Hard Cider Rules
by Sara Brown
The cider is always de- frosting in the refrig- erator when I arrive at my mom’s house near Seattle for a visit home. Nothing fancy—it’s usually in a repurposed milk jug or water bottle, dark amber with just a few dredges of ground apple in the bottom. It’s delicious: fresh, sweet, and a little bit tart.
Sip by sip, the cider takes me over the mountains to Naches Heights, Wash., where every October my extended family gathers for cider week- end. Surrounded by rows and rows of apple trees in the orchards planted by my great-grandfather and tended by generations of my family, the Newman family hauls out the cider press and turns bin after bin of end-of-the-season apples into fresh cider. We work in the crisp fall air, springer spaniels chasing after apples in the fields and family members of all ages hauled into service. By the end of the day we’ve filled a year’s worth of saved jugs and bottles and jars with the precious golden cider.
Now that I live on the Vineyard and the cider weekends take place without me, those bottles of cider stowed away in the freezer seem all the sweeter to me, a link to my family and a part of the world I love.
I thought about those bottles of cider when I had my first taste of Hard-A-Lee, the inaugural hard cider from Rob Hale’s new Martha’s Vineyard Cider Company. Rob grew up on the Vineyard, and his family has long owned the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard; Hard-A-Lee is named after a wooden boat that’s been in his family for years. Hard-A-Lee also is a nautical phrase used when changing direction, and Rob might as well have shouted it when he decided to go into the hard cider business instead of a nautical industry, like his family, or a tech start-up, like his MIT classmates. But in some ways, Rob points out, his cider company picks up on tradition: he is working with his hands and build- ing a local business. Hard cider was a favorite beverage of colonial Americans, you could probably find it in the homes of early Vineyarders, and maybe even on ships at sea.
Hard-A-Lee is a dry cider, slightly effervescent, and I could almost detect a hint of fresh sea air and salt water in it. Kind of like how the Naches Heights cider, to me, has a bouquet of fall and family. As exciting as it can be to tack in a new direction, sometimes we just want a taste of home.