A Century-old Cidery
Even the most hidebound traditionalists will appreciate B. F. Clyde’s Cider Mill in Old Mystic, CT. The oldest continuously operating cidery in the country dates back over a century to 1881. Annette Miner, who manages the business with her husband, Harold, is the fourth generation of her family to run the cider press. The business survived Prohibition by making vinegar, but Miner suggests that not all of its product wound up as salad dressing. “My great-grandmother was arrested twice for bootlegging,” she laughs, adding that neither of the charges made it to court.
B. F. Clyde’s Cider Mill makes a dozen products measuring from 6 percent abv upwards. One is a hard cider made entirely from Russetts, which Miner describes as “the nicest hard cider apple grown in this country.” Another is a sparkling apple champagne, which acquires its fizz naturally from the addition of a teaspoon of priming sugar to each bottle. “We don’t do a lot of that one,” said Miner. You can blame the tax man: ciders that contain a significant amount of carbon dioxide (specifically, more than .392 grams per 100 milliliters) are zapped with a champagne tax of $3.40 per gallon. Unlike the normal wine tax, there is no break for small producers.
B. F. Clyde’s also produces a variety of “apple wines” measuring up to 14 percent abv, including apple/cranberry, apple/raspberry and apple/cherry. Incidentally, Miner dislikes the term “apple wine,” which she considers an artificial designation foisted on her by the BATF. When Congress created a new tax category for lower-alcohol ciders, she explains, the agency decided that the term “hard cider” could be applied only to those brands below the 6 percent abv ceiling.
“It’s hard for us to differentiate,” says Miner of her fermented apple products. “They were all hard ciders when I was growing up.” (Indeed, the BATF received so many complaints–including a letter from Vermont senators Patrick Leahy and James Jeffords, who introduced the federal cider legislation–that the agency has decided not to enforce the distinction.)
Cider production at B. F. Clyde’s is quite different from that at the larger cideries. Virtually all the big companies, for instance, dose their products with potassium sorbate or sulfites to kill yeast and other microorganisms. Otherwise, their products, which are low in alcohol and high in residual sugars, might experience an uncontrolled fermentation, exploding the bottle, or turn slowly to vinegar through a process called acetification.
Miner, by contrast, adds no preservatives. “We sell everything on the premises,” she asserts. “And whatever we make, we sell out in 10 weeks.” Annual production amounts to 7,000 gallons, or a little over 200 barrels.
Whereas the big cideries usually buy their juice already squeezed, Miner presses her apples using an 1898 steam-powered cider mill that by all rights ought to be in the Smithsonian Institution. In fact, she notes that her mill is recognized as a historical landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
When it comes to self-sufficiency, Elizabeth Ryan goes even further. Ryan, owner of the Hudson Valley Cidery/Breezy Hill Orchards in Staatsburg, NY , grows her own trees…over 1,000 of them. To keep them fruitful, she sings carols to them every January, in keeping with an old English custom from Somerset.
Only locally grown apples make their way into her products: Maeve’s Draft Cider, Maeve’s Draft Perry, Hudson Valley Farmhouse Cider and Hudson Valley Farmhouse Perry. These beverages are aged several months and undergo a secondary fermentation with a malolactic bacteria that Ryan feels rounds out the flavor.
Once available only in New York and a few bordering states, Hudson Valley ciders will undergo a national rollout beginning this fall. “I hope sophisticated consumers will seek out and support artisanal ciders,” Ryan says. “There’s a big difference between ciders produced from concentrate and those produced from fresh juice.” She echoes the fear of other small cidermakers that customers are acquiring a taste for “a sweet, cooked apple profile” typical of national brands.
In all fairness, despite concerns about the US cider industry, there are many bright spots as well. Despite competition from other new-wave beverages, HardCore’s Joe Whitney reports a 27.5 percent sales hike. Jeffrey House says he’s tripling capacity to keep with demand for Ace Ciders. Wyder’s Bill Gibbs insists that “we’ve doubled our capacity every other year for the past six years.”
New blood continues to liven up the industry. The Smokehouse Winery began production last year, and the Sonoma Cider Mill didn’t sell its first bottle until March 2000. Importers are also trolling for new products. B. United International of Elmsford, NY, best known for its portfolio of English and German beers, also imports a pair of ciders from Normandy, France.
“Cider is still a niche product,” cautions Sonoma’s Dave Kordtz, but it’s much less nichey than it used to be. Kordtz, who broke into the business as cider maker for House, recalls, “When I started out, the only places I could sell cider were English and Irish pubs.” Today, he says, cider sells well among women drinkers, in college towns with large populations of 21- to 35-year-olds, along the Eastern Seaboard and in warmer climates like California, Arizona and Texas.
“There’s a much larger audience for cider than I ever imagined,” Gibbs said.