Hello New England! Wow! How much more different could you be from Texas?
Until now it had never really occurred to me, but New England really was a ‘new’ England for those original settlers. It felt very surreal and strangely familiar to be driving through very English-looking countryside, past all these little places with English names, on the hunt for cider farms and cider apples. New England has some of the oldest cider culture in America, a result of the knowledge that those original settlers brought with them from The Westcountry where myself and Martin our cidermaker grew up. It also has a good climate for the growing of various old cider apple varieties, both American heirlooms and some of the original English ones which would have been transplanted from the old country back in the day. So we had high hopes that we would not only find sources of the rare apple varieties we are looking for here, but would actually find them being used to make great ciders.
First stop was Alyson’s Orchards, NH, where the Orchard Manager is one Homer Dunn. I’m a sucker for synchronicity and coincidence, so our beer distributors being called Duff Beer, a guy called Homer definitely deserves a visit! And would you believe Alyson’s Orchards is near the town of Springfield?
Homer turned out to be a great guy, a straight talking, chain smoking, apple growing legend with a real enthusiasm for heirloom apple varieties. And true to the laws of synchronicity, here we found our first heirloom cider apples. Homer has a small section of heirlooms in his orchard, and a small portion of those are varieties suited to making cider. Amongst these, to my enormous excitement, Homer had a handful of some of the most prized apple trees in the history of American cidermaking, the Harrison. This apple, which in previous centuries was valued above all other apples in America, was thought to be extinct until a few years back. It can only be found in a handful of orchards across the country, in tiny numbers. Homer also had several other ancient cider varieties, originally English, that are amongst Martin’s very favourites to work with, Porters Perfection, Harry Masters Jersey, Dabinett and one single solitary tree of Martin’s all-time favourite Foxwhelp, all of which were used in Gold Top. Despite the small numbers, this was a big result. We had a source for some of the best cider apples you could ever hope to find.
Our next planned stop didn’t go quite as well…As the snow began to set in and it began to get dark, we travelled to a very small village called Colrain, in search of a little cidermaker called West County Cider. I had heard from outstanding cider photographer Bill Bradshaw that their cider was the closest thing to the craft produced ciders of England that he had been able to find on a recent visit to New England. Their website only had a PO Box listed and I couldn’t get hold of them on the phone, so we just decided to head there and try and find them. I found a road called Cider Mill Lane and convinced myself we must be close, after which we drove deeper and deeper down a narrow, wooded, snow-covered road to nowhere! After another hour of driving around in the dark we gave up and drove to the nearest town to find a room for the night.
Using the wonders of the internet, I managed to locate a local brew pub that sold West County’s ciders, so we headed there for dinner. The People’s Pint turned out to be one of the nicest bars you could hope to stumble across, with a relaxed atmosphere, lovely friendly staff and some amazing food (try the thai curry!). Here we sampled 3 of West County’s ciders, a Macintosh, a Dry Baldwin and a Redfield. The Mac tasted like a cider made from eating apples, which it was. The Dry Baldwin was really very good. The Redfield was mind-blowingly awesome! We had never even heard of the Redfield heirloom variety until that moment, but we both immediately knew we had just discovered an amazing cider apple. This near-still, medium dry, very clean tasting cider reminded me of a beautiful farmhouse cider made with the Port Wine of Glastonbury variety by Somerset cider gods the Hecks brothers. It also reminded me of a beautiful cider made with the Somerset Redstreak variety by the equally brilliant Perry’s Cider.
After the disappointment of failing to find West County, we ended the night really quite elated. We had discovered an heirloom apple variety we had been completely unaware of, with fantastic properties for cidermaking…AND we had discovered a fantastic cidermaker working in a good, traditional style getting great results with heirloom cider apples.
Next stop, Scott Farm and Farnum Hill Ciders…