Monday, July 25, 2022

Cornell and NYCA Hard Cider Summer Tour

I love to see apple orchards, but I’ve mostly gotten to visit them in the Fall. That’s amazing; I have no complaints, but I was so excited to get an invitation recently that would allow me to see an epic orchard in high summer. This past Friday, I got to go on the Cornell and New York Cider Association (NYCA) Hard Cider Summer Tour which includes a really special orchard and a sapling nursery among other fun educational and delicious stops. Here’s how the full day went!

Star Cider in Canandaigua, NY

Visit Star Cider online here:

We started our day with a thorough tour of Star Cider with cider maker and co-owner, Cortni Stahl to learn about Star Cider’s story, how they make cider, and the unique considerations that continue to shape this cidery. Cortni showed us their fermentation space, tasting room and even shared pictures of the Airstream trailer that she and her cidery co-owner/husband moved into in order get their cidery dream off the ground.

One of the most interesting facts we learned at Star Cider was the range of fermentation times for their cider. The shortest time apple to glass is about 3 weeks which blew my mind. The  longest takes more than a year because of barrel aging. 

The other element of their production and sales that stood out is that in the tasting room, Star Cider is tapping and selling directly out of 5 bright tanks. That saves them tons of time and labor for all the steps usually required for kegging, bottling, or canning. These core ciders are the ones that the tasting room tries to have available all of the time, while many other ciders rotate in and out. Cortni spoke with us about how much she’s learned that their consistent fans want to try new flavors of cider. 

We finished our visit with a cider taste. I tried the Appley Ever After, a cider Cortni describes as being champagne inspired. It was very pleading, so I bought a bottle to bring home for myself later. 


Our next stop was my most anticipated of the day: the USDA Germplasm Collection!

Learn about the Apple Collection here:

Yes, that sounds like a mouthful, and the word germplasms might not immediately sound like an orchard. But this was a very special orchard tour.

Our host was Ben Gutierrez; he told us about the mission of the USDA’s apple germplasm collection. It’s very much a living preservation of apple genetic diversity. It’s also a wonderful collection of apple trees that can be used in other scientific studies. One of our coordinators, Dr. Greg Peck also spoke to us at this stop about his lab’s work. His lab uses the Germplasm to analyze and compare apples and apple trees for their different qualities in ways that directly affect the cider industry.

USDA germplasm in Geneva has approximately 52 apple species, 1800 cultivars, and 7k different trees. This blows my mind. I won’t be able to get all of the specific details shared correct, but lots of what we talked about was Malus Domestica and its various wild ancestors like Malus Sieversii and Malus Sylvestris.

Now, some researchers are studying the possibilities of rewilding apple trees: using the reintroduction of wild genetics in crosses to improve apple hardiness and disease resistance. I think my favorite phrase used was that apples have only undergone a “Soft domestication.”

Fireblight came up a few times as an important threat to domestic apple varieties. Other projects study acidity or tannins in the apple genome as well as fruit color, and disease resistance.

The Orchard has an open house on September 19, so that’s already in my calendar! This place was amazing. Just walking from tree to tree and seeing how different the plants are from one another inspires awe.

Lunch was a sumptuous taco buffet and Churro cookies provided by Lake Drum Brewing! We enjoyed our tacos outdoors on a shaded pavilion. The sweet potatoes al pastor filling was simply amazing. What a perfect choice! Thank you, Chef Luis and Lake Drum Brewing! I wish I had paused long enough to take pictures of the spread before simply inhaling it. At this point, some folks brought out ciders they’d brought to share informally. There were some treats, but it was too hot and too much driving and touring ahead for me to feel particularly investigative.

Cornell Agritech Craft Beverage Lab

You can visit Cornell’s Craft Beverage Institute online here:

Folks at the Cornell Craft Beverage Institute divided us into three groups and took us through the Craft Beverage Analysis Lab, the Vinification & Brewing Lab and the Fruit & Vegetable Processing Pilot Plant. Each was very different, but all were fascinating. Anna Katharine Mansfield showed us the beverage analysis lab and talked us through what tests they do and for what sorts of businesses; there are tons! At the Vinification and Brewing Lab, we saw what small scale experiments can be done to learn about different yeasts, single varietal ciders, and all sorts of beverage experiments that don’t make sense to do on a commercial scale. We also saw apple presses in the fruit processing pilot plant. Everything was so shiningly clean with lots of Cornell Red!

Red Jacket Orchard: Juice Processing and Fruit Tree Nursery

Learn about the juice, the farmstore, and the orchards online:

Again we had to split up here after getting some history of Red Jacket from second generation famer Joe Nicholson. It was a fascinating story; his father moved the family from poultry farming on Long Island to a finger lakes fruit stand. Now the operation is substantially larger and more varied. On the nursery side, we heard from Matt Murphy and more from Joe who spoke with more passion for pears and apricots than perhaps anyone I’ve ever heard. I’ll quote, “We are indebted to apricots, substantially.” Red Jacket is planting 20 acres of apples a year in the high density orchard style. He honestly made me want to turn my neighborhood green space into a fruit orchard. It’s a dangerous dream.

Third generation Red Jacket man Brian Nicholson toured us through the juice facility; and discussed their distribution history, production processes and took many questions from our curious crowd. The ingenuity and scale of the place was mind-boggling! 

Finale: Cider Pub Crawl with Lake Drum Brewing and Star Cidery

Visit Lake Drum Brewing online here to learn about their ciders:

We started at Lake Drum Brewing where we could taste some ciders and discuss what we learned. I already know I’m fond of a few Lake Drum Ciders, so it was a happy reunion. It was fun to see the grad students, orchardists, and cider makers mingling and getting to know one another casually after our big educational day of touring. 

I honestly didn’t even head to the Star Cidery for a second because I had a concert to catch in Trumansburg. What an amazing day!

Thanks so much to the New York Cider Association and Cornell’s Cider Program for making it happen! 

New York Cider Association:

Cornell Hard Cider Resources:

Monday, July 18, 2022

Cider Review: Redbyrd Orchard Cider's Tompkins King / Stoke Red

Finally, it rained. I don’t want to complain about all weather, but it’s been damagingly dry here. This rain could not be more welcome. It feels like the whole palette of the world has softened and cooled blue-gray. We’re not yet out of drought territory but I feel so grateful. I may even be willing to heat up my kitchen with some of the cooking I’ve been avoiding for days. We’ll see about that though. Today, I’m sharing my review of Redbyrd Orchard Cider's Tompkins King / Stoke Red.

Redbyrd Orchard cider comes to us from the Finger Lakes region of New York, AKA my neck of the woods. I know the cidery through Deva Maas and Eric Shatt: two anchors of the local cider community. They founded the cidery and steward its biodynamic orchard. Here’s just a bit more background about Redbyrd from the website, including their land acknowledgement and commitment to contributing to the Haudenosaunee. 

Redbyrd Orchard Cider is the combined work of the sun, the moon, the earth, the tides, and som specific animals, trees, and humans. We’re glad you are here.  Our small cidery and currently Certified Biodynamic managed orchards grow heirloom, wild seedling, and cider apples to make the best cider we possibly can and provide a space to connect with each other, the land, and the cosmos.

 Redbyrd Orchard is located in the rolling hills of the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York, on the traditional Gayogohó:no nation lands of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The Confederacy precedes the establishment of New York state, and the United States of America.

In acknowledgment, a portion of sales from our orchard are contributed to Ganondagan.

My previous Redbyrd Orchard Cider reviews include:

Black is Gold (a collaboration with Black Diamond Cider):

Celeste Sur Lie 2015:

The Andromeda Crab:

Their presence at an all FLX pairing dinner:

The North Star:

The Starblossom:

The Dry Harvest Cider 2013:

The Wild Pippin (my #1 cider of 2014, the Wild Pippin):

It was an adventure to find the official description of this cider, but thanks to social media I did! Here’s what Redbyrd Orchard Cider has to say about the Tompkins King and Stoke Red. 

2021 Tompkins King/ Stoke Red

50% Tompkins King 50% Stoke Red

~notes of~ Toasted coconut, Honey Dew Melon, Black Pepper

Alcohol 7.5% Residual Sugar 0.0%

Pressed 10/14/21 Bottled 12/27/21

This is another blend of a North American Variety and one from Europe. Tompkins King is an old American heirloom variety that originated as a seedling from Warren county New Jersey and was brought to Tompkins County NY in 1804. Some of the first Tompkins King trees in New York were planted near Jacksonville which is 5 miles from our orchard!! Tompkins King has that classic antique apple flavor with spicy aromas of apple pie. It is a large apple with lots of juice and has always been a valuable component to hard cider in our region over the years. Tompkins King lacks those dense tannins so common in European cider apples so we blended it with Stoke Red. Stoke Red is from Somerset England dating back to the early 1900’s and is classified as a bitter sharp, containing both high levels of acid and tannin. This cider blends the fruity spicy aromatic characteristics of Tompkins King with acid and tannins from Stone Red. There is more acidity in this cider from both varieties which gives it a fresh and lively character.

Appearance: warm harvest orange, medium intensity, few visible bubbles

Because I was enjoying my cider outside at a restaurant, the glassware was fun and practical rather than designed for ultimate cider ogling. Still, the Tompkins King / Stoke Red is lovely. The color reminds of all the oranges of harvest season in a medium intensity. I could see some bubbles in my glass as well. 

Aromas: malic acid, twiggy, vanilla, sweet orange citrus 

Redbyrd Orchard Cider’s Tompkins King/Stoke Red starts with deep and powerful malic acid. Tree twigs. Creamy and vanilla. Sweet citrus: oranges.

Dryness/sweetness: Dry

This is a dry cider. Period. Deliciously, delightfully, dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: high tannins, petillant, minerals, full mouthfeel

The Tompkins King/Stoke Red brings tension and intense flavors; the cider has both high acidity and high tannins with lots of austere minerality and zero sweetness. I appreciate the cider’s long finish: pointed and lingering. My glass had a relatively gentle level bubble, more petillant than sparkling. I’m never sure though when I get a glass of cider from an open bottle if the full presence of bubbles will be there. It’s a skillful blend of British bittersharp with American high acid; the tannins hit fast: tasty and textural. I appreciate that they don’t overpower, pulling back to allow the fruitiness of the cider to speak. 

I sampled this cider as part of a lovely outdoor meal at a new Ithaca restaurant: Lev Kitchen. I paired it with one of their Malawach wraps: Halloumi with strawberry jam, marcona almonds, and greens. It was remarkable! I loved having toothy tannins with the mosaic of textures in the wrap. It was an altogether yummy experience!

Monday, July 11, 2022

Cider Review: Eden Cider's Sorciere

This week I’m sharing my notes on Eden Specialty Ciders’ Sorcière. Today is tremendously hot and it's a perfect day to get a little creative to see what food can be enjoyed without heating up the kitchen for too long. It’s a wonderful excuse to have my first pesto pasta salad of the summer with my very own Sungold tomatoes. We’ll see how this new cider from my Eden Cider Club goes with this heat-evasion tactic meal.

I’ve reviewed many Eden ciders. I recommend reading a few of these older reviews to learn more about the cidery and find out about Eden’s style more generally. Here’s the full list.

Oliver’s Twist Foxwhelp Cider:

Brut Rose:


Deep Cut:

Peak Bloom:


Extra Sec:

Eden Heritage Cider:

Siren Song:

Brut Nature:

Imperial 11 Degree Rose:

Sparkling Dry:

The Sparkling Dry supported my Thanksgiving & Birthday celebrations in 2016:

Eden Cidery’s website showcases the harvest ciders, aperitifs, and ice ciders available:

Here’s the info Eden Cidery shared with club members about the Sorcière: 

This aged cider combines tannin, residual sweetness and carbonation for a deeply flavored and textured cider that makes a great partner for food with some spice.

Apple varieties: Somerset Redstreak, Stoke Red, Tremlett’s Bitter, Esopus Spitzenburg, Kerr Crab, Lawfam, Northern Spy, Franklin. Grown at Poverty Lane Orchards, Verger Heath, Yates Family Farm, and Sandy Bay Orchard.

Wild fermented, then bottle conditioned with wildflower honey. Aged 20 months in bottle, not disgorged.

ABV 7.5%

Notes of pineapple-upside-down cake, nectarine, and leather. Drink 2022.

I love that we get a recommendation of when to enjoy this cider. This isn’t a feature I see often  from the cider maker directly on how long I might be able to let a cider age a few months or years before enjoying it as it is meant to be tasted.

Appearance: Bubbly! Transparent, cool-toned daffodil yellow

I can’t remember when I last saw this many bubbles. It took repeated pours to get a serving of this cider into the glass because the mousse foamed up so impressively. The color reminds me of cool spring daffodils, and it's transparent even without disgorgement. 

Aromas: rich, autumnal, peaches and tomatoes

The Sorcière smells tannic and rich. My mouth is watering already. There’s some harvesty and almost autumnal in these scents. I get tomato, thyme, and peach notes along with ripe sun-warmed apples.

Sweetness/dryness: Semi-dry

Exactly as described, this is a super bubbly and expressive semi-dry cider. There's enough sweetness to help the flavors speak, but the substance of the message isn’t sugar or even just fruit. 

Flavors and drinking experience: bubbly, tannic, high acid, savory, mild funk

Eden ciders wow me frequently and the Sorcière makes good on the high hopes I have for anything by Eden Ciders. The cider is almost savory with lots of notes of leather, citrus, and herbs. 

This semi-dry cider is very bubbly, which I certainly expected after pouring it. So exciting! I love a wildly exuberant level of sparkle! In terms of flavor the Sorcière introduces itself with a bit of mild leathery funk. This cider is both high acid and high tannins. There’s no way to ignore this cider or allow it to fall into the background of a meal. I love the citrus sweetness that somehow manages to just creep in around the edges. 

The Sorcière is a treat. I adore it. This cider enhanced my pesto-driven meal tremendously. The Sorcière certainly managed to put me under its spell. Cheers!

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Cider Review: West County Cider's Quince Redfield-Cortland

I tried this cider with family while enjoying a few days with them in the Adirondacks. We made time to relax, grill out, and play just about as many competitive games as will fit into the waking hours of an extended family of twelve. But when it was time for the adults to sit down and relax, I had the joy of sharing some ciders with some curious tasters. 

West County Cider is a Massachusetts based cider that’s been going strong since 1984. It was founded by the Maloney family who are still integral to the cider community. I like the description on West County Cider’s website. 

West County Cider was started by the Maloney family in 1984 with a commitment to making small-batch ciders with impeccable apples from local orchards. Thirty-five years later our family has grown but the tradition continues. We use fine-winemaking techniques and focus on freshness of flavor and total respect for each individual apple variety. Every harvest year represents a new foray into the possibility of the apple.

Here is a list of all of my previous reviews of West County Ciders. I don’t get access to them very often, so there aren’t as many on this list as I’d like. 

Singing Dog Orchard:

Cider Maker’s Favorite (my #3 of 2014):

Reine de Pomme (my #3 of 2013):

Visit West County Cider online to learn more:

We shared the Quince Redfield-Cortland with a simple meal of black bean and corn salad, green salad, grilled veggie burgers (and beef for the meat eaters).

Here's how West County Cider describes it, "Quince is an ancient highly-perfumed tree fruit. Some say it was the forbidden fruit of Eden.We cofermented this with Redfield and Cortland apples. Taste?: Tropical, beguiling..."

Appearance: warm peach, hazy, no visible bubbles 

This is a medium intense color that reminds me of peaches. The cider has just a hint of haze and not much in the way of bubbles.   

Aromas: creamy, ripe apples, yogurt, slightly astringent

I’m intrigued by how the Quince Redfield Cortland smells creamy and apple. The notes remind me of ripe apples and fresh yogurt. It’s very inviting.  There is on note of complication and complexity running through, something that hints at astringence like a slightly boozy medicinal note.

Sweetness/dryness: semi-sweet

The Quince Redfield-Cortland has plenty going on in addition to sweetness, its a central part of this cider’s scaffolding. 

Flavors and drinking experience: pineapple, lemon curd, high acid, applesauce, maple

What a luscious tasting cider!  My first impressions are of lemon curd, pineapple, and homemade applesauce. The Quince Redfield Cortland brings strong levels of spark, high acidity, and medium tannins. It’s such a pleasing melange; I love how the tropical pineapple notes melt with the fruity acids of homemade applesauce. There’s nearly a suggestion of maple—very nice how it interacts with the high sparkle. 

The cider is semi-sweet—surprisingly so! It immediately introduces itself as rich and mature, but not funky or challenging. The cider feels well put together, sophisticated, just a bit mysterious, and sessionable all at once. What a delight!