CT’s First Craft Beer-Style Cider House Opens in Wallingford
The story of New England Cider Co. like the book of Genesis, begins with a couple of orchard thieves.
About eight years ago, Seth Hart, a longtime homebrewer, was in Vermont visiting his brother, when the pair decided to hunt for apples. Driving around they found a variety of old-growth apple trees and began grabbing their fruit.
They weren’t searching for original sin, but rather craft-beverage perfection. Hart used the fruit of these old trees to make hard cider and quickly became hooked on the drink.
Inspired by the experience of that first batch, Hart began experimenting with more home-made cider. Back in Connecticut he was joined by his friend, Miguel Galarraga, with whom he worked as a car mechanic at a variety of car dealerships. Utilizing their mechanical background, the duo made their own apple press and began making cider.
Hart recalls that hitting upon good recipes “took a couple of years.” But, over time he and Galarraga’s cider became popular enough that friends and family members urged them to start selling it. In 2013 they did just that, launching the company and self-distributing cider to Connecticut bars and restaurants. On July 1 they officially opened their cider house to the public, giving Connecticut cider enthusiasts a chance to sample their various offerings and get a glimpse of how cider is made. There are other hard cider producers in the state, but New England Cider Co. is the first to distribute its ciders on tap and produce a cider that is closer to beer than wine. It is also the first to open a brewery-style taproom.
This taproom and production area is brimming with life, and, of course, lots and lots of cider, what Hart describes as a “modern American cider.”
During a recent visit to New England Cider Co., six ciders were on tap. They were surprisingly diverse and offered instant immersion in a variety of styles. Fresh Blend, the cider house’s most popular variety, is made from various local or regionally grown apples (New England Cider Co. sources Connecticut orchards like Blue Hill Orchards in Wallingford, and Galarraga and Hart are dedicated to getting all of the ingredients used in their ciders from within New England). This cider was bright and refreshing, reminiscent of a summer beer, with a good balance of apple sweetness and tartness.
Other cider highlights include Black Currant (made with local currants which lend the beverage a tart and pleasantly funky quality reminiscent of a sour beer), as well as Golden Russet (a cider that takes its name from the single apple variety used to produce it, and which has a dry and sharp flavor that belies its 10.5 ABV. There was also a hopped cider (the hops give the cider an earthy quality rather than a bitter bite), barrel-aged cider (which featured strong whisky notes) and a strawberry cider (that was not nearly as sweet as it sounds).
These ciders can be enjoyed inside the taproom, which is open Friday through Sunday. It is an inviting space with a rustic-chic feel — the cider’s tap handles are unadorned branches from real apple trees.
Adjacent to the taproom is the warehouse space where the cider is actually produced. Though New England Cider Co. does not offer formal tours, guests are encouraged to wander into the cider-making area and ask questions. To produce ciders, apples are ground into a pulpy substance called pomace, which is then squashed together in a cider press in order to extract as much juice as possible from the fruit. This non-alcoholic juice is then fermented with added yeast and aged for about one to two months, or longer if it is a cider that is being barrel aged. Generally speaking, one bushel weighs about 40 pounds and produces 3 to 4 gallons of cider.
At the facility, Galarraga and Hart plan on experimenting with more barrel-aged cider, some wild-fermented cider (cider produced using wild yeasts naturally found on the apples and other fruits) and even an apple brandy in collaboration with a Connecticut distillery. Craft cider was once one of the most popular drinks in Connecticut and elsewhere in the nation. Johnny Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, planted apple trees primarily so that hard cider could be made. But Prohibition, matched with changing drinking habits, led to a long decline in cider’s popularity in the U.S. that only recently began to turn around thanks to spillover from the craft beer movement. In recent years dozens of cider houses have opened across New England and in New York, but the Nutmeg State has been slow to jump on the cider bandwagon.
“Connecticut is really behind,” Galarraga says. “It is at least three to five years behind.”
New England Cider Co. is looking to change that. As more beer enthusiasts try the cider, it’s a safe bet they’ll be happy to help the cider company out one delicious sample at a time.
New England Cider Co.
110 North Plains Industrial Road, Wallingford, Suite A
Hours: Fri. 3-9 p.m., Sat. noon-6 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m.
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