Maker’s note: We’ve just completed bottling the 2015 ciders. Epic. There are about 20 ciders. Last year’s harvest was so huge that it’s only now, after 10 months of work, that we can put 2015 behind us (actually, we still have to label.) We knew that 2015 was going to be significant so it was our mission to chronicle and celebrate as much as we could about the rarity of that year.
I’m glad we did. This year’s crop is even worse than we expected. It began with a blossom-freeze and bee-free bloom period (they don’t come out when it’s cold and wet.) In fact, 2016’s yield looks like it will be less than 5% of 2015’s. Tough shit for us, right? Actually, I’m looking forward to following nature’s lead making the most of the downtime. We need to introduce the 2015’s ciders and let them find their place in the world just as the wild trees have. I’m pretty confident that our 2015 Homestead ciders will set a bar.
In terms of tasting notes, it’s too early to describe the ciders fully. Things will change in them as they do in people. However, we can consider many of the characteristics that will eventually define them.
Know that when I talk about the Homestead ciders here, I am not describing differences in method. They are all made more-or-less the same. I am only talking about locational differences. As importantly, the comparisons I offer are to our other ciders ONLY, not to American cider in general. Our ciders are all dry. They are made more-or-less naturally, once a year when the harvest is ripe. The ciders are unfiltered, un-sulfited, and there are no additives/ flavorings/ sugars, etc.. All but our fruit wines are grown without the use of agricultural sprays. Above all else: our ciders are from real cider fruit. I can’t tell you how rare that is.
Without further ado, here are the Locational™ Homestead Ciders:
Mamakating Hollow. Lower in carbonation, relatively clean and clear. Medium-light gold color, and hazy. Nose is Autumnal. Maybe a little farmy. But otherwise clean. Lower acid than previous years but the blueberry note is back. It’s more of a bittersweet toward the end. The final note is decidedly tannin. Source: Our narrow valley floodplain between the mountains. The fog-belt.
Neversink Highlands. Higher carbonation with aggressive bubbles (chill overnight.) Sediment is both solid and hazy. Honey color. Nose is fruity, maybe a barn whiff sneaks up, but I consider it clean. The cider starts bright but the acid fades into sweet fruit. Soft tannin at the end, it’s a well rounded cider but has less body, less density than our other ciders. As such, probably a better compliment to food. Source: Along the Neversink River above the gorge (between Rock Hill and Claryville).
East Branch. Again East Branch seems built for age. Everything I recall about the cider last year is there again: The bittersweet base, the density of color and flavor, and a slight British barnyard nose (considered a “flaw” in the States! Awww, so sad.) All I can say is Great Expectations. Source: Apples in from very wooded lots in the Southern Catskills, our highest picking spots.
Shawangunk Ridge. We aren’t going to sell it this year because we bottled it too early and it’s over-carbonated. But many of the tasters who’ve waited for the gushing to settle agree: it’s fantastic. I gave it an “A”. But it’s too carbonated. CSA members will get a bottle or two but its’ fate will be as the starter culture for the 2016’s. Source: Windswept, sun-drenched wild apples up on the ridge. With high cow-competition.
Callicoon Creeks. Cloudy, thick sediment. Deep golden color. Low-medium carbonation. Barny nose. Good acidity surprisingly lasts the full pallet -It’s more of a sweet-tart though. And a good tannin structure too. I think most people would agree it tastes very French. Source: North and East Branch of the Callicoon Creeks. Abandoned cider-mill country, for sure.
Central Sullivan. Bits of sediment but less than our usual. Hazy yellow color. Medium-high carbonation. Nose is clean, or slightly British or fruity. Slow acid start, candy flowers, apples, then medium tannin sensation. Fantastic overall experience. My highest grade. Source: Plateau region in the middle of the county from Liberty to Bethel, Hurleyville and Loch Sheldrake. Road-side, wooded apples.
Summitville. Heavier liquid sediment with deep gold color. Aggressive bubbles, probably over carbonated but we’ll see. Maybe we’ll release it, maybe not. Nose is clean, maybe British. But tart. Starts tart but goes into sweet fruit. I detect grape notes—maybe concord? Flashes of brightness come and go and tannin anchors the ending. Source: The slope up the east face of the central plateau, starting in the Hollow (Summitville) and going up to where it levels off. Very wooded area.
Grahamsville. We’re going to hold onto it. It’s got an H2S smell to it and I think, like the Shawangunk it will be the starter for one of next year’s ciders. Source: Between the Rondout and Neversink Reservoirs. Ambika finds.
Sullivan County. Too soon to tell, we just bottled. It’s got creamy marshmallow and hints of Britishness, but we’ll see… Source: All of the ciders listed above in equal parts. P.O.I: There’s got to be at least 500 different apple varieties in it given the number of wild trees in each location. It’s got to be some sort of record.
Taconic. Liquid sediment with bits of sediment. A lava lamp of medium-gold goodness. Average carbonation with a slightly sweet, clean nose. Typical sharpness upfront leading to sweet fruit notes. A good body, bitter at the end with little toasted notes. Gets a high grade. Source: Apples from 2013 along the Bronx and Taconic Parkway mixed with 2014 crabapples and apples from higher up the Taconic.
Terminal Moraines and Outwash Plains. Some sediment, good rich color. Slightly amber. Clean nose. Bittersharp turns into bittersweet by way of an excellent voyage. Source: Ask Benford. He spent the fall foraging on the east, west, north and south shores of Long Island. About half crab apple. Sandy Soil, warmer climate. Weirder people.
Isle Au Haut. Our fifth locational “returnee”. In 2013 we fermented on island, this time we brought the apples back and fermented at home. Right now I don’t think this is our best cider but the 2013 started the same way (tart intro with a too quick transition to tannin) and now it is supreme. So the signs are there again for a great 2015. Maybe it just needs another half year. Source: Apples within 100 yards of the Atlantic Ocean on the rocky/ Winslow Homer-looking shores of IAH, Maine.
Bitter Pew. Too soon to tell, we haven’t bottled it yet. It’s tart, like the Isle Au Haut, but as I recall the apples were nasty bitter. Tannin will save the day. I’m guessing it’s going to be good a year from now. Source: Ask John Bunker about the geology and soil types. All I can say is somewhere in Palermo Maine.
Dump Road: Cloudy bottom sediment, deep clean color in glass. Medium carbonation. Nose is acetone and fruity. A very slow natural carbonation, it still has not finished. It’s going to be too challenging for most people but if you get through the funk the cider is quite good. And less acidic than most. Source: Unsprayed apple trees growing on top of a land fill (no exaggeration.) Thank Spike for that.
We also have some varietal ciders:
Golden Russet. Clearish. Lighter golden color. Lower carbonation. Clean nose, maybe a little British. Low acid, MLF probably ate. Creamy butterscotch notes mix with sweet-tart fruit. Not especially tannic but enough to anchor the ending. Source: About 12 Golden Russet trees growing uncultivated in Wurtsboro.
Denniston Red. The nose, the carbonation, the color and tempo are similar to any of our best ciders but this is made from a single bittersharp apple which I’ve been eyeing for years. It was the work horse of the Neversink Highlands but this year I had enough to try it on its’ own. The hope was to find an American apple that competes with the cider varieties cultivated in France. Given we prefer sharp to sweet, I prefer it to the best “single varieties” ever put before me. And by a long shot. It’s more acidic and tannic, for sure. But that will help age it. Certainly this apple is of interest.
Assorted Crab (or Malus Baccata, name tbd.) Deep, hazy red-amber drink with a cloudy bottle bottom. Nose is clean and appley. Starts sharp but then watch out: it gets bitter-sharp like you wouldn’t believe. It’s a good cider through and through but the tannin right now is insane. It will be years before things soften but like the 2012 I bet it’s worth the wiat. It’s about structure. Source: 100 or more unsprayed true crab apple trees from all over. Mostly Yellow Jackets (MB) but also tiny reds, whites, greens and blacks. A real beautiful mix.
Choke Pear. Amber-pink color. Low Carbonation. Nose is clean and perhaps floral. Maybe some cantaloupe. The drink is always changing so I hesitate to say, but right now I get a sherry note. It’s melon and peaches and almondy, but because pear ciders continue to ferment in the bottle I expect yeasty sour notes to emerge at some point, usually that Spanish sidra thing. Source: Choke pears growing wild in fields up high. Sound of Music.
Last but not least, Fruit Wines:
Appinette. We just bottled. I can’t say what the marriage brings but the cider was tart and strawberry-like. The Traminette grape was pine-apple and rose peddle. The grapes had a good year too. Give the drink time; it’s going to be one of our better vintages. Source: Ulster/ Orange County apples with Finger Lake grapes.
Elderberry-Apple. Also just bottled. Again, too soon to tell but it’s going to be good. The Elderberry wine was woody and grape like. The cider was bright. Expect it to taste like a pet-nat red. Deeper than a rose. Source: Fishkill Farms apples mixed with elderberry I foraged from the Hollow and hog fields up at Brett and Sara’s Majestic Farm.