It’s Cider Time!

Photo courtesy of Melick’s Hard Cider

Hard Cider is making a comeback in New Jersey and New York

By Laurie Pellichero

Hard cider has been enjoyed in the United States for hundreds of years, with its history dating back to the first English settlers. The colonists used apple seeds brought from England to cultivate orchards, and cider soon became a staple of every American table. It was consumed morning, noon, and night, and seen as a more sanitary substitute for water.

New Jersey cider was especially popular. Rumor has it that George Washington even called Newark cider “the champagne of ciders.”

When immigrants from Germany and other regions brought beer to the U.S. in the 20th century, interest in hard cider waned. Orchards began to dwindle, and then the Temperance movement led to an end to all legal production.

After Prohibition, orchards began to make a comeback, but cider wasn’t made on the same scale. The recent revival of hard cider has come in the wake of the microbrewing culture that started more than 20 years ago, as craft makers began experimenting with small batch cider as well as beer.

In New Jersey, Melick’s Hard Cider is produced fresh from the farm to the bottle at Melick’s Town Farm in Oldwick, Hunterdon County. Melick’s Farm is the largest apple grower in New Jersey, with 25,000 apple trees. True representatives of the Garden State, they also have 50 acres of peach, nectarine, plum, and pear trees, along with four acres of wine grapes.

Founded nearly 300 years ago, the farm is run by 10th generation farmers, siblings Peter, Rebecca, and John Melick, with continued support from their parents George and Norma.

The apple orchards cover nearly 120 acres of their 650 acres of land. John Melick said the farm has been producing and selling fresh cider for more than 50 years, and they added hard cider to the mix four years ago.

“The time was right to add it as a new product,” he said. “We used experts and employed traditional and modern techniques to produce and perfect the blends.”

Melick’s now produces about 10,000 gallons of hard cider each year, along with 100,000 gallons of fresh “sweet” cider. The apples in their hard cider are handpicked and crafted into cider on their traditional “rack and cloth” cider press. The cider is then fermented in small batches to preserve the unique character of their farm.

Photo courtesy of Melick’s Hard Cider

Melick’s Hard Ciders include Lemon Shandy, an unfiltered cider shandy that combines a blend of apples, lemons, and pure cane sugar. Their new Semi-Dry Traditional Cider uses champagne yeast to produce a crisp, refreshing hard cider that is light on the palate with no added sugar.

The 1728 Traditional combines champagne yeast with Old and New World cider apples to create a crisp, semi-sweet, and full-flavored hard cider. Jersey Ginger combines fresh ginger, a touch of sweetness, and a blend of Old and New World cider apples to make a crisp, semi-dry, full-flavored hard cider.

George’s Tart Cherry is made with Balaton and Montmorency cherry juices, and John Melick said they have a new hops variety hard cider, King Street Hops, aimed those who like beer.

Melick’s also produces an apple wine that is fermented using champagne yeast and a blend of fresh-pressed apples, as well as a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay crafted from their four-acre vineyard.

The Melick Town Farm Cider Mill and Orchard features pick-your-own apples, along with hayrides and hard cider sampling on most weekends in September and October. The farm store is open seven days a week in the fall.

Melick’s Cider Mill and Orchard is at 19 King Street in Oldwick. Their hard cider can be purchased in bottles, cans or on tap to taste or take home in a growler. It is also available as many liquor stores throughout the state, and is featured at local festivals. 908.439.2318; www.melickstownfarm.com.

Speaking of apple wine, Terhune Orchards Vineyard and Winery, owned and operated by the Mount Family, also produces an apple wine made from their own apple cider. You can try it in the tasting room at the winery Friday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Bottles are also available seven days a week at the farm store. Terhune Orchards Vineyard and Winery is located at 330 Cold Soil Road in Princeton. Call 609.924.2310 or visit the website at www.terhuneorchards.com.

Photo by Stephen Johnsen for Ironbound Hard Cider

Sitting on 108 acres in the New Jersey Highlands, Ironbound Hard Cider uses fresh apples from the orchard at Ironbound Farm as well as apples from local, small-scale farms in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania to give their ciders a “bold, fresh taste.” They pride themselves on using 100 percent American apples, not from concentrate or from overseas.

Ironbound Hard Cider was founded by Charles Rosen with the mission of reestablishing the maker economy in the Newark area, and helping to rekindle the once powerful Newark economy by actualizing the potential of chronically underemployed workers including refugees, immigrants, and those previously incarcerated.

Newark has been home to a wide range of industries, and its first, along with quarrying, was the making of hard apple cider for export to New York City and beyond.

Ironbound is the name of a district in Newark, alluding to the company’s roots as both a hard cider company and collective of businesses born out of Newark’s rich history and embracing its contemporary landscape.

“This historic and cultural connection between the city and cider makes the revival of Newark cider, and the return of its prized cider apples, the logical foundation upon which to build meaningful jobs around the production of place-appropriate goods,” said Rosen.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

“New Jersey has been making the best American cider since before America was America. And believe it or not, the most celebrated cider in the country was Newark cider! Yes, Newark! Not Boston. Not the Hudson Valley. Not New England. But Newark.”

He noted that in the 18th and 19th centuries, the best versions of Newark cider were made from Harrison, Canfield, and Graniwinkle apples — varieties that originated in and around Newark. Ironbound is bringing these old Newark cider apples back to life at its farm.

“Ironbound Hard Cider uses both bittersweet and juice apples to produce an accessible blend that is more traditionally crafted than mass-produced hard ciders,” said Erin Baschwitz, sales and marketing director at Ironbound Farm, who noted that the Harrison apple is the focal point of their orchard.

Baschwitz said that New Jersey is following the craft beer trajectory with local, artisanal ciders. “It is growing — Ironbound is a badge of what it means to be a Jersey cider.”

She added that Cameron Stark, Ironbound’s cider maker, is a winemaker who trained with legendary Napa Valley winemakers Robert Sinskey and Bob Levy. “Cameron works with apples in an ingenious way to get the best flavor,” she said.

Ironbound Hard Cider varieties include Original Ironbound, a semi-dry classic hard cider; Gooseberry Ginger, made with farm-grown ginger and locally-sourced gooseberries; Summer Cider, infused with fresh-squeezed lemons and farm-brewed ice tea; and Wood’s Folly, a hopped cider. This fall’s Devils Harvest features sour cherry, white pepper, and cranberries from the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

Their tasting room, scheduled to open this fall, will also feature special limited varieties. They plan to host special events pairing the cider with food made from local ingredients, and also make the space available for corporate and special events.

Ironbound Hard Cider is available throughout New Jersey. Ironbound Farm is located at 360 County Road 579 in Asbury, N.J. Call 908.940.4115 or visit the website at www.jerseyciderworks.com.

Photo courtesy of Ironbound Hard Cider

Hard Cider in New York State

New York State also has a long history of apple farming and production. According the njapplecountry.com, New York is the second-largest apple producing state in the country. Only Washington state produces more apples than the Empire State, which averages 29.5 million bushels of production annually.

It makes total sense then that craft hard cider is especially popular in the state, with at least 83 makers throughout New York according to ciderguide.com.

Just a sampling includes Original Sin in New York City; Kings Highway in Brooklyn; Furnace Cider in Sag Harbor; Brooklyn Cider House, Kettleborough Cider House, and Yankee Folly Cidery in New Paltz; Graft Cider in Newburgh; Hardscrabble Cider in North Salem; South Hill Cider in Ithaca; Orchard Hill Cider Mill in New Hampton; Angry Orchard in Walden; Stone Bridge Cider in Hudson; and Empire Cider in Geneva.

New York is also host to a number of cider festivals. This fall, Cider Week Finger Lakes runs from September 28 to October 8 (www.ciderweekflx.com). Pour the Core Long Island, in Heckscher State Park in East Islip, is on September 29 (www.pourthecore.com).

Cider Week New York City, a production of the New York Cider Association, is November 2 to 11 (www.ciderweeknyc.com).

The weeks are “intended to cultivate an appreciation for New York’s orchard-based cider by showcasing its diversity, food-friendliness, and excellent quality.”

Cheers!

Photo courtesy of Melick’s Hard Cider