At the kickoff of the 38th annual Common Ground Country Fair on Friday, one of the many talks was "Growing Maine's Cider Market." Despite some initial audience confusion, the event wasn't led by professional cider makers, but rather soon-to-be professional cider makers who will help grow Maine's alcoholic apple market. The three speakers, all of whom hope to produce complex, dry ciders unlike many of the mass-produced brands on the market, were at various stages of progress with their companies, ranging from a year out to mere days away from full licensing. The notion of the "growth" of cider in Maine had a double meaning, though: All three would-be makers will be also be growers, intending as they are to utilize their own orchards.
Rowan Jacobsen, author of Apples of Uncommon Character: 123 Heirlooms, Modern Classics and Little-Known Wonders, explained in a recent WBUR Radio Boston interview the role that prohibition and industrial agriculture had in killing off interesting and locally-made hard cider:
Prohibition...pretty much took out all the apples that were specifically for making into hard cider, people literally chopped down their trees when that was no longer cool...Out west, especially in Washington state, they started producing these huge, huge orchards of Red Delicious at a very low price and the national distribution chains that were just coming into play in the country, that's exactly what they wanted: they didn't want to have to be buying from lots of little local orchards. They wanted one apple they could stock through their whole system. And they did.
Many modern cider makers are now trying to revive and preserve a fraction of these lost apples, and if they're successful, the modern cider drinker should benefit.
Roian Atwood is eager to get his production license in 2015, but he already has a business name and label artwork for his future bottles. Windfallen Cider refers to both apples that are knocked prematurely from the tree and also to the windfall of an economic recovery, leading to new prosperity. He told the story of combing freelance art websites and coming across the man behind the well-known British brand Magner's Cider. Though he admitted it may have been premature, he said he couldn't pass up the artist's offer to take on the design for Windfallen.
Atwood has four years remaining on his lease of previously neglected Moulton Orchards in Standish, which he is rehabilitating; in the meantime, he and his wife are planting a variety of apple trees on their land in Eliot. He described the progression of his obsession: Drinking hard cider led to making it, making it led to tending apple trees, and from there it was a short leap to growing his own apples.
Along with the other hosts, he lamented the lack of cider apples, which don't have to be as sweet and crispy as eating apples. This lack is a large part of the reason all three want to grow their own orchards, so they can revive some of the hundreds or thousands of forgotten types of apples. All three stressed the importance of blending apple varieties to create good cider, though with a laugh Atwood also called on the audience to alert him as soon as they found the "Holy Grail" of apples, perfect for all uses.
David Buchanan is a familiar figure in the world of heirloom orchards (in a state with an heirloom apple CSA, it's no surprise there are multiple major players). He released a book last year called Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why They Matter, which "traces the experiences of modern-day explorers who rediscover culturally rich forgotten foods and return them to our tables for all to experience and savor."
Buchanan considers himself a "collector" of interesting and endangered plants, and joked that his book and his cider plans stemmed from his wife's question, "So what are you going to do with your collection?" Buchanan's cidery is in Pownal, near Freeport; he has settled on a business name but isn't yet ready to disclose it.
He is already fully licensed and permitted, and will begin pressing apples this week. These apples will indeed be his own: Buchanan explained that he has trees in Cape Elizabeth that are already bearing fruit, and has another 500 trees in the ground. He will also press a variety of gleaned and purchased fruit (apples and others) throughout the year. With his relevant background and experience, he's one to keep a close eye on.
Noah Fralich, the third speaker and the first to go public with his dream, had his final inspection yesterday. It went well, as he told Eater:
Aside from submitting my label for their files I should have cider ready for sale next week. Initially it will only be available at the New Gloucester Village Store but after the grand opening (Columbus Day weekend), I hope to have it in some other locations. I will put them on my website as they happen. We will also have some on-site tastings and the chance to purchase on-site as well.
Fralich's family runs Norumbega Farm in New Gloucester, named for a "legendary settlement" in New England; the beverage company will be called Norumbega Cidery as well, but the brand will be Woodman's Hard Cider, inspired by the road on which the cidery was built.
The Facebook page and website for Woodman's are live, though the website was still incomplete at the time of publishing. The company is hosting a ticketed grand opening event on Saturday, October 11, including a cider tasting and tour of the cidery, a farm to table dinner featuring mulefoot pigs raised on-site, and desserts made by Bresca and the Honeybee owner Krista Kern Desjarlais.
Fralich has planted his own trees as well, but until they're fully grown he'll have to ferment juice from other orchards. Eater asked Fralich where he will source his cider:
It's a great question - one that I'm still asking myself! Last year I got apples from Scott Farm in Dummerston, VT; Thompson's Orchard here in New Gloucester; and North Star Orchards in Madison, ME. This year will look similar, though primarily I'm interested in varieties as opposed to orchards. I will probably try to get some from these places again, as well as from Roian (since I think he's not quite ready to use them himself), from McDougal Orchards in Springvale, ME and anywhere else I can get some of the apples I'm looking for. Of course I would love to stay as close to home as possible, but Scott Farm really has a trove of unusual, aromatic, and otherwise distinct and prized varieties so it's hard to leave off the list.
With Ricker Hill's recent turn toward cider and wine production, and with the general growth of the hard cider industry, newcomers may be wary of potential breaks in the supply chain. Ricker Hill is the main supplier of the raw cider used by Maine's current hard cider makers, and it could lead to hard times if that supply dwindles or dries up because of the family-owned orchards' in-house production. The company did admit in a Sun Journal piece [paywall], after all, that it knows how much everyone else is making and is looking to outdo them all. Though growing their own apples might not be an easy task, it could turn out to be the wisest route for Maine's newest cider producers in the long run.