Averill Farm part of hard cider comeback
Published 12:00 am, Saturday, September 9, 2017
If Tyson Averill had grown up on a farm that grew hops, then things may have turned out differently. But, he didn’t, and the raw material that surrounds him on this misty August morning inspired him to not only enjoy, but also produce, one of the country’s earliest spirits.
“I was brewing beer in college,” he says, of a hobby he picked up at St. Louis University. “When I came back, I mentioned to my mom that I was going to brew a batch of beer, and she said, ‘Why are you doing that? You should be making hard cider.’ ”
So, that is what he did.
Nearly 10 years ago, he began experimenting with recipes, tinkering with the types of apples grown on the 30-acre orchard — more than 100 are grown, with about 20 available for public picking. He also tinkered with methods and cider styles. By the time he got his license in 2012, he had come upon the still, or noncarbonated, dry apple hard cider that he sells at Averill Farm’s stand. (He makes apple wine, too).
Fans of Woodchuck and Angry Orchard, two of the better known commercial brands, may not be his perfect customer, and he takes pains to warn them.
“Most of them out there are carbonated and sweet. I was trying to make something for people who don’t like that.”
A drink long favored in Europe, hard cider was once a popular drink in the United States, from colonial times to the 1800s. By then, beer and wine had begun to find happy consumers, and by the early 1900s, Prohibition did in many of the hard cider producers. Orchards were cut down and burned, stripped of cider apples for alcoholic cider and legal production of the libation ceased. When the ban was lifted, it had taken a big bite out of the hard cider trade. But it’s making a comeback.
“It is slowly coming back,” Averill says. “It has been more popular in Europe than it is here for a while, but even (in Europe) it is becoming more popular.”
Averill is one of about a dozen hard cider producers in the state, according to the Cyder Market, an online resource for makers and fans of the drink. The list includes B.F. Clyde's Cider Mill in Old Mystic, which says it is the longest continuously operating mill in the country since 1881. Connecticut is a relatively small producer, when compared to its neighbors. New York has 88 and Massachusetts has 27. However, Averill and other makers are finding a receptive and growing market. Last year, New England Cider Co. opened the state’s first brewery-style tap room in Wallingford. It came three years after opening its cidery, from which the company produces a variety of fermented ciders.
The hard cider market has followed the tide of specialty and artisanal beverages that have increasingly found a space on liquor store shelves. Sales increased significantly from about 2011 to 2016, but have recently slowed. Still, those in the know say while bigger brands have seen the drop, craft labels have seen an increase. At Bethel’s Caraluzzi Wine and Spirits, Matt Debrantes started to see the cider creeping in about three years ago. There are the big players, such as Angry Orchard and Woodchuck, but smaller producers are gaining a toehold. Customers enjoy the taste and that they are gluten free, he says. The store stocks about 10 brands.
“Cider has followed the track that began with wine in the 1970s and craft beers in the 1980s,” says Dale Brown, co-founder and editor of the Cyder Market. Consumers wanted more choice in taste and products, he says, and a cultural shift was occurring simultaneously. “People want it to be an experience … and breweries, wineries and cideries picked up on that,” he says, adding that across the country tasting rooms have been added, as well as tours.
Hard cider , particularly those made in Europe, are made with apples and pears, but Brown says U.S. makers are shaking up the market. “They may be based in apple, but they are infused with everything from fruits, herbs, hops and jalepeno peppers.” They can be aged in barrels once used to ferment wine, beer or spirits.
Averill is a small-batch producer of about 1,000 to 2,000 gallons a year. For every batch, he washes and presses the apples, then transports the juice to a separate cidery on the property, where it ferments. He is at the mercy of a bumper or bust crop and his output reflects that. He hopes to expand future offerings, particularly since he planted a small, organic orchard more than a half-dozen years back with bittersharp and bittersweet apples, which are known to produce flavorful and colorful cider. The literal fruit of his labors are ready to reap. He plans to use varietals such as Northern Spy, Baldwin, Winesap and Gold Rush for future batches, including the ones that will be on the shelf next summer. He also wants to try a sparkling dry and a pear cider.
Averill is his best salesman. “I don’t drink beer anymore,” he says. “I just drink my cider.”
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