When husband-and-wife team Dan Tomlin and Jodi Harmon found themselves unemployed a few years back, they were forced to improvise to avoid giving up alcohol.
“We couldn’t afford booze, so I started making booze,” Tomlin says.
Specifically he started making hard cider, and through trial and error he got good at it. Really good at it. Before long, the couple decided to open a cider house. After more than a year of planning, the Stafford Cidery debuted in April 2017 in an inviting space in the heart of Stafford Springs.
The cidery, which celebrates its one-year anniversary in April, operates like a brewery taproom. Visitors are allowed to bring outside food, and there’s a fun and laid-back atmosphere, with live music, games and rotating art shows.
“We don’t have TVs. We encourage people to talk to each other,” Harmon says. “We have books, we have games.”
Tomlin adds, “We call it forced socialization.”
The cider house offers a wide variety of rotating flavors and styles. Its cider is available on tap in Tolland and Windham counties and occasionally beyond (Shebeen Brewing Co. in Wolcott regularly features it).
Its brand of ciders is called Crazy Cock Cider, and the individual styles often have wacky, pun-inspired names, matched by equally wacky and wonderful flavors. A favorite is the Sock Hop, a cider flavored by citra and mosaic hops that tasted better than other hopped ciders I’ve tried. Hopped ciders often accentuate the worst parts of hops: the pure bitterness and aftertaste of an IPA-drinking experience. In contrast, this hopped cider brings out the herbal and floral aspects of the hop.
Another intriguing variety is a chocolate cider called the Cock-O-Lot (get it?). This cider is less sweet than expected and rich with a cocoa, almost coffee-like flavor. Other variations include vanilla, ginger and even a cayenne pepper-flavored cider that is, as advertised, spicy. Visitors at the cider house can mix and match their favorite varieties.
“We encourage people to mix them,” Harmon says. Mix the chocolate and vanilla cider, for instance, and you have a drink that is the cider world’s answer to the black and white milkshake.
Stafford Cidery is the second craft brewery-style cider house to open with a taproom; New England Cider Company opened in Wallingford in 2016, and at least one other cider house is on the way.
Though Connecticut’s burgeoning cider movement has been influenced largely by craft beer, cider is in actuality an apple wine and draws beer and wine drinkers, as well as daytrippers.
The cider house is not far from I-84 and is also close to Tree House Brewing Co., one of the world’s most highly acclaimed breweries, just across the Massachusetts border in Charlton.
Regardless of what brings them to Stafford Cidery in the first place, many who stop in once will return. Regulars become friends with the owners, and newcomers are warmly welcomed. Stafford Springs might be a trip for some visitors, but it will be worth the time.
This article appeared in the March 2018 issue of Connecticut Magazine.
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