight Dave Grohl lookalike Rob 'Rockin Cock' Nelson walked into our hotel reception. He looked up, smiled and said "Pete...? Bill...?" He'd kindly aranged to pick us up and drive us to his family business.  Parmenters Northville Cider Mill have the biggest squeezebox press I've ever seen. No idea of production figures in terms of output etc, but it made me chuckle.

The cider donut is a phenomenon these guys do really well, I reckon they must sell a few thousand a day here as do a few places, they had a decent production area out the back. Cider'n donuts would appear to be as much of a partnership in America as Cowboys & Indians or Bonnie & Clyde. I had no idea how strong that link was in US apple growing regions until I encountered my third cidery that made donuts and I started to think about it a bit more. And here's another, but something I know nothing about: Johnny Appleseed, not Johnny Knoxvilles cousin from Traverse City but an original American hero (more on him another day - when I have more of a clue.)

Rob kindly drove us further north to meet Jim Koan at Almar Orchards  who is a fascinating guy. I could listen to him all day and all night, and probably for the rest of the week. I've never met anyone like him and think he's quite inspirational. He claims his 'main thing isn't making cider' although he does do a good job of making a respectable amount of it. He prefers growing apples and orcharding so I thought it was best to take a portrait of him in his specialist heritage apple nursery plantation, amongst his children. He makes a popular and tasty cider called JK's Scrumpy, and although not for everyone and far from what would we might call Scrumpy here in UK, I enjoyed it. It was certainly the appliest 'scrumpy' I've ever had.

And then it happened. Without us realising it, the main man arrived in the shape of Mike Beck, a giant of a man and the friendliest chap you could ever hope to meet. Mike has been instrumental in our trip to the States; he invited us over officially, he organised alot of our schedule, he sorted beds, food, visits, lifts - he even provided us with pre-paid credit cards to help us with travel expenses on the way! We have a massive amount to thank him for, he's the kind of guy you meet and wish you were a little bit more like. He's an effective host and the GLCPA are lucky to have him running the show I think. Mike's own business is Uncle Johns Cider Mill, a successful family fun farm that makes its own wine, spirits and cider - something for everyone there. These guys make even more donuts and cider than the last place. Mike reckons they get about 7000 cars in their car park on a busy day... thats alot of cider n'donuts.

Another chap we got to know was Dick Dunn, an interesting person. He runs the Cider digest an online cider resource that helps people who want to know more about fruit and cidermaking in USA. He's based in Colorado and is well known in US.

The Great Lakes Cider & Perry Festival was a fun day and we met loads of people, I spent all day talking to people and didn't shoot as much as I could. One of the benefits of the festival is that I got to try a cider or two that isn't available yet. Their craft cider movement takes influence from their ragingly fearless craft beer movement and new cidermakers seem to be popping up all over the place. They're really passionate about it and they can take it both seriously and with a pinch of salt at the same time, something I admire in anyone.

Our last evening in US was spent at Tandem Ciders. This is somewhere I could happily drink myself to death. If that day ever comes, I'll see you at the bar. Its lovely. Nikki & Dan are so friendly and they are an interesting story as to how and why they started making cider that I'm not going to spoil. About 15 of us had a lovely dinner there sat outside by candlelight and feasted on Nikkis home cooked food and drank as much cider as we could hold. Eating outside on a warm mid west evening by candlelight made me feel a bit like an extra in The Waltons or Little house on The Prairie until we all realised how wasted we were (I was.) John-Boy would never get this high...

Anyway there are so many other people we met and I want to mention but I will shamefully just have to list them for now: Left Foot Charley made some excellent ciders and wines and Brian is alot of fun too - please visit him and say hi from me. The boys at Vander Mill (the only people in the history of the world to add candied pecans to a cider and get away with it!) Chuck from Albermarle Ciderworks in Virginia who I barely got to talk to. Aeppeltreow in Wisconsin makes some excellent ciders and meads too. They've got lovely orchards, worth a visit, I''m sure Charles will make you welcome.

Because I'm childish, I find it difficult to write objectively like a 'writer' might, I tend to get excited about alot of things (everything) especially when it involves cider so I want to say that I'll sum up then shut up and get to the photos. I wish I could express more clearly my heartfelt thanks to the people that made this trip possible and the sheer effort they all put into making me as informed and comfortable as possible. The kind cider folk of New England, Michigan and Wisconsin gave up their time, money, cars, beds, fridge, pantry and cellar contents for us... thankyou everyone we truly appreciate every bit of it.

It rocked.

Jim from Almar Orchards

Mike Beck and daughter
The kind of guy you want organising your stag weekend

Great idea, nice price.
Jeff Carlson (or Oliver Reed?)

Dick Dunn du Cider Digest

Nacho, Orchard manager

Bar at Tandem

Nikki at Tandem

The Waltons

Dan at Tandem
Ain't it purty

'Pow, right in the kisser'

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.