Bottles of Eve’s Cidery hard cider.
Photo by Tina Wright.

My father sometimes had a barrel of apple cider hardening in our cellar in autumn on our dairy farm in the Finger Lakes region of New York. The farmers would have to drink heartily in early winter to finish it off before it turned to vinegar. If that was hard cider in overalls, today’s apple cider producers are making hard cider you can drink in tuxedos.

To make that point, a critical mass of hard cider makers launched the Finger Lakes Cider Week. The second annual event was held October 4-13, 2013. For those who noticed that’s more than a week – well, drinking hard cider changes the concept of time, and that’s a good thing.

The Finger Lakes Cider Week, just getting started at the popular Ithaca Apple Harvest Festival, hit its stride with multiple dinner pairings in Ithaca and nearby Trumansburg, a Science Cabaret in downtown Ithaca, a cider salon at the Trumansburg Farmers’ Market, an apple and cider talk with local history at a library, and cider tastings galore at wine and beverage stores.

Deva Maas, co-owner of Redbyrd Orchard Cider, enjoys apple pressing time.
Photo courtesy of Redbyrd Orchard Cider.

Pour on

If Ithaca was the epicenter of cider week, the local stars in hard cider making are Autumn Stoscheck and Ezra Sherman of Eve’s Cidery in Van Etten, N.Y., south of Ithaca; Eric Shatt and Deva Maas of Redbyrd Orchard Cider in Burdett, N.Y., between Ithaca and Watkins Glen; and Bill and Cheryl Barton of Bellwether Hard Cider in Trumansburg.

In the 1980s, the Bartons visited the storied apple cider regions of Europe, Normandy and Brittany. The pedigree and elegance of the apple ciders astounded them, eventually leading them to establish an outpost of hard cider making just south of the great Finger Lakes wine grape region. In 2000, Bellwether released its first vintage, and the pretty bottles of Original, Liberty Spy and Cherry Street were among the first local ciders available in the area.

“We have been on the Cayuga Wine Trail from the beginning,” Bill Barton said. However, it took time for apple cider to be accepted in the rarified wine world. Craft beer making and the popularity of local foods helped the hard cider cause. Bellwether is pushing cider with fine dining and emphasizes that hard cider is naturally gluten-free. The last three or four years, new cider makers launching cideries has helped increase the awareness and popularity of hard cider. Barton welcomes the company. “It was a tough slog for years, frankly,” he added.

Bellwether buys apples from Cornell Orchards, Littletree Orchards in Newfield, N.Y., and Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva, N.Y., among others. While they are now establishing a small orchard, the cider craftsman said, “We are focused on production; that’s the main event for us.”

Apples from Beak & Skiff, one of the largest and oldest orchards in the Finger Lakes region and part of the Finger Lakes Cider Week.
Photo courtesy of Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards.

In the trees

In nearby Burdett, Redbyrd Orchard Cider is developing an orchard that includes the range of apple types needed for hard cider production. Bittersweet, bittersharp, sharp and dessert apple varieties are all used in the craft.

Eric Shatt, an apple man, is manager of Cornell’s orchard and research farm in Ithaca. His advice for apple growers who are interested in getting some value-added profits from hard cider making: Basically, you need new trees.

Heirloom and specific cider apples are the key to good hard cider. Some apple varieties are “crossovers” and can be used for table apples or cider, but you need at least some of the cider varieties to get a good blend.

Starblossom, a hard cider release from Redbyrd Orchard Cider.
Photo courtesy of Redbyrd Orchard Cider.

Shatt said, “That’s one of the cool things. You almost plant your blend out in the field ahead of time. In general, good ciders are blends of 30 to 40 apple varieties.”

Shatt and Deva Maas started planting in 2004 and released their first vintage three years ago. They have about 1,100 intensively planted dwarf varieties on 3.5 acres, and they are adding trees as the business expands. Most of their cider is sold at farmers’ markets and directly to restaurants, but they are seeking other outlets to market more cider in the future.

Shatt is happy about the up- ward trend in cider popularity, “It’s like the wine industry in the 1970s,” he said. “The whole wine industry gave grape growers the opportunity to make farms more profitable.”

Autumn Stoscheck, co-owner of Eve’s Cidery, at the Ithaca Apple Harvest Festival in October, which launched Finger Lakes Cider Week.
Photo by Tina Wright.

Celebrating cider

These hard cider makers and others take an active role in educating the public and spreading the word about this tasty alternative to wine.

Shatt spoke about apple cider’s long history in upstate New York at the local library.

Madeline’s, an Ithaca restaurant, and Hazelnut Kitchen in Trumansburg paired their dinner entrees with Redbyrd ciders. Other local restaurants offered pairings with Bellwether hard ciders, including a fancy pork meal at the cidery itself in collaboration with an Ithaca cook.

Autumn Stoscheck of Eve’s Cidery was seen at tastings at wine shops and beverage centers, as well as the Ithaca Apple Festival. She and Dr. Thomas Chao of the Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, N.Y., presented a Science Cabaret called “From Central Asia to Central New York: The Roots and Branches of Apple Diversity.” As curator of the national clonal germplasm collection for apples, cold-hardy grapes and tart cherries, Chao was well-qualified to tell the tale of the apple’s huge transformation from the wilds of ancient Kazakhstan to the many varieties we enjoy today.

This fall, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont introduced a bill to lower the tax on hard ciders with higher alcohol content. The Northeast is historically great apple cider country, and the senators are surely responding to hard cider’s rising popularity.

Eddie Moran, foreground, and Dan Krafton of Eve’s Cidery pour samples of hard cider.
Photo by Tina Wright.

Finger Lakes Cider Week involved a plethora of local restaurants, wine stores, apple farmers, cider makers and local food folk. Hard ciders range from sweet to tart, simple to complex, and still to carbonated, with floral notes and bouquets that rival the great grape wines of the world. Raise a glass to those just figuring this out, whether they’re wearing overalls or tuxedos.

The author is a freelance contributor based near Ithaca, N.Y., specializing in dairy and organics, but dabbling in all things agricultural. Comment or question? Visit and join in the discussions.