Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Great Vermont Cider Tour, Day 2!

After a long sleep on a curiously forbidding bed in Stowe, we rose amid the beautiful grey morning rain and grabbed a few pastries and coffees at Edelweiss.  We also nabbed a Boyden Valley Honey Hopper cider and picked up some cheese and sweets at the Cabot Annex and Champlain Chocolates.  (In my next life I'm coming back as a cheese reviewer!)

Then we were off to the Farmhouse restaurant in Burlington, where we had cheddar ale soup, fries, and a beet salad.  We also tried Urban Farm Fermentory's Hopped Cidah, from Portland, Maine.  This was an unfiltered, canned cider with a smell heavy on pears and lychee (as is common with hops), but with a gentle funk—pleasantly green and sweaty.  The taste was very tart and surprisingly dry, with lots of grapefruit flavor.  It plays the edge of tasting outright bitter, but with a scintillating fruity bouquet of unripe apple.  Check it out next time you're able!

Our first cider tour of the day was at Citizen Cider, Burlington's hometown favorite.  If you've not spent time in Vermont, you might not yet know that Citizen is a major player in the cider world.  Last year's nationwide sales charts put them as the 10th biggest seller in America.  This is especially impressive given both how regional their reach is and how young a company they are!  

Citizen Cider was begun in 2010 by three friends (Justin, Chris, and Brian), who wondered why cider hadn't reemerged in America to the same popularity that it had enjoyed before prohibition.  They produced 5000 gallons their first year, and this year they're at 600,000 gallons.  For real.

Citizen makes a wide variety of ciders, with a stable of core products, seasonal releases, and limited-edition one-offs.  I tried about eight of their ciders today, and while there's a fair bit of range, the house style that unifies them is cleanness: nearly all of them were clear in their taste, brilliant in clarity, highly drinkable, and tidy in their finish.

Jordan showed us their testing areas and told us about both their exciting R&D program and their forays into crowdsourcing their apples: their Olmstead Apple Project allowed Vermonters to contribute their own backyard fruit to a community-oriented beverage. 

(And yes, that's a carboy of...could it be beet juice[?] at the bottom left of this next picture.  Get ready for the future.)

Endeavors like the Olmstead Project are indicative of the idea behind the Citizen name—community, approachability, and mutuality.

After some vintage store action in Burlington, we were off to Champlain Orchards.  Before we even get to the review, let's plug their Cider Fest, which is coming up on August 27th!  If you're in Western Vermont, stop by for some music and cider.

Champlain Orchards have been under their current ownership for 18 years, and in that time have expanded from 45 acres of active orchard to 240.  

A lot of their apples actually wind up in grocery stores, and some of them are sold to other cideries (I don't sip and tell).  But Champlain is very proud of their own cider, which has already made good growth (and won some handsome awards) in the four years it's been around.  Some of their early collaborations and much of their tutelage is courtesy of Eleanor Leger of Eden Specialty Ciders.  (I promise to visit Eden next time!)

Jane, their tasting room manager and head of sales, gave us five ciders to try.  Notable were their heirloom cider (which uses 31 varieties, with a plummy bourbon note), and their sparkling iced cider (one of the most strikingly deep tastes of any I've had, and a rare carbonated entry in the usually-still ice cider category).  

My favorites, though, were probably the Pruner's Pride, which was the first cider they ever made, and the Ginger and Spice, which really hits my "Yowza!" nerve.  I bought both of these, so stay tuned for a review of at least one of them in the coming while.

A charming dinner at the Shoreham Inn followed (that bruschetta!), and then we got cozied up at the bed and breakfast of Sunrise Orchards, with some bonus affection from Josie the dog and Fe the cat.  

Sunrise Orchard has the among the biggest, loveliest orchards I've ever seen! It was planted in 1974 by Barney Hodges, who says, "It was a dairy farm, but I thought it would make a good orchard.  And I was right."  He planted 50,000 trees (and says he was the first orchardist to use machine planting in New England).  

His son (also Barney) runs the operations today, providing apples for more than one cider that you know and like.  They mostly specialize in Macintosh, Paula Red, Empire, Red Delicious, Macoun, and a growing number of heritage and cider varieties.  An astonishing place! 

And then I was off to bed.  Stay tuned for day three of our Vermont Cider Tour tomorrow!

In case you missed it, here's Day 1: