September 19, 2012

Soup to Nuts: Maine offers some hard cider choices

As the Maine harvest hits overdrive, so too are the makers of 'high-test' cider, breathing new life – and fizz – into a tradition that dates to Colonial times.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

Betsy Parks-Stamm is used to hearing the family stories.

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Eli Cayer of Urban Farm Fermentory transfers fresh cider from 60-gallon containers to fermentation vessels. Cayer produces three hard ciders at Urban Farm – Dry Cidah, Dry Hopped Cidah and Baby Jimmy.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Adam Callaghan labels cider vessels at Urban Farm Fermentory in Portland.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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BEN AND BETSY PARKS-STAMM make two traditional hard ciders at their orchard in Winthrop under the label Kennebec Cider.

ONE IS A TRADITIONAL TART, semi-dry hard apple cider, but the other is a blueberry hard cider, which is made from a semi-sweet hard apple cider and blueberries from the couple's own highbush blueberry bushes. "The whole blueberries are included in the fermentation so we get the tannins and the flavor and color from the skin," Betsy Parks-Stamm said.

THE PARKS-STAMMS HAVE ALSO created a Maine ice cider, a new kind of cider that has become popular in Quebec, home of ice wines. The alcohol content of the ice cider is the same as a wine, and it is sweet, but with an added bit of tartness you won't find in a dessert wine.

"We take fresh cider we make, and don't add any yeast or anything to it, and we leave it outside in the winter," Betsty Parks-Stamm said. "All the water in the cider freezes, and then what's left is just all the apple flavor. It's almost like apple syrup." What's left after freezing is about 20 to 25 percent of the original volume of the fresh-pressed cider. That liquid is then fermented to about 11 percent alcohol.

– Meredith Goad

Crop is early and a bit thin, but what's out there looks good

Don't be surprised if your local orchard doesn't have your favorite variety this year.

The apples are ripening about two weeks early, like just about everything else this year, and the harvest is down, local growers say.

But the apples that are out there are in good shape, and there is good picking to be had.

The Paula Reds, an early apple variety, are over at many orchards, including Randall Orchards in Standish, Dole's Orchard in Limington and Lakeside Orchard in Manchester. Ginger Gold are also gone by in some areas.

Dole's had a wet June, and then had to burn some trees because of blight.

McDougal Orchards in Springvale had hail in June and some trees either didn't set fruit or set only a small amount. They lost their crops of Gala, Blue Pearmain, Grey Pearmain, Fortune and Lady apples.

The lesson: if there's a variety you're really craving, check with your local orchardist before heading out the door, or you might come away empty-handed. Or better yet, try something new that you've never had, because there are plenty of apples out there.

– Meredith Goad, staff writer

Whenever she's at an event serving the hard apple cider that she and her husband, Ben, make in Winthrop, invariably someone comes up to her and starts talking about the barrel of cider their grandfather kept in the basement.

"There's so many mass-market alcohols," said Parks-Stamm of Kennebec Cider. "It's just the same in every store you go to, in every place across the country. I think cider is a way for people to connect to their local culture. Here in New England, we have this crazy history of making cider."

Hard apple cider is a longtime New England tradition, and has a storied history in America going all the way back to the founders. Now the fizzy brew is finding new fans, thanks in part to small, local producers who are turning out a more European-style cider that's tarter than the sweet stuff that's usually produced in this country.

"Prohibition ruined the cider business in the United States," said Steve Linne of Blacksmiths Winery in South Casco, who makes hard apple cider under the label Fatty Bampkins. "What happened was we converted all of our cider trees over to dessert apples, so really all we have in the U.S. for apples are dessert apples, which are sweeter.

"The Europeans obviously had no Prohibition, so they retained their cider apples, and it's a much drier style of cider. What we're doing here with our cider is we're attempting to make a much drier cider, but using what's available in Maine."


Drier cider may be more appealing to beer drinkers and to men than products like Woodchuck, which are sweeter and have a reputation for appealing to women. Local cider makers also cite a number of other reasons for the resurgence of hard cider.

"I think there's more experimental bars like Novare Res that are opening up peoples' ideas about what things can taste like," said Eli Cayer of Urban Farm Fermentory in Portland.

One of the biggest drivers appears to be consumer demand for a gluten-free alternative to beer. "I hear that from almost every customer," Linne said.

One thing's for sure: You know a product is gaining in popularity when large corporations start bellying up to the bar. Boston Beer Co., the maker of Samuel Adams beer, just introduced its "Angry Orchard" line of ciders, and Anheuser-Busch is making Michelob Ultra Light Cider.

Global Industry Analysts, a market research firm, has projected "vast growth prospects" for the global cider market and predicts revenues will reach $2.6 billion by 2015. It cited a rising demand for low-alcohol beverages and a desire among younger consumers for premium and organic products.

There are as many ways to make hard apple cider as there are reasons to drink it. Locally, cider producers are having fun experimenting with Maine apples.

"There's a huge variety of tastes and styles," said Nick Higgins, the cider maker at Maine Mead Works in Portland. "When you think of most apple ciders, it's simple. It's just cider and yeast, and maybe you'll add a little sugar depending on how you're doing it. Even with just those simple ingredients, you can create infinite styles, depending on the apples, different yeast strains, different ways of fermenting, different ways of aging it."

Some craft cider makers in Maine like to tinker with their brew, others like to let Mother Nature do most of the work.

Ben and Betsy Parks-Stamm of Kennebec Cider only make their tart, semi-dry cider once a year, with fresh apples, natural carbonation and no added sugar. They pick apples from their own orchard and get more from other orchards in Kennebec County.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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A bottle of Urban Farm's Dry Cidah.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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A crate of Gala apples beckons customers at Sweetser’s Apple Barrel and Orchards in Cumberland last weekend.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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A picker at Orchard Hill Farm in Cumberland displays his “catch” last weekend.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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