Twelve years off and on in Ithaca, NY, has given me plenty of time to observe the beer, wine, and food scene of the Finger Lakes region change and evolve. Wine has been going strong for the past few decades, craft beer has enjoyed an impressive growth in popularity, and the occasional craft distillery graces the landscape. Add to that all the local honey, fruit, bread, meats, cheese, and the like, and you have a veritable moveable feast to take with you as you explore the lakes of the region.
And now we have something new to add to our picnic baskets: artisanal cider. Or should I say new again. Cider was a staple of the early U.S. colonies, and enjoyed a three-hundred year run before Prohibition put a cork in the jug. Sound familiar?
But as with craft beer, so, too with cider. Between 2008 and 2012, hard cider production in the U.S. increased by roughly 73% per year. And just as the rise of craft beer in places like Upstate New York has spawned ancillary industries such as grain and hop cultivation, the prodigious growth in cider production has sparked a renewed interest in apple cultivars suitable for making quality cider. Orchards growing apples for cider now dot the shores and slopes of the Finger Lakes where vineyards once reigned supreme. Lest we forget all those budding enthusiasts on the consumption side, shelves and walls of cider have also become more prominent fixtures of local bottle shops.
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I’ve had my share of ciders over the years, but have only recently turned my attention to the finer points of this particular “genre” of liquid sustenance. If you’re in a similar situation, a taproom dedicated to cider is just the place to visit. Fortunately for me, Finger Lakes Cider House opened its doors in May 2015 at the Good Life Farm in Interlaken, NY –– right in time for my summer visit to the region.
The Cider House is not the first regional establishment to provision thirsty travelers with cider. Perched on a ridge overlooking the western shores of Cayuga Lake, Bellwether has been producing hard ciders amongst the wineries for about as long as I’ve lived in the area. But Finger Lakes Cider House is uniquely appealing, for it brings together five cideries under one roof to sell their wares: Eve’s Cidery, Black Diamond Cider, Redbyrd Orchard Cider, Good Life Cider, and South Hill Cider. Set amid bucolic meadows, a working organic farm and orchard, and the occasional vintage farm implement, the Cider House is a charming addition to the Cayuga Lake beverage landscape. Tastings at the sleek wooden bar get you 5 samples for $4, while flights (not to be confused with tastings) go for $12 and feature more substantial pours (5 X 3oz.). Ciders run the gamut from still to sparkling, and bone-dry to lusciously sweet, with the occasional fortified cider and ice cider making an appearance. All ten that we sampled were fermented in the British or northeastern American style, with none of the funky wild fermentation notes that characterize some French or Spanish ciders.
The dry Rabblerouser from Black Diamond Cider features rare red-fleshed apples, is leesy, chalky, reminiscent of quince, and finishes pleasantly tannic. Their Hickster, redolent of spiced stewed apples, vanilla, and a hint of that Normandy muskiness, is another good choice. South Hill’s semi-dry and Bluegrass Russet brings with it aromas of pear and spring blossoms, and is lightly musky with a touch of mint on its crisp palate.
One of the most compelling ciders was one I thought I wouldn’t like: Redbyrd Orchard’s Wickson-Manchurian Crab. Pressing the apples after freezing them in the cider barn concentrates the sugars enough to balance the native tartness and acidity of the crab apples. The result is a medium-dry cider that evokes peach, ginger, and lime, with a pleasant balance of tartness and residual sugar rounding out the palate.
When it comes to cider, I have a bit of a sweet tooth, and Good Life’s Honeoye offers up plenty of ripe red apples, a dusting of baking spices, and honeyed unctuousness. Not to be outdone, Eve’s Cidery’s Ice Cider contains a hefty 15.5% residual sugar (compared to the 5% residual sugar in the Honeoye), and is homemade apple pie filling in a glass –– sparkling, of course. Apples-and-spice aromas of nutmeg, allspice, and vanilla blend seamlessly with honeyed baked apple, all lifted by a crystalline acidity reminiscent of a late-harvest Riesling.
*Opt for the $5 tasting if you’re interested in tasting a wider variety. And make sure to order the charcuterie plate featuring a seasonal selection of locally crafted delectables –– a steal at $10. Our spread came with salami, rillettes, cheddar, pickled garlic scapes, cherries, rustic bread, and farm-fresh butter.
*Cider is a versatile beverage that will appeal to craft beer lovers and wine aficionados alike. If the battle lines are fairly firmly drawn in your respective circles, split the difference and head to a cider house. Related Tempest Articles
Finger Lakes Cider House glass/logo: http://www.fingerlakesciderhouse.com/
Remaining images: F.D. Hofer
© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.