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

(Continued from page 1)

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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

Adding sugar can be tricky, because more sugar translates into a higher alcohol content, and by federal law the alcohol content of hard apple cider has to stay below 7 percent or it will be considered wine.

Instead of adding sugar, the Parks-Stamms use apple varieties that are naturally higher in sugar (McIntosh, Cortland, some crab apples) and leave them on the limb for as long as possible to develop that natural sweetness. They add a champagne yeast, then ferment the apples slowly all winter at a lower temperature.

"If you ferment it really quickly, a lot of flavors and smell bubble off," Betsy Parks-Stamm said. "If you ferment really slowly, you retain a lot of the apple flavor."

The cider is bottled in the spring. A gallon of the cider contains about 15 pounds of apples.

At Blacksmiths, the apples come from Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner, and two fermentations are done every year, once in autumn and once in February. The fresh-pressed cider goes directly into bourbon barrels with three different strains of yeast – and Linne said he may use five strains this year. The cider ferments over four months to 7½ percent alcohol, then it's blended back down with apple juice to 5 or 6.8 percent, depending on the product.

Steve Linne, the cider maker at Blacksmiths, has planted 38 cider trees at Ricker Hill so he'll have more varieties to play around with in the future.

"I'm looking at eventually getting up to 18 varieties," he said. "Each time you add an apple variety or a yeast variety, you can think of it as a note. A single note's not very interesting. But you put them all together, and you get a song."


That makes cider making sound like an art, and it could perhaps lead to some interesting new styles of cider. But when it comes to individual products, Linne says consistency is important. "The American consumer does not accept inconsistency," he said.

One reason Linne ferments for four months is that sediments settle in the barrel so that the cider comes out consistently clean, not cloudy. Consumers will drink cloudy beer, he said, but not cloudy wine, and cider is right in between.

The issue of consistency is where you'll also find varying opinions within the Maine cider-making community.

Eli Cayer, who produces three styles of cider (Dry Cidah, Dry Hopped Cidah and Baby Jimmy) at Urban Farm Fermentory, is never quite sure how the next batch will taste. He gets his apples from a couple of cider mills, primarily Giles Orchard in Alfred, accepting whatever varieties they happen to be selling at the time. On a recent visit to his fermentory on Anderson Street, he had two barrels of McIntosh and two barrels of Paula Red and Ginger Gold.

"Our approach," he said, "is very primitive, and very simple: Get juice. Let it ferment. Period."

Cayer wild ferments everything, which means the apples are fermented with whatever naturally-occurring yeast is on them. The exception is an experimental batch he's working on now that is being fermented with a Japanese sake yeast. He plans to market that cider to local Japanese restaurants.

Cayer's unfiltered cider comes in at about 6.5 to 6.8 percent alcohol, and it's fairly dry.

"It's always a little different," he said. "We embrace that. I had a batch that (tasted) more like rhubarb, almost. It was really interesting. It was delicious, and I could go back and find out what apples it was, but there's so many variables with wild yeast and everything, it's almost impossible to replicate exactly what we're doing."

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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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