“Johnny Appleseed” was born in Leominster. The 18th-century folk hero, whose real name was John Chapman, left Massachusetts in the 1790s and headed for the frontier, planting nurseries of apple trees as he went. Chapman is credited with begetting an American apple boom, even if the details are the hazy, Macintosh-colored stuff of children’s books.
Today, there’s a hard cider boom afoot, and Massachusetts is very much a part of it. While the fast-growing cider industry has attracted major players like Boston Beer and Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer, smaller producers are cropping up all over the region, producing artisanal ciders every bit as complex as their local craft beer counterparts.
South Boston residents Kevin and Melanie Collins have launched Cider Creek Hard Cider. The cider was launched exclusively in Massachusetts and will be widely available in the Boston area. It is being distributed here by Bay State Wine & Spirits. Melanie Collins says they chose the Boston market because it made a better landing spot for a premium product at a higher price point than upstate New York.
The cider is made on a 2,500-acre cattle farm owned by Kevin’s family in Canisteo, N.Y., about two hours east of Buffalo. At first, the couple made cider as a hobby, packaging it for family and friends around the holidays.
“It became something our friends really looked forward to,” says Melanie Collins. “Everyone would say, ‘You guys should really think about doing something more with this.’ ”
Kevin, who is the cider maker, says, “After I got that consistent feedback from my friends, I took a leap of faith.” Collins left his job in dental sales to focus on the company full time. A successful Kickstarter campaign allowed the pair to renovate an existing barn into a cider house. After seven years of tinkering with the recipe on his own, Collins recently shipped his first 1,000-gallon, professional batch of cider to the Boston area.
Cider Creek uses apples from a neighboring orchard. Rather than traditional cider apples, Collins uses modern varietal eating apples that when blended give off similar characteristics to bittersweet and bittersharp cider apples. He guards the specific varieties closely, unwilling to divulge the secret. A champagne yeast also figures prominently in the final flavor.
“Everything is controlled by us,” says Collins. “We know exactly what goes into our juice. We’re washing them and pressing the apples ourselves. A lot of other producers, they have no idea what goes into their juice. There are rotten apples, moldy apples, stems.”
The labor leads to a higher price — between $9 and $14 for a 16-ounce bottle — placing the cider in the premium class.
“There’s a little secret in the industry, that if you use 51 percent apples and 49 percent concentrate, you can say it’s not from concentrate,” says Collins. “There’s no BS in our cider. It’s not artificially made. We’re not mass-producing it so we can sell it at $1.50 a bottle.”
I cracked open a bottle of Cider Creek Original Farmhouse Cider this week. Pouring carefully so as not to spill the sediment, I was struck by the energy of the cider’s fizz. In the glass, the unfiltered cider appears cloudy and alive.
Collins stresses the importance of getting some of the sediment into the glass. The muck adds a sweet and funky flavor to a cider that is refreshingly dry. You can actually hear the bubbles popping away in the glass as you swirl them on your tongue.
Artifact Cider Project
Farther west, Jake Mazar and Soham Bhatt are launching the Artifact Cider Project. In conception for about three years, the idea has come to fruition in the last year as the pair hopes to offer a product of a higher quality than the big guys but more affordable than what he calls “estate” ciders, produced by makers who grow their own apples.
Mazar is a farmer by trade, growing fruits and vegetables for a CSA. Bhatt is an engineer at a pharmaceutical company in Cambridge. Using apples sourced in Colrain, they make their cider at Gasoline Alley in Springfield, which Mazar describes as a “socially-conscious incubator.”
For the first year, the cider will be available primarily in the Pioneer Valley.