Soham Bhatt’s voice rises in pitch, his cadence increasing with each sentence, when he talks about making cider and how he learned to. “I read everything that I could possibly get my hands on,” says Bhatt. “And not just reading, but talking to people. I try to be a little tangential about what I learn about. I read about wine, and I drink a lot of wine. I read about craft beer, I drink a lot of craft beer. I was reading about this Yellow Sweeting apple two days ago. It never stops. It’s been a little obsession.”
Along with business partner Jake Mazar, Bhatt has turned this obsession into a business, founding Artifact Cider Project in Springfield in 2013. The two went to middle school together, and were roommates for a year after college. Mazar became a farmer, and now works on Artifact full time. Bhatt is the cider maker, and his day job, as an engineer at Biogen, offers a little insight into that obsessive streak. “At some point in time you realize you’re not going to become an astronaut, and you have to focus on something else,” says Bhatt.
Artifact produces traditional New England hard cider while challenging the definition of what that means. Starting in the spring, Bhatt visits orchards to inquire about the fruit. He checks back in, to see how the apples taste and to determine if the yield of specific varieties will be enough for cider. Artifact sources all of its apples in Massachusetts, most from the towns of Colrain, Shelburne, and Buckland.
The question of what New England cider is, says Bhatt, is answered in each batch. Many Artifact ciders elevate the local fruit; in some, spices like cinnamon help round out traditional recipes. The old approach to cider, he says, means “using what you have around, using what you had around 200 years ago.” Sometimes, that means going against convention. For one cider, Wild Thing, Bhatt not only uses a wild yeast — eliciting sour flavors — but also an unpopular apple. “We wanted to showcase early-season fruit,” says Bhatt. It’s pretty McIntosh heavy. In cider circles they say you can’t make a good cider out of McIntosh. I disagree. It has an amazing aromatic. But you can’t let the fruit sit for too long, so we bottle it early to capture that essence.”
Artifact’s signature cider is New World. Like the company’s entire range of products, the cider is dry, with “an austerity but kind of a pear quality to it.”
Artifact is available at Craft Beer Cellar in Belmont (617-932-1885, craftbeercellar.com). Artifact is on tap at Lord Hobo in Cambridge (617-250-8454, lord
hobo.com), which is hosting a party for Artifact on Jan. 4, starting at 5 p.m.