Hard Cider Newsletter

Purity at its Finest

Sometimes simplicity and purity is all you need in a cider. Cider maker, Justin Osborne agrees, saying that his main goal when creating cider is to let the apples speak for themselves. He applies this to his Loon Juice Hard Cider. Osborne aimed to make a cider, which was pure and genuine to the apple he used to make it. It all began as he was looking at many big ciders and noticed a trend, many of them had a surprising number of ingredients in them, some affected the color, some the taste. Osborne decided that he did not want any unnecessary additives or altering to affect the flavor of the cider, just simply what was produced by the apples. While Four Daughters Winery, where he also works as a winemaker, does not have their own orchards, he managed to find quality, locally-sourced Honeycrisp apples, which became Osborne’s apple of choice for his Loon Juice Hard Cider.

Osborne started making his hard cider and sampling it in his tasting room as another beverage that visitors to the winery could taste alongside his wines. The cider began getting many compliments but it wasn’t until one European couple came to the tasting room and began raving about how good Osborne’s ciders were that he finally considered producing the cider to sell. Osborne started making his cider in December of 2011 for the tasting room but it wasn’t until August of 2014 that he began producing his cider for distribution.

Loon Juice is a dry and crisp cider which is subtly sweet, by making it not overpoweringly sweet; it allows the taste of the apples to shine through. It is a clear pale straw color and is a carbonated cider. Notes of tart red apple, slight honey, and even a little lemon can be detected in the nose while the flavor is similar with honey, tart apple, and even a bit of vanilla in the palate. It is a very refreshing, light, and session-able cider.

Osborne knew that the container that held the cider was just as important as the cider that went into it, so he began looking for the best way to hold and transport his cider while keeping it fresh at the same time. What he came up with became a first in the hard cider industry, the mini keg.  Each mini keg could hold five liters of hard cider, at around $30. Four Daughters continued to use this mini keg system until they recently purchased their canning line. Now the mini kegs are more of a novelty and can typically only be found around the holidays.

Loon Juice is now generally distributed in six pack cans with an unbelievably low price tag at about $7.99. When asked about the low price point, Osborne told us that if you want to keep a customer for life, make a great product, use the best ingredients, and give it to them at a great price. Osborne must be doing something right, as he is getting ready to open his new production facility solely dedicated to the production of Loon Juice. The production facility is currently being built and should be up and running soon.

Loon Juice is located in Spring Valley, Minnesota. Six-pack cans of Loon Juice are available for purchase in Four Daughter’s Winery’s tasting room along with a full selection of their wines. For more information, please visit: FourDaughtersVineyard.com. Photos courtesy of Four Daughter’s Winery.

Contributed by: Eric dos Reis, Staff Writer of Hard Cider News


Colorado Cider Company Releases Four-Packs and Announces Growth

Colorado Cider Company is now releasing four of its most popular ciders in four-packs of 12-ounce bottles. Previously, only 22-ounce “bomber” bottles were available of Glider Cider, Glider Dry, Grasshop-Ah and Cherry Glider.

“We’ve had customers asking for 12-ounce bottles for some time,” says company founder Brad Page. “People like a single serving size, and these smaller bottles are better suited to bars and restaurants where draft options are limited and a 22-ounce bottle is too big.”

The four-packs of 12-ounce bottles also reflect the quality and philosophy of Page’s ciders. “We make small-batch, high-quality, all-juice cider,” Page says. “But the six-pack ciders from the big breweries are made with a lot of concentrate and sugar and are much cheaper to make. So the four-packs emphasize our craft nature and distinguish us from those macro ciders.

“It’s much like the beginning of the craft beer movement,” Page adds, “when small breweries emphasized their all-malt beers in contrast to industrial beers made with rice and corn.”

A feature of the new packaging is the addition of nutritional information. “One of the many things that set our ciders apart from those of the big corporations,” Page says, “is their dryness and low level of sugar. The nutrition labels showcase that fact and help consumers make a more educated purchase.”

The 2013 expansion at Colorado Cider enabled the cidery to boost its annual production capacity from 25,000 gallons to 75,000 gallons. The expansion included four new 2100-gallon tanks and two new 1200-gallon tanks. It cost approximately $250,000 but nearly doubled Colorado Cider’s production over the past two years, and the expansion enabled big sales growth last year. “In 2014,” Page says, “our draft sales were up 84% and our packaged sales grew by 59%. This new 12-ounce format will help us continue that trajectory.” The company invested $125,000 in its new four-pack packaging equipment.

To help sustain growth and expand its reach, Colorado Cider is now selling its ciders in Arizona, the company’s first out-of-state market. Bombers of the cidery’s core brands are now there and new four-packs will arrive next month. Arizona Beer and Cider Company distributes the ciders in Arizona state.

To boost that local supply of apples, the Pages have planted 3,000 cider-apple trees on property they own and maintain near Hotchkiss, Colorado. The Pages expect to harvest their first apples in 2016, varieties that make great cider and can flourish in the sunny, high-altitude climate of western Colorado.

For more information about Colorado Cider Company, please visit ColoradoCider.com. Photos courtesy of Colorado Cider Company.


Old Farm, New Tricks

Natick, Massachusetts is home to one of America’s oldest working farms, the Belkin Family Lookout Farm, whose history stems back all the way to 1651. With 364 years of apple-producing experience behind the farm’s belt, as of 2015 the Belkin family has introduced an additional purpose to the farm – producing all-natural hard cider, a perfect fit for the 180 acre land full of atypical cider trees. With the help of local talent, 68,000 trees, 2.6 million pounds of fruit annually, and a dedicated audience that just can’t get enough, Lookout Farm Hard Cider is well along the way to making their name in the hard cider market.

Massachusetts’ own Aaron Mateychuk is helping to push along the endeavor into hard cider, serving as the Lookout Farm head cidermaker. Originally from Harpoon Brewery, Mateychuk is helping to create and brew ciders such as their bottled Farmhouse Cider, as well as pioneer special blends only available in Lookout Farm’s brand new 1,600 square foot tasting room which recently opened its doors in June.

The tasting room consistently has four ciders on tap, such as:

  • 1651 – an American-oak barreled cider which ages for at least a month to introduce complex vanilla notes

  • Lazy Summer – a lemon zest seasonal reserve

  • Hop-Up – a hopped cider

  • Strawberry Vanilla Bean – exactly as it states this cider is made with strawberry and vanilla bean plus locally sourced ingredients

For those not able to stop into their tasting room, the flagship cider that started it all - the Farmhouse blend - is bottled and distributed around the Massachusetts area. With a backbone of Jonagold apples, an added blend of Empire and Gala apples, and a back-sweetening of locally sourced honey, this creation is being met with rave reviews, much to the pleasure of Lookout Farm’s Jay Mofenson, who heads up the project.

“Quality is our driver,” says Mofenson, who continues to state that Lookout Farm aims to “produce a very natural product.” Each gallon of pure cider takes 15-17 pounds of apples, which requires some additional fruit from other local farms; however the Belkin Family is attempting to continuously increase their yield in order to produce a self-grown, self-made, purely natural product. Making and quickly selling out of over 120 barrels in their first two months of production alone, Mofenson is excited about the future that Lookout Farm Hard Cider holds. 

For those in the Massachusetts area, Lookout Farm will be pouring at the first annual Pour the Core: A Hard Cider festival taking place in Boston on September 12, 2015 at the Royale. Massachusetts locals are encouraged to visit the recently opened taproom (89 Pleasant Street, South Natick, MA), open for tasting and food Thursday through Sunday, noon through 8:00 PM. Lookout Farm Hard Cider is locally distributed through Horizon Beverage and can be found in select Legal Seafood restaurants, as well as local pubs. For more information please visit LookoutFarmCider.com. Photos courtesy of Lookout Farm.

Contributed by: Meagan Schuster, Staff Writer of Hard Cider News


On the Right "Track" with Blue Toad's New Tasting Room

As Blue Toad Hard Cider recently celebrated the opening of their second tasting room, it’s hard to imagine it all started only two years ago in basements and garages. On Memorial Day of 2015, partners Todd Rath, Scott Hallock, and Greg Booth, opened their Victor, NY tasting room. The tasting room was built inside of a reconditioned 1950’s train car located along the Auburn Trail and serves up Blue Toad’s flagship ciders as well as their seasonal selections and a rotating line for beer that is always locally made in New York. Blue Toad opened their cidery and first tasting room in Henrietta, NY on January 23rd of this year. From there, the company produces enough cider to supply both of their tasting rooms as well as many local bars that serve their cider on tap.

Blue Toad Hard Cider has two flagship ciders that always remain on tap throughout the year:

  • ROC Hard Amber – A copper-colored cider with hints of caramel, molasses, butterscotch, and raisins. A blend of locally grown Red Delicious, Ida Red and Northern Spy apples were used to create this bold cider.

  • Flower City Blonde – A pale straw-colored and clean-tasting cider, with a bright taste of fresh apples that finishes with a nice pear note. A blend of local Golden Delicious, Empire, and Crispin apples are used to create this light cider. 

Blue Toad also has two seasonal ciders that get rotated; currently the seasonals include Back in Black Cherry Cider, a cider with black cherries added, and Hawaii Toad – Ohhh, a cider with pineapple added.

At Blue Toad, the goal and way of thinking is to always make cider from cider and not juice. In an effort to do this and keep their cider local, Blue Toad decided to proudly partner with Schutt’s Farm in Webster, NY for their continuous apple sourcing. Reaffirming the fact that where apples are sourced is just as important as the process in which they become hard cider, Schutt’s Farm logo can be seen in the tasting rooms as well as on all of the growlers. Not only are the apples locally sourced, but almost everything within the tasting room and cidery are made in the United States, from the tanks to the tap handles.

With all of this progress being made in a short time, the big question remains, what does the future hold for Blue Toad Hard Cider? According to Todd Rath, the future looks very bright. Rath mentioned that Blue Toad Hard Cider will be opening their third tasting room in Schutt’s Farms within the month. Expansion outside of the NY area is also a reality with the company’s recent purchase of a 28-acre Virginia winery. In order to keep with their local promise, Blue Toad will be partnering with Silver Creek Orchards for their Virginia cider production. Silver Creek Orchards is extremely close to their location, only located in Tyro, VA, and boasts around 400-acres of apple orchards.

You can visit one of Blue Toad’s tasting rooms at 120 Mushroom Boulevard, Suite 105, Rochester, NY 14623 or 5 Railroad Street, Victor, NY 14564. If you are lucky enough to be in the area where they are available you can also try them at a local bar. Be sure to check them out online at BlueToadHardCider.com. Photos courtesy of Blue Toad Hard Cider.

Contributed by: Eric dos Reis, Staff Writer of Hard Cider News


Leprechaun Premium Hard Cider Launches Product Makeover

A $200,000 investment, initially earmarked for graduate school, set Houston-based entrepreneur Jake Schiffer on a journey to put Texas on the forefront of the American craft cider resurgence with a product that would parallel top European hard ciders in quality.  Four years later with three, entirely gluten-free – and zero added sugar – blends, plus fans and Paleo crusaders across the country and the globe, Schiffer is implementing sole retail distribution in Texas for a total re-launch of Leprechaun Premium Hard Cider that began last month.

Encompassing everything from a new manufacturing facility, packaging and branding to an enhancement of the core recipes themselves, the carefully orchestrated endeavor speaks volumes about the 25-year-old founder and a family-owned business that is finding success with every sip.

“At this point in our lifecycle, and thanks to Leprechaun’s popularity, one might expect us to focus on expanding out-of-state distribution,” said Schiffer.  “However, with an incredible opportunity presented to us, we chose a path that would first allow for a further refining of brand offerings and position us to reach our goal of becoming the top selling hard cider in Texas, where the beverage is still in its infancy.  We’re now also aligned for previously unthinkable growth and a future to quench our desire of becoming America’s best in the category.”

The opportunity came in the form of a 2014 invitation from Vermont Hard Cider Co., which sought out Leprechaun Premium Hard Cider in an effort to collaborate and innovate with a younger, fresh focused, premium hard cider brand.  Tied to the approaching ribbon cutting for their new, $33-million cidery in Middlebury, Vermont – now the most state-of-the-art facility of its kind the United States – the proposal underscored Vermont Hard Cider Co.’s business model shift to artisan, premium and craft hard ciders and a commitment to providing select, up-and-coming producers with the support and guidance to take them to the next level.

According to Schiffer, “We’re honored to be the only out-of-state brand produced and bottled at Vermont Hard Cider Co.’s cidery.  What has set us apart in Texas, and in comparison to a number of other hard ciders around the country, is our insistence on using only fresh juice and bottling at the source of the apples– more specifically hand-picked varieties from the northern U.S. – that after crushing are introduced to our signature, cultivated champagne yeast strain.  By following more exhaustive, traditional production methods, we are able to reduce aftertaste and deliver delicately bold, crisp and clean flavors, which are often compared to an apple prosecco, moscato or sparkling rose depending on the blend.”

While Oregon yielded an acclaimed line, Schiffer is elated about the amazing trajectory for Leprechaun Cider Company with production now in Vermont.  Not only does Vermont Hard Cider Co.’s locale just east of Lake Champlain grow some of the finest cider apples in the country, but the cidery’s systems, staffing and general know-how are all aimed at preserving the integrity of the juice at a level that would not be possible anywhere else on the continent.

Use of the Vermont facility has also presented opportunities for Leprechaun Premium Hard Cider beyond a more consistent and elevated beverage.  In addition to allowing the small company to think big in terms of future production and growth thanks to expanded capabilities, it created a 16-month timetable to improve on a variety of other aspects prior to re-launch.  A massive and highly desired move to 12-ounce bottles from the earlier 22-ounce bomber format now lends itself to a broader range of customers, including retail establishments, hotels, bars and restaurants.  And with the change of bottles comes a 2.0 version of the label, which is now an eye-catching frame for the logo.  The famed, centuries-old image, borrowed from the St. Chapelle Cathedral in Paris, depicts the Irish legend of Leprechaun with its key figures, including the hound, woods and snake, inside a four leaf clover.

The enhanced experience for drinkers will soon be paired with an overhauled website and a new blog that will go well beyond general product and retail details by providing regularly updated ideas for enjoying hard ciders to their fullest.  With everything from food pairing suggestions to gluten-free, Paleo and other simple and delicious food and cocktail recipes that will showcase the versatility of a drink that is truly as American as apple pie.

For information on Leprechaun Premium Hard Cider, please visit LeprechaunCider.com.  The website is also a source for discovering the versatility of cider with food and cocktail recipes and includes a store locator for those in Texas to find the cider. Photos from Leprechaun Premium Hard Cider.


Savor Summer Cider Day in Port Townsend

The Northwest Cider Association (NWCA) announced details for its fifth annual Summer Cider Day taking place Saturday, August 8 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend last month.  With more than 60 ciders to try, music from the dynamic, award-winning bluegrass band, the Whisky Minstrels, and gourmet gluten-free fare from Sirens Pub, this family-friendly event showcases some of the top cideries from Washington, Oregon and Montana.

“It’s been really exciting to see Summer Cider Day grow and evolve year over year as cider continues to gain in popularity,” said Sherrye Wyatt, executive director of the Northwest Cider Association. “This is one of the largest cider tasting events in Washington state and has helped establish the Northwest as a nationally recognized cider region.”
Summer Cider Day’s participating cideries include: Alpenfire Cider, Eaglemount Cider and Finnriver Farm and Cidery (Port Townsend); Dragon's Head Cider and Nashi Orchards (Vashon Island); Liberty Ciderworks (Spokane); Schilling Cider (Seattle); Snowdrift Cider and Niegel Vintners (East Wenatchee); Spire Mountain Cider and Whitewood Cider (Olympia); Tieton Ciderworks (Tieton) and Locust Cider (Woodinville) from Washington. EZ Orchards (Salem), New West and Reverend Nat's Hard Cider (Portland) will showcase Oregon’s finest with Montana’s representation from Montana CiderWorks (Darby). 

Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door and include admission for one, 10 tasting tickets, and a keepsake Northwest Cider Association glass. Additional taste tickets, fare from Sirens Pub, and bottles of most of the featured ciders will be available for purchase. The Northwest Maritime Center is located at 431 Water Street in Port Townsend. Event tickets and event details are available at NWCider.com.

Those looking to make a weekend of it can join one dozen cidermakers and 20 other cider enthusiasts at Alpenfire Organic Hard Cider’s Cider Breakfast in the Orchard on Sunday, August 9, at 10 a.m. Alpenfire’s owners, Steve and Nancy Bishop, will serve a Ploughman's-style breakfast in the orchard with fare similar to what one might enjoy in traditional European cider country. The menu includes pork and apple bangers, local cheeses, cured meats, Pane de Amore breads toasted on the grill, sautéed potatoes, peppers and onions, cider baked beans, pickled eggs and piles of fresh fruit. The feast will be accompanied by pomosas (mimosas made with cider) and tastings of each cidermakers’ favorite ciders. Tickets are $20 and available through Brown Paper Tickets. Alpenfire’s orchard is located at 220 Pocket Lane, Port Townsend, WA 98368.

Port Townsend is accessible by ferry from Seattle or Victoria and by car via Highway 101 from Olympia and Portland. For directions, ferry schedules, lodging and visitor information visit EnjoyPT.com. Summer Cider Day is sponsored by Cameron Nursery, FruitSmart, G & D Chillers, Ryan's Juice, Tieton Cider Works, Cider Summit Seattle and Capitol Cider. Photos courtesy of the Northwest Cider Association.


Eat This…

Drink That…

Hard Apple Cider Cranberry Sorbet
From He Cooks She Cooks

Hard Apple Cider Milkshake
From Perry Santanachote of Thrillist

Photo Credit: Heather of He Cooks She Cooks

Photo Credit: Drew Swantak