While this hard cider (cider) is now being enjoyed by a wide demographic of consumer across the US, most are not aware of cider’s history or the tradition cider has in the apple growing regions of the East coast, including the Hudson Valley and specifically the Lake Ontario region that spans from Youngstown to the Thousand Islands. For people who live in this Lake Ontario region, cider is not new and many of the folks that have family roots in “apple belt” have cider stories that go back three and four generations.
Hard cider (cider) has recently enjoyed resurgence in popularity over the last decade – and for good reasons. Consumers find apple ciders and pear ciders (Perry) refreshing and delicious, and like wine and beer, come in a vast array of styles and ABV’s. Ciders are also gluten free. Once the most popular beverages from colonial times through the mid-to-late 1800’s, cider began to decline in the 1880’s when beer and wine made by immigrants from Italy, Germany, and Eastern Europe began producing commercial products.
Cider nearly disappeared as a commercial beverage after prohibition. However, it didn’t disappear from the basements, barns and sheds of some Western New Yorkers that had access to high quality and low cost apple juice. Over the last several years I have heard so many stories, conveyed to me in our cidery tasting room, by customers whose family had made cider for many generations. Some of the common threads in all the stories include acquiring a Kentucky bourbon barrel (once available at Buffalo’s Clinton Bailey Farm Market in the 1930’s for $1) or a used wine barrel, and making a visit to one of the several local cider mills in our area where the barrel(s) would be filled. Back then cider making wasn’t sophisticated. The home cider maker would often let the cider ferment with wild yeasts that were already present in the apple juice from the skins of the apples and the cider equipment. Times were hard back then and folks liked the cider strong, so it was a common practice to boost the alcohol level by adding sugar, honey, raisins, molasses, etc., which when fermented dry, delivered a powerful product often over 15% ABV or more. This is what people would drink through the cold dark winters of Western New York.
At BlackBird Cider Works, we have replicated these cider traditions in two of our ciders. Our NEW ENGLAND STYLE CIDER 9.9% ABV (2013 Silver Medal Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition) is a double fermented beverage made from a blend of six apple varieties. Local honey is used in the second fermentation and then the cider is infused with golden raisins, making a delicious and complex tasting cider that includes apple, wood, raisin and honey notes.
Our BUFFALO BLUE GRASS CIDER, to be released this August, is the Sister Cider to the NEW ENGLAND STYLE CIDER. Celebrating the rich tradition of using Bourbon barrels, we purchased barrels straight from a Kentucky distillery and aged a naturally fermented cider in them. The flavor profile of this cider is amazing! This cider has hints of apple and bourbon on the nose with a light bourbon finish.
Scott M. Donovan
Cider Maker and Owner
BlackBird Cider Works