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Our First Year of Hard Cider Production

Updated: Apr 26, 2019

Every year it seems that our season goes by faster and faster, especially as we add on new pieces to our farm and there is even more for us to do. It’s incredible that it is December already, and the season is coming to a close. The opening of Cider Hill Cellars was a dream of mine for many years, that after a tremendous amount of work and preparation finally came to fruition this season. After making my first batch of hard cider ten years ago, planting an orchard of hard cider specific apple varieties five years ago, and beginning construction of our cidery two years ago, we released our first two ciders this past May.

The intense excitement of every new venture is always balanced with the intense fear that it won’t actually work. Well, that fear is gone now, after this season. Thank you all so much for being willing to take a risk along with us and give our cider a try. Not only that, but to give it ALL a try! I didn’t expect to sell out of anything this year, although I certainly hoped we would, but not only did we sell out of both Spring and Summer, our Raspberry Harvest sold out in 2 weeks! You are all amazing, and I am so grateful for your support.

Summer was, as we expected it would be, the fan favorite, but I was happy to see Spring develop its own following as well. It’s definitely not for everyone, or similar to most modern ciders in the US, but much more in line with what a traditional cider of colonial Massachusetts would have tasted like. Our goal for our first batches was to produce the cleanest, most flawless ciders possible. Rather than pushing out big, complex ciders, and trying to take away their flaws in future batches, I wanted to start simple, and add complexity one batch at a time.

One of the most frequent comments we heard was regarding the carbonation level of our ciders. Our goal was never to produce a heavily carbonated cider, the flavors and aroma of cider are like a delicate white wine, and too much sparkle can actually scrub the taste right off your tongue. The lower level of carbonation we used enhances the fresh character of the cider while still allowing the apple flavors to linger on your tongue. While to me this was a fantastic level of carbonation, it does lie outside the norm for what you have had before in ciders, and was not what most of you were expecting. I want to let you know that we’ve listened, and heard you.

I’m going to try not to get too technical here, but I get excited about this stuff, and I want to share what we’re up to. Bear with me. Going forward, we will be slightly increasing the level of carbonation in our ciders. We will be striking a balance between aroma, flavor, and carbonation, so they won’t be blowing the cork out of the bottle and through your drywall like champagne, but will have a prosecco-like bubble. The easiest way to do this is to hook up a big tank of CO2 to the tank full of cider and pressurize the cider until it is bubbly. This is called force carbonation, and provides a sparkle consisting of big soda-like bubbles, and is the method used in almost all carbonated beverages today. It’s easy and quick, but again those big bubbles aren’t what we want. Instead, we will be using a traditional process known as the Charmat Method. With this method, after fermentation of a batch of our cider is complete but the batch is all still in one big tank, we add a small and precisely measured amount of sugar back into the finished cider and seal the tank shut. The yeast in the cider will ferment the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The CO2 cannot escape the sealed tank, creating pressure and therefore carbonation. Which, for complex biochemical reasons I won’t get into, forms more delicate bubbles than force carbonation. This will add at least a month to the production cycle for every batch, but is the best method for achieving a balance between carbonation, flavor, and aroma, and is therefore the one we will use to accomplish this change.

There also were some bumps along the road this year. We decided to not release a sour cherry dessert cider, (there was really nothing wrong with it, it just wasn’t great, and we never want to settle for “good enough”) and we did sell out of our other ciders quicker than expected, leaving some of our customers disappointed. However, every problem is an opportunity for learning and growth. We currently have 5,000 gallons of Spring & Summer in our tanks for our 2018 season – triple the amount of this past season’s production, which hopefully will mitigate inventory issues.

One of our most unique ciders we produced this year would have to be our Winter Frost Cider. The best part about this specific cider is that it gets better and better with age. In 2-3 years the flavor will continue to deepen and it will taste like a fresh baked apple pie. Frost ciders in general are very unique to the Northeast and Canada region, Cider Hill Cellars being one of the few cideries producing one in the country! We have plenty of Winter, which is now available in our Farm Store.

As for our goals for next year, we foremost want to continue to improve and produce the best cider we possibly can. Changing our carbonation is the most noticeable, but we’ve developed and refined many subtleties of our production process which we are now implementing in our batches set to be released in 2018. More flavor, more aroma, more fruit forward, is always the goal. Every year yields a different apple crop, which challenges us to constantly adapt our blends and keep ahead of the curve to do our best with what nature provides. We have some new cider-specific apple varieties we are experimenting with to produce varietal ciders and new blended ciders, and we are also hoping to have some big cidery events on the farm next year.

Thank you all, so much, for supporting my family, our farm, and our cidery as we continue to grow. You’ve made a dream into a reality, and none of this would be possible without you. I can’t ever thank you enough.

~Chad Cook

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