By DEBRA J. GROOM
Empire Farm & Dairy
|Beak & Skiff 1911 Hard Cider|
What they didn’t realize at the time was the hard cider industry would take off at such a rate that they outgrew their 30,000-square-foot building in a little more than a year.
Now, they are expanding just to keep up with demand.
“We thought this was a five-year building,” said head cidermaker Yann Fay. “But we were wrong. After 1½ years, we outgrew it. Today, we can’t keep up with the demand.”
Just listen to this — at Beak & Skiff’s 1911 Cidery, production has increased from about 20,000 gallons of hard cider in 2014 to an estimated 300,000 gallons this year. A total of 200,000 gallons came off the bottling line in 2015.
To meet the demand, Fay said the company built a new 30,000-square-foot addition onto the cidery and moved all the storage of product and supplies into that space. That frees up space in the main part of the cidery building for four new fermenting tanks to handle 18,000 more gallons of bulk cider.
Beak & Skiff isn’t the only New York business reaching new heights in the hard cider world. More and more farms are getting into the hard cider business. According to statistics from the state Liquor Authority, the number of hard cider makers has gone from five in 2011 to 22 now.
But these aren’t the only sites making hard cider. Some wineries are expanding to add hard cider to their repertoire. Craft breweries are also getting into the hard cider game.
Even longtime brewer F.X. Matt Brewing Co. in Utica, the home of Saranac beer, is making hard sodas — hard root beer, hard orange cream and hard black cherry.
Rochester also boasts a first hard cider-only tavern. Mullers Cider House opened in December and is serving 50 ciders from the United States (outside New York), France, England, Spain, Scotland, Ireland and Germany and 19 ciders (plus two seasonals) made in New York state. It also has a pub-style food menu.
“I think it’s time,” Patrick Jaouen, a co-owner of Mullers with Sam Conjerti Jr., told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle in December. “And just from the response we’ve gotten so far, people are ready for something new.
“There’s a million craft beer places and wine bars. When they come into Mullers, it’s going to be a new experience. I think people are craving that. I think that with the passion we have for this, that we have for cider, we’re going to be able to expose people to a whole other world that they weren’t aware of,” he said.
Part of what made hard cider a big deal in New York is the cider law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in October 2013, which made a license available to farm cideries that use crops grown exclusively in New York state. That law led to the creation of eight farm cideries in the state and cider being made at craft breweries and wineries in the state.
The Farm Cidery Law created a license for cider manufacturers similar to licenses available to farm wineries, breweries and distilleries. In order to obtain a farm cidery license, the hard cider must be made exclusively from apples and other pome fruits grown in New York state, with production of up to 150,000 gallons annually.
Cuomo has had three New York Wine, Beer and Spirits Summits — in the fall of 2012, spring 2014 and fall of 2015. The summits brought the “farm-based beverage sector together with agricultural producers and government officials in an effort to accelerate and prolong the rapid growth exhibited by the state’s beverage industry,” according to a press release from the governor’s office.
All of this makes perfect sense since New York state is the second largest apple producer in the United States. New York growers harvested an estimated 1.1 billion pounds last year. The state is home to 40,000 acres of apple orchards, where growers produced an average of 31,500 pounds of apples per acre.
Fay, the cidermaker at Beak & Skiff’s 1911 Cidery, said there is no worry that places like Beak & Skiff will run out of apples for picking and fresh eating with more cider being made. He said Beak & Skiff is always planting more trees to meet the demand.
“We have 300,000 trees on 300 to 400 acres,” he said. “We plant 8,000 to 10,000 new trees each year. There are four to six apples in each bottle of hard cider. So there will always be enough apples.”
The 1911 Cidery at Beak & Skiff has a beautiful state-of-the-art bottling line that automatically fills 750 milliliter bottles (about the size of a wine bottle) with hard cider. The cidery employs seven full-time production people and six full-time sales people and is planning to add new employees this year.
Making hard cider is much the same process as when regular apple cider turns hard. Remember finding a bottle of regular cider that had been pushed to the back of the refrigerator and forgotten?
After a while, that cider turned hard because the sugar in the cider turned to alcohol.
It’s the same with hard cider made at cideries, except you don’t have to wait forever for the natural fermentation process. Fay said things are helped along by adding yeast, which works to break the sugars down into alcohol. The cider sits in fermentation tanks for anywhere from six weeks to six months and then is bottled.
It has an alcohol content of 5.5 percent to 6.9 percent, just a tad more than beer.
|Apple Country Spirits in Williamson|
Wine ranges from 10 percent to 18 percent alcohol.
The hard ciders can be made in varying flavors and, like wine, can run the gamut from dry to sweet.
Fay said as a cidermaker, it is his job to experiment using different varieties of apples and mixing different apples and even hops to come up with creative tastes. 1911 Cidery has even come up with some seasonal blends, like its pumpkin hard cider in the fall.
David DeFisher, a fourth-generation fruit farmer in Williamson, Wayne County, recently moved into the hard cider business at his farm. He also runs Apple Country Spirits, which he opened in 2012, which makes a variety of alcoholic spirits made from apples and other fruits.
DeFisher welcomes consumers to visit the farm, ask questions about the distilling process and hard cider fermentation process. Oh, and also, try some of the beverages.
“The farm cideries legislation opened the door to new opportunities for New York’s cider manufacturers, and the progress they have made since it became law is truly remarkable,” Cuomo said in a speech. “From offering tastings to selling their world-class product alongside other made-in-New York goods, our state’s cideries are driving economic activity across the state, and I am proud that we have been able to play a part in their success.”
Here are some other cider operations that have opened of late:
** November 2015 — Angry Orchard Cider Co. opened a new Innovation Cider House, home to a small-batch cidery, tasting room and hard cider research-and-development center at Angry Orchard’s 60-acre apple orchard in the village of Walden, Orange County.
Angry Orchard is investing $9.1 million in the Innovation Cider House and employ at least seven full-time employees through 2018. The facility has also been awarded a $175,000 Empire State Development capital grant to cover the costs of the cidery’s machinery and equipment. The facility will be home to cider research and development for the cider maker, including small batch experimentation with different ingredients, apple varieties, recipes and processes.
At the orchard, visitors can learn about cider as well as try samples of exclusive, handcrafted Angry Orchard ciders. Ciders developed at the orchard may eventually become part of the Angry Orchard family of ciders available nationwide. First launched in 2012, Angry Orchard is the number-one selling hard cider in the United States, where cider consumption has nearly quintupled since 2010.
** December 2015 — Mullers Cider House, a hard cider-only bar and tavern, opens in Rochester.
** April 2014 — The Anheuser-Busch (owned now by InBev) plant in Baldwinsville in suburban Syracuse makes the company’s first hard cider, Johnny Appleseed.
** 2015 — The Empire Cider Center opens in Geneva near the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. It is an business incubator of sorts for cider makers, where lab testing, research and development, small-batch production, bottling and cold-storage goes on so producers can test their products. It is making its first hard ciders this month (February).
For more information on New York cider, visit www.nycider.com, a website run by the New York Apple Association.