Not all ciders are created equal
As founder of Sherborn’s Stormalong cider company, Shannon Edgar has (at least) two jobs: make cider, then persuade people why they should buy Stormalong stuff over a competitor’s.
“The word artisinal is kind of meaningless these days,” says Edgar, describing a branding conundrum he and other small-batch cider makers face.
Edgar wants you to know his cider is different because the fruit it’s made from is different. There are four types of cider apples: “bittersweets,” high in tannins and sugar; “bittersharps,” high in tannin and acid; “sharps,” high in acid; and “sweets,” high in sugar. Many mass-marketed ciders are made only with the latter, which is why commercial cider has a reputation for being sugary. Stormalong uses old varieties of bittersweets and bittersharps, knobby, sometimes ugly things with names like Dabinett, Chisel Jersey, and Kingston Black.
“The concord grape analogy kind of turns the light bulb on for a lot of people,” says Edgar. “If you’re making wine with Concord grapes it’s not gonna be the same thing. And most ciders right now are made with the equivalent of Concord grapes.”
When Edgar brings Stormalong to farmer’s markets or festivals, he’s often met with the same reaction from the 1,000 or so customers he says taste his product every weekend.
“Probably 95 percent of the people that put the stuff to their lips say, ‘Wow, I’ve never had anything like this,’ says Edgar. “Their impression of cider is somewhat negative.”
In an effort to both educate and quench, Stormalong recently teamed up on a four-pack with West Lebanon, N.H.’s Farnum Hill Ciders and Eden Specialty Ciders in Newport, Vt.
The pack includes a cider from each as well as a can that’s a blend of all three. Farnum Hill’s offering is 6.8 percent ABV with notes of peach, pear, and pineapple, and a noticeable funk. Sweetest in the pack, though far from sweet, is the Eden Specialty cider (6.8 percent ABV), which prickles with stone fruits before a rush of umami. The Stormalong offering (6.7 percent ABV) is tannic, with notes of rhubarb and chocolate, while the blend has elements of all three. Each of the ciders is dry and champagne-like, meant to give drinkers a taste of the terroir from which the apples were picked.
Stormalong has set up a website, cidergrown.com, for consumers interested in learning more about what’s in the pack, and about cider apples in general.