| credit Margaret Moebius
In colonial times, every good housewife knew how to make cider. Back then, in the days before refrigeration, cider didn’t mean sweet, fresh juice from apples—it meant apple juice that had been allowed to ferment in a wooden barrel until it became cider, a beverage with a low alcohol content (usually around 5 percent). In the Hudson Valley, where apple orchards have been a part of the landscape since the late 1600s, cider was an important product for apple growers well into the 1800s. The growth of urban areas and an influx of beer-loving European immigrants reduced demand for cider over the years, and farm distilleries in the Hudson Valley gradually faded from the scene. Some continued to produce cider, but Prohibition put an end to legal production in 1920. Growers tore out their cider apple trees and planted apple varieties meant for eating and cooking instead. After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the demand for cider was still low; burdensome regulations limited farm distilling, and the growers had moved away from cider and cider apples. Cider production languished.
In recent years, however, commercial cider production has made a vigorous return to the Hudson Valley. The resurgence was sparked by the happy confluence of changes in New York State’s antiquated alcohol laws and the eagerness of forward-looking apple growers seeking new ways to add value to a crop that faces increasing competition from imported eating apples. That combination has received a major assist from consumers, who are increasingly interested in searching out unusual and locally made products, and from the owners of wine shops and liquor stores who are always interested in bringing new products to the attention of their customers. Add in some help from the nonprofit sector, and you have a serious comeback in the production of cider and apple spirits in the Hudson Valley.
A number of excellent ciders and apple-based spirits are now being made in the mid-Hudson Valley on the east side of the river. In Columbia County, Harvest Spirits in Valatie makes distilled spirits from the apples and other fruit grown at Harvest Orchards. The distillery’s flagship product is Core Vodka, made from apples; other products include Peach Applejack and Hudson Valley Apple Brandy. The products are available at the distillery tasting room and at a number of wine and spirits shops in the area. 518-523-5917; www.harvestspirits.com
In Red Hook, Annandale Cidery, part of Montgomery Place Orchards, has been making Annandale Atomic Cider since 1999. The historic orchards at Montgomery Place still grow many old-fashioned cider varieties, so Atomic Cider has a lot of apples to choose from when making the juice blend. In cider as in wine, every batch every year is slightly different, depending on the varieties used, how the growing season went, and what happens during the natural fermentation process. The cider can be bought at the Montgomery Place farm stand at the intersection of routes 199 and 9G. 845-758-6338; www.mporchards.com
Breezy Hill Orchard in Staatsburg is well known locally for its excellent eating apples, sold primarily at farmers’ markets and at greenmarkets in New York City. Owner Elizabeth Ryan currently makes Hudson Valley Farmhouse Cider, a flavorful French-style cider that must be refrigerated and stays fresh for only a few weeks. Going forward, additional ciders are planned. As the orchard is not currently open to the public, the most reliable place to purchase the cider is at Stone Ridge Orchard in Ulster County. 845-266-3979; www.hudsonvalleycider.com.
Cider Week 2013 in the Hudson Valley
Cider Week, held annually in mid-October (and this year from October 18 through 27) is a project originated by Glynwood, a nonprofit organization based in Cold Spring dedicated to promoting sustainable agriculture in the region. Now in its third year, Cider Week is an ongoing and increasingly popular effort to educate the public about America’s oldest drink. Cider Week offers tastings, meals with cider pairings, presentations, and a lot of other fun events, both in New York City and at a growing number of Hudson Valley restaurants and wine and spirits shops. It’s all part of Glynwood’s Apple Project, which seeks to preserve apple orchards in the Hudson Valley by promoting the production of hard cider and apple spirits and working to create markets for these products. As of my deadline, specific events were still in the planning stage; for up-to-the-minute information about these check www.ciderweekny.com. And for more information about Glynwood and the innovative work of the Apple Project, check out www.glynwood.org.
Sheila Buff is a freelance writer living in Milan. She is the author of the Food Lovers’ Guide to the Hudson Valley, published this year by Globe Pequot Press.