Maine Cideries: What’s Old is New Again
Fewer things are more indicative that autumn has arrived in Maine than trees laden with apples. From wild roadside trees – as unkempt as can be – to meticulously cultivated orchards, this time of year attracts throngs of participants eager to pick their own fruit. Cider making is a tradition that goes hand-in-hand with apple season, and often provides a use for the less desirable fruit and even wild and foraged apple varieties.
Maine’s wild and cultivated apples make it a prime state for locally sourced fruit.
From nano-cideries such as High Ridge Farm in Montville to larger producers such as Ricker Hill Farms in Turner and their plethora of Mainiac Cider varieties, the cider market is a diverse one and Maine cideries are satisfying a variety of tastes and styles.
Alcoholic ciders – commonly referred to as “hard” ciders – have been dominating the shelves at markets and the bottle and tap lists at many restaurants.
In Belfast, Lizzie and Khris Hogg recently opened the doors to their dedicated cider bar, Perennial, serving up locally sourced, curated plates alongside a large selection of ciders.
With the opportunity to develop relationships with multiple producers across the state and region, Perennial has the ability to offer an array of cider options for their patrons to sample.
“The decision to open a cider bar was the culmination of several different inspirations,” said Khris Hogg. “Mostly, I had taken an interest in traditional cider, heirloom apples, and all of the history and stories that go along with them. It seemed odd that despite all of the cider I was seeing in the Northeast, there was no central gathering place anywhere to sample and enjoy a large variety of ciders and meet others with the same interest. Essentially, there was no ‘brewpub’ equivalent for traditional cider.”
Hogg explained that part of the motivation for the ciders he and Lizzie choose to offer is the relationship that producers form with their orchards, trees and programs.
“We favor ciders made by people who have a relationship with the trees that produced the fruit they’re fermenting, whether it’s because they gathered the fruit themselves or they grew it themselves,” he said. “As much as possible, we lean toward ciders using biodynamic, organic, or unsprayed apples. Beyond the fruit, we favor dry or barely off-dry ciders, and ciders that have been allowed to go through a slow, natural fermentation, which usually includes some amount of aging.”
Hogg explained that when they put out a call for those willing to contribute apples to the blend, they received a strong response. And now, Perennial is planning a 2020 collaboration with nearby Whaleback Cider in Lincolnville. Hogg said he is hoping that this collaboration will function as a house cider for the majority of next summer. He also stated that the project has inspired the start of a Belfast apple tree map.
At Rocky Ground Cider in Newburgh, foraged and heritage apples are the name of the game. Helming the cidery are Abbey Verrier and Angus Dieghan, a couple who explain on their website that they spend the autumn looking for the aforementioned obscure and otherwise unusable apples.
According to the Rocky Ground website, the couple “spend [their] autumns in a junky Subaru cruising Maine’s countryside for the best cider fruit. These are wild apples and ancient varieties unlike any you’d find in a grocery store. They are often inedible with a mixture of bitter, tannic, and insipid flavors that, when fermented, make a deliciously complex cider.”
With multiple varieties popping up at various specialty shops and restaurants, the ephemeral products produced by Rocky Ground often incorporate honey and maple syrup. Their styles are inspired by the traditional cideries of France, England and Spain, but that they also strive to produce products reflective of Maine’s “tradition and terroir.”
At High Ridge Farm in Montville, cider is a part of their farm culture. According to their website, they have worked to revive the culture of cider as a table wine, serving it during their seasonal dinners, taco nights and in their tasting room, which offers pairings of sumptuous farm-raised cured pork and cider from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., June through October.
At Pownal’s Portersfield Cider, farmer/ owner David Buchanan has been reviving his 117-acre property since 2012, slowly bringing his orchard back to life. At Portersfield, a tasting room remains open through December and hours can be viewed on their website.
At Ricker Hill Ochards in Turner, a large tasting room offers their Mainiac Cider. Surrounded by outdoor pavillions where families can enjoy baked goods, a wide variety of hard cider and complimentary popcorn, it boasts a festive and welcoming atmosphere. The family-friendly atmosphere is also home to a pick-your-own orchard and welcomes friendly dogs. It is hardly an exaggeration to observe that the varieties of cider and related products seem endless, lining displays and refrigerated cases.
The cidery has a number of unusual varieties on offer including a pineapple infused “tropical vacation” and a variety with hints of vanilla among them. Nearly everything is available to sample as part of a design-your-own flight, and nearly everything is available to take home in bottles and cans. Additionally they offer refillable Flagons (akin to growlers offered at most breweries).
Hogg said that there are several young cideries that he is excited to watch, including Rocky Ground in Newburgh, Bent Bough Cider, High Ridge Farm and Cornish Cider Company. Recently, Bent Bough and Rocky Ground collaborated on a release.
“I’m always excited to taste anything any of these folks make,” Hogg said. “They’re young, they’re passionate, they’re opinionated, they’re earnest; they genuinely care about apples, and their creative visions are formed in conversation with the landscapes and trees they forage and tend. In their own ways, they’re artists, and I think what we’re tasting now is just the beginning for some really thoughtful, really talented Maine cidermakers. Along with Portersfield Cider and Whaleback Farm Cider, this group of folks is defining what ‘Maine cider’ will mean, one vintage at a time.”
Two things are clear in the world of Maine cider: it’s a growing industry and with cideries emerging rapidly, using a native heritage fruit, cider culture is here to stay.
From traditional, to dry, to funky or sweet, Maine cideries are at the forefront of creating products that are certain to make cider an intriguing choice to excite nearly every palate.
— Text & Photos: Jenna Lookner. Jenna lives on her family farm in Camden. She enjoys exploring her natural and cultural surroundings with her husband and three rescued mutts.