Traditional Spirits at Slyboro Ciderhouse
For families with young children, Hicks Apple Orchard in Granville is the place to go on an autumn afternoon for apple picking, hayrides and a surfeit of sweets.
But for comrades in a revolution that’s slowly gathering momentum in the nation’s apple belts, it’s an altogether different sort of destination.
Since 2006, Hicks has also been home to Slyboro Ciderhouse, a cidery in the vanguard of the movement to revive America’s traditional spirit of choice.
Today’s cider makers are trying to recreate traditional, heirloom ciders while, at the same time, crafting varieties for sophisticated, contemporary palates.
“Cider making in the U.S. was interrupted by Prohibition,” Slyboro owner Dan Wilson has written. “We are challenged to retell this story, but we’ve also been given the opportunity to create a new cider culture.”
While sharing affinities with the slow food and locavore movements (the cider makers are reviving endangered apples by using heirloom varieties), the cider makers are also getting some help from abroad.
Later this fall, orchardists, cider makers and distillers from a region in Normandy, where hard cider and Calvados have been made for generations, will visit the Hudson Valley (Slyboro included) to provide perspective, inspiration and ideas.
Wilson will join a delegation of Hudson Valley cider makers reciprocating the favor; they’ll travel to Normandy to observe French techniques first hand and share with their counterparts new world marketing tips.
Called the Apple Exchange, the cross-cultural conversation is the brainchild of journalist Colette Rossant who, after living in both the Hudson Valley and Normandy, recognized similarities in the two regions.
It’s supported by Glynwood, an agricultural nonprofit in the Hudson Valley, which sees in the local production of hard cider and apple brandy a way to preserve orchards, where encroaching development, global competition and increased production costs are endangering family farms.
According to Slyboro’s Daisy Chamberlain, the cider house also played host recently to British photographer and cider blogger Bill Bradshaw.
“He was certain there was no cider culture here until he visited; he left really impressed,” said Chamberlain.
(As Bradshaw noted in his blog “imcider,” “New England is a fantastic cider making area, each cider producer offering us something so completely different from the last. Their cider heritage here is so much older than I had realised and was indeed something that came over with the settlers and thrived here until prohibition.”)
According to Chamberlain, the Slyboro cider that most closely resembles the dry ciders typically served in the British Isles is Kingston Black, based on an apple grown in Maine.
None of the Kingston Black was made this year, so we left the cider house with samples of this year’s production: two sparkling ciders, Old Sin and Hidden Star, and two types of ice cider.
With an alcohol content greater than 7%, Slyboro ciders are technically wines, and can be served as such, paired with foods like chicken and fish and with local cheeses and desserts, said Chamberlain.
The ice ciders are similar to ice wines, although, unlike ice wines, which are made from frozen fruit, ice ciders are made from cider that’s been frozen, said Chamberlain.
As a cider maker, Dan Wilson is largely self-taught, experimenting with local recipes, sampling others, working with experts from the oenology department at Cornell.
“Cornell helped us to refine our technique and we started fermenting each of our many apple varieties singly, especially focusing on the older, heritage types, to discover their strengths and weaknesses, in order to gain more control over the finished, blended, flavors,” Wilson said in a recent interview.
“Dan likes to involves the staff in the process of cider making, or what we call his mad scientist, alchemical experiments,” said Daisy Chamberlain. “He’ll come up with something, we’ll taste it, and he’ll go back and refine it.”
“Slyboro is trying to bring back apple cider to where it was before Prohibition,” said Cara Duffy, another member of the staff.
According to historians, it was not until the late 19th century that beer became more popular than cider, which had been a staple of rural life, used even for currency. During Prohibition, orchards were demolished, and the craft of cider making never recovered.
Slyboro, though, is helping to reverse that trend. Its ciders can be purchased locally at New York Wine Cork on Glen Street in downtown Glens Falls, or at the cider house. Its tasting room is open daily from 11am to 5 pm, where you can benefit from the expert staff’s recommendations.
For directions, visit their website at slyboro.com