How about them apples?
by Lauren Mosher
With the goal of sampling as many New England-born hard ciders as possible, I discovered that some are available only in the state in which they are produced, and others do not distribute far. Here are five delicious hard ciders available in Massachusetts.
FATTY BAMPKINS, SOUTH CASCO, MAINE, 5-6.8% ALCOHOL BY VOLUME
How can a name like Fatty Bampkins not produce a smile? It conjures images of the local jolly lush whose belly inadvertently rests on his waistband. The cider is made from six types of apples and then aged for four months in bourbon and rye barrels. Color-wise, this hard cider is the most unique, possessing a bright yellow, almost neon, glow. It is medium bodied with generous carbonation and an aroma of sweet apple juice. Initially, the flavor has sourness with woody notes and a dry crisp finish similar to European ciders. Production of the cider takes place at Blacksmiths Winery, a winery whose website claims superiority to other brands because of its purity standard. The apples are freshly pressed and never from concentrate and contain no additives.
BANTAM WUNDERKIND, CAMBRIDGE, MASS., 6% ALCOHOL BY VOLUME
Bantam has dubbed itself the “modern American cider.” Their debut cider, Wunderkin, honors Amelia Earhart’s daring enthusiasm, which inspires the company’s own quest. The gluten-free cider has a similar appearance to champagne, with a shimmery golden, almost translucent, appearance, medium carbonation, and clean scent. It is well balanced with a crispness as well as a lingering sweetness. I would dub this the hard cider of celebrations. It’s a beverage to toast your friends with on a birthday or holiday, or after an accomplishment that calls for a celebration (winning a soccer game, getting a promotion). The branding is simple; it is classic and follows a modern American theme. When I tried this cider at a restaurant it came in a 22 oz. bottle, so I found it best to pour into a couple chilled glasses and share it with a friend or two.
FARNUM HILL CIDER, LEBANON, NH, 6.5-7.5% ALCOHOL BY VOLUME
This cider comes from the Poverty Lane Orchards, a former dairy farm turned apple orchard which had the foresight to plant apples specifically for cider. The Farnum Hill cider company supplies a variety of ciders. Some are sparkling, others are still, and one is highlighted for being unpredictable (The Farnum Hill Dooryard). The Farmhouse sparkling cider is for those who enjoy a less bubbly (but not still) cider (as far as sparkling cider goes). The blonde beverage has a complex flavor titillating every region of the palate. It has a bite that blends seamlessly with the fruitfulness and a distinct tart aftertaste from the tannins. Tannins are common in European ciders, and give this one an earthy flavor. The bottles are corked with a cage twist off top, which is a great juxtaposition to the pretty, but very simple, yellow and green label. Farnum Hill hard ciders should be served room temperature, and are quite possibly best enjoyed in a pub atmosphere.
WEST COUNTRY CIDER, COLRAIN, MASS., 4-7.5% ALCOHOL BY VOLUME
A family-owned company that has been on the cider scene since 1984. Prior to ciders, they made wine in Northern California. After relocating to the Berkshires, the family adapted and shifted their focus to hard cider. Like Farnum Hill, West Country Cider boasts an impressive variety. Of the bunch I selected Winesap, a traditional cider from Winesap and Redfield apples, which were commonly used in the 1800s. This cider pours like a beer with a generous amount of head. The potent smell and taste of apples is slightly overwhelming. Accompanied with the high level carbonation and sweetness, this variety would be more favorable for those who enjoy sweet wine.
DOWNEAST CIDER HOUSE, WATERVILLE, MAINE, 5.1% ALCOHOL BY VOLUME
A newbie to the craft cider community pays homage to the state of Maine, where the founders met, by dubbing the company Downeast. Branding itself as “the way cider should be,” this gluten-free cider balances traditional European cider while defining what American cider could be. This cider is recognizable because of its light pumpkin-orange color and light carbonation. Unlike most hard ciders, which use champagne yeast, Downeast uses ale yeast, giving the beverage a medium body, resulting in a smoother finish. A blend of four apple varieties makes this cider have a distinct crisp taste and an underlying sweetness. Overall it is well-balanced. If you are not a fan of dry cider this would be the one to try. The company logo is a whimsically drawn sailboat atop a rough sea, very fitting to drive the Maine imagery home.
Now is the time to sample hard cider, this adaptation of an old world libation. Choose a cider (or two) equally as crisp, bright, and colorful as the harvest season itself.