Hard cider people and beer people have long had a kinship. At most beer festivals, cider makers offer samples of their products alongside breweries. The Boston Beer Co., one of the country’s largest craft beer makers, is rapidly growing its Angry Orchard cider line. And a new wave of cider makers are borrowing techniques like dry-hopping from beer makers.
Technically, though, making cider is more like making wine than making beer. The apples are pressed, and the yeast is then pitched right into the juice (unlike with beer, where the grains are boiled into a wort in one tank, then transferred to ferment in another). Since opening in 2013, Salem’s Far From the Tree cider company has operated under a wine license.
For a time, Denise and Al Snape, the couple who run Far From the Tree, thought they wanted to be winemakers. In 2007, they began volunteering at local vineyards. Three years later, Al found a winemaking degree program in England, Denise quit her job in project management, and the couple moved. They returned to the States three years later, but not before traveling the English countryside sampling the dry ciders that inspired their next career move.
What they discovered was that making cider shared an ethos with making wine. “When people grow grapes in the region that they’re from, they’re really proud of that,” says Denise. “It’s hard to grow grapes in Massachusetts, but apples grow here.”
Al Snape grew up in Hopkinton, so the return was a natural fit. In 2013, the couple found a space in Salem to make and sell their cider and, alongside Notch Brewery’s Chris Lohring, worked with the city to change the zoning laws so they could open. Keeping with the idea of terroir, they decided to make cider with Massachusetts apples only, in this case mostly McIntosh and Cortlands.
Far From the Tree’s ciders have qualities of a dry white wine or champagne, much different from many other commercial ciders. “People just associate hard cider with sweet cider,” says Denise Snape, who has a trick for spotting cider makers who cut corners.
“If the first ingredient is ‘hard cider’, it’s not good,” says Denise. “The law says cider only has to be 50 percent apples. We always tell people, ‘What do you think is in the other 50 percent?’ ”
To further differentiate their drink, the Snapes offer some unusual, beer-inspired styles. Rind is a cider with a wonderfully pungent nose, made with a saison beer yeast, orange rind, and coriander. The beverage is remarkably balanced and finishes dry. In addition, Far From the Tree dry-hops two ciders and adds mint to one, called Sprig, which sounds like it might not work but does. The flagship cider, Roots, is so far from Angry Orchard on the sweetness scale to seem like a completely different drink.
We wonder if the Snapes consider themselves beer people or wine people.
“We love beer, we love wine,” says Denise. “What we’re doing is a great hybrid between the two.”Gary Dzen can be reached at email@example.com.