Core Values: Norumbega Cidery
It’s hard to think that Maine’s prolific craft beer industry is only a few decades old. The mighty cider, however, has been around for more than a few centuries, inspiring founders like John Adams, who allegedly consumed a tankard of hard cider each day. Hard cider was the first juicy “New England Style” beverage long before the hazy IPA swept the region by tempest.
Norumbega Cidery, nestled in the rolling farmlands of New Gloucester, is keeping the tradition alive. Noah Fralich, Norumbega’s owner and cider maker, said, “It was the original colonial drink. People grew apples for livestock feed and then, for pies and cider.” Even homestead laws and land ownership sometimes correlated with orchard acreage at that time. It took Prohibition and a few intense winters in the early 20th century to hurt that iconic tradition. “People tore up their orchards, and many varieties of apples are gone now,” Fralich said. Lucky for us, Maine has since championed the growth of its craft culture, not its demise.
Fralich grew up in New Gloucester, and Norumbega is located on his family land. “It’s hard to know where the bug came from, but we planted some trees and had some blending parties,” he said. “It’s a family endeavor and we all dove right into it.” Fralich undertook an apprenticeship through Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) and attended some cider-making classes taught by Peter Mitchell, a renowned cider expert. Founded in 2013, Norumbega has remained a grassroots business, and yet, has been expanding its distribution range throughout Maine. Originally bottled in 22 oz. bottles, Norumbega Cider has since transitioned to cans and kegs, which has been more lucrative. As of now, Ricker Hill Orchards, which also makes local hard cider, supplies Fralich with pressed juice to keep up with the demand.
Unlike many ciders, Norumbega ferments the sugars completely in order to achieve a crisp, clean, and dry flavor. “I’m inclined to think that palates are drying out,” said Fralich. “People are looking for things that are more refreshing, not as sweet.” The four core brands are: the Original, the Honey (dry with a gentle softness from Maine honey), the Berry (dry with a slightly tart finish due to the ghost of the mixed Maine berries), and the Spice (pleasantly balanced with fall spices). Small batches of specialty ciders are available at the cidery such as a ginger cider, an orange cider, and a bourbon barrel-aged cider, which is set to release in November.
As of now, the cidery is not open daily; however, it hosts monthly events from May to November. “Each month we have a food truck and live music,” said Fralich. “We throw the doors open, have a little bar, and people love it. It’s always pretty chill.” Norumbega also has tastings at the Brunswick Farmers Market every Saturday.
Though it is not as prolific as the Maine beer industry, the local cider scene is strong and growing. “I don’t think the interest is going to wane anytime soon, especially with cider being gluten free,” said Fralich. “But, cider is still not in the average person’s vocabulary when shopping, so a lot more growing can be done.”
Some of the earliest colonial maps of New England and Maine refer to this overall region as Norumbega, a mythical city of riches. The term has since become associated with tradition, regional pride, and a hopeful eye towards the future. And, that’s Norumbega Cidery at its core.
— Text & Photos: John Breerwood. John currently works as an Ed Tech at Lewiston High School. He has worked as a brewer and cellar man for Abita Brewing Company and Shipyard Brewing Company. His first novel is planned to be independently published in early 2019.