Week One of the Great Cider Adventure: The Boston Cider Party
The secret is out: ciders are the new craft beer. Everywhere you look, a new cider house is popping up with a delightful (and delicious) range of flavors. So, to celebrate fall in New England, we'll be releasing a new regional round-up of ciders each week for the early fall!
The Massachusetts cider scene is big, and growing more every day – and Boston is a perfect microcosm of that scene, from the statesman cider houses that have been around for decades, to the young punks shooting for the stars, just grown out of their basement fermentation kits.
I was lucky enough to talk my way into both, and nearly every production line in between as I crisscrossed my city to find the best places to grab a bottle (or can) of John Adam’s favorite drink. So let’s hit the road – and I’ll show you a few of my favorite places for a pint.
Bantam – The Architects
Tucked down a narrow street just outside of Union Square, Bantam is a fully functioning cider house during the week – but after 5pm on Friday, their workspace turns into an airy taproom with a chic modern appeal. And with eight ciders on draft, the decor isn’t the only appeal, as evidenced by the lively crowd you’ll find there. On one such bustling Saturday, I met with Wesley Young, their Taproom Manager, to learn a little bit more about what makes this cider special.
“I think that Union Square has a great vibe to it in general and our tap room is a great part of that.” says Young. “It’s a place you can relax and have fun with your friends. It’s a great place to try some new stuff.”
And there’s plenty of new stuff to try. Of the eight ciders at Bantam, each one had a distinct flavor profile, especially noticeable when tasting their three core ciders – Wunderkind, bright and crisp with notes of honey; Rojo, a rich, ale-leaning cider with a peppery finish; and Buzzwig, tart and sweet with tropical fruit flavors rising to the top.
But it was their limited run Smoked Saison that really caught my attention. Thanks to the process of smoking the apples before juicing, the cider is imbued with a light smoky note, completely unlike the overpowering, cloying smokiness of a mezcal. Within the context of the cider, it immediately brings to mind the perfect fall day, sitting beside a crackling campfire by an apple orchard at dusk. Brilliant.
“Whatever mood you’re in, something goes with it here.” Young said. “[By] making something that we want to drink, and is not necessarily in the constraints of what you necessarily think cider should be… doing something creative and different makes our cider unique and interesting and fun to drink.”
Harpoon Brewery – The Elder Statesman
Harpoon is likely one of the most established companies on this list, having been founding in 1986 by Dan Kenary, Rich Doyle and George Ligeti. They’ve grown a lot since their early days of 200 beer barrels and a dream, now taking up a city block on the waterfront, and churning out a wide variety of awesome beers – and, thankfully for us, expanding their line to some equally awesome ciders.
“We’re outstanding brewers, [but] ciders were a sharp learning curve.” said Jaime Schier, the Quality Manager at Harpoon. “One of the things that was hard for me as a beer guy and a quality guy is that we [have to] accept move variables in our cider than we would in beer.”
Those variables come in part because of the dedication that Harpoon has to making their ciders without pasteurization, preservatives, sulfites and sweeteners. But despite the difficulty this goal may add to the process, it results in some very delicious ciders – their flagship is as crisp as they come, a bite out of a fresh-from-the-tree apple, with a mildly sweet front and tart/dry back, proprietary Harpoon yeast rounding out the flavor with a pleasant richness.
Harpoon also deals in seasonal ciders – right now, you can get a Pumpkin cider that brings something for even the most die-hard PSL hater. Rich spices and a buttery finish fulfills the classic flavors associated with the name, but the surprising gingery warmth is a stroke of Harpoon genius. This creativity carries through their other seasonals: a cranberry for the winter, a white cider for the spring, and a hibiscus for the summer that came from their employee brewing competition – just one of the many employee based initiatives that reflects what Harpoon values about their city.
“Boston is a really tight knit community,” says Liz Melby, head of communications. “There’s a lot of energy… you just see such a great mix of die hard local people born and raised in the area, and then people coming through who will only be here for a few years, [but] love the experience of interacting over a few beers.”
Downeast Cider – Cider Punks
Jeffries Point, one of Boston’s many neighborhoods teetering between über-hip and neighborhood punk, is the perfect place for Downeast Cider, a dorm-room-daydream that has blown up the Boston cider scene. The brainchild of Ross Brockman and Tyler Mosher, Downeast grew to a booming business out of a surplus of apples and a love for cheap beer.
“[Our friend’s] family owned an apple orchard in Central Maine for a few generations… His mom would come visit us and, you know, as moms do, she would leave a bunch of apples and cider.” says Brockman, sitting with me in their industrial-meets-rustic factory tap room. “We’re normal college guys, Busch was our beer, Keystone light … [but we developed] this fine taste for apples.”
Six months after their senior year, Tyler and Ross had their first unfiltered cider, the first iteration of their current Original Blend. And as these scrappy cider makers have built their business, they’ve made a big splash with a variety of flavors – like Aloha Friday, a pineapple-based cider with a surprisingly tart flavor, the pineapple’s natural sugars only coming into play with a slightly sweet aftertaste.
“It’s [part of] the ‘One Time’ series… where the story starts with ‘One time...’” says Brockman. “Our junior year, Tyler and I, instead of doing the study abroad thing, we transferred out of Bates College and to the University of Hawaii. We ate a lot of pineapples…[and there were] a lot of shenanigans. And this sort of celebrates that time.”
Besides Aloha Friday, the ‘One Time’ line also features Survivor Bob, an ode to the wild berry bushes of a friend’s uncle – AKA Bob Crowley, winner of Survivor: Gabon – and a third is on it’s way, set to tell the story of a wild night in Bangor. In the meantime, there’s plenty of other flavors: if you get down to Downeast soon, you’ll snag the last of the Summer Blend, a dry cider with wicked refreshing ginger and lemon accents; or get an early taste of the Pumpkin, which ups the pumpkin spice game with a rich chai flavor and a tart overall taste. They’re also rolling out the Barrel Project, a series of ciders fermented in barrels that have previously housed different liquors – from whiskey, to rum and bourbon – that adds a decadently smooth, round flavor to the cider. Enjoy!
Prospect Ciderworks – New to the Neighborhood
Prospect Ciderworks used to be known as Harvard Cider, a previous life out in Western Massachusetts, where they developed the three creative ciders that make up their line today. But in moving to the intersection of Roxbury, Dorchester and the South End – an area that is swiftly erupting with distilleries and breweries – Prospect has put themselves firmly on the Boston cider map, much to our delight.
“We really saw the market here in Boston.” says co-founder Mark Finnegan. “We wanted to be in a space where we could have a large warehouse, and also be able to bring people from Boston in with just an Uber ride. We are right next door to Bully Boy Distilling... down the road from us is Blacklash Brewing… our goal is to sort of build a community, an experience for people come check out.”
And it certainly is worth checking out. While Prospect’s tap room plans are still on the horizon, the cider itself can (and should) be found at a local package store. From their flagship Sidro to their Paradise and Missing Link flavors, Prospect’s enjoyment of their creations is both metaphorically and literally palpable. The Sidro is a sweet, crisp cider with a twist – saison yeast used in the fermentation process to create a smooth and rich finish. While their Paradise might sound like a fruit-filled experience, it’s definitely more dimensional, developing into a spicy orange flavor accented by the grains of paradise used in the creation process – the final taste is sweet and peppery. And their hopped Missing Link is much more akin to a beer, the hops taking the starring role here, their sharpness being rounded out by the apple.
“I grew up on an orchard in Harvard, Mass.” Finnegan told me. “[I] thought that that was such a cool way to live your life, and wanted to find a way to make apples sort of a business.”
I’d say he’s succeeded. But check them out – and judge for yourself!
Artifact Cider – The Up-and-Comers (pictured above)
While Artifact doesn’t (yet!) have a taproom where you can sample their wares, their carefully curated ciders are well worth seeking out for sipping on your own back porch. Take it from me – that was my own experience, the day I met co-founder Soham Bhatt on the dock of their production facility to chat about the past, present and future of this little-cider-that-could.
“We both had this strong urge to do something more.” Bhatt said of himself and business partner Jake Mazar. “[We thought] It would be so awesome if we could just make something that we want to drink… that connects with people. There’s something about balance and how it tastes that matters. It can’t just be sweet and one-note. If it’s gonna be sweet, it needs to have some complexity”
Perception Shift, their current cider, captures that goal neatly. Flavors that most ciders seek to isolate in their blend are all present here, taking the drinker from sweet to tart to sour, with a pleasantly bitter finish. It’s a complex, rich cider, but still easy to enjoy. This attention to detail and dedication to flavor really makes Artifact stand out – but also extends to their production plan.
“Everything is focused around the harvest… certain ciders are made at certain times of the year. And then, when those apples or that blend doesn’t work anymore, it’s kaput.” Bhatt says “There’s a certain kind of game you have to play with apples… they need some [fermenting] time.”
This focus on complexity and drinkability means that we get one cider from them per season. But oh! What ciders. Fall is for Wild Thing, a tart-but-dry cider that is one of their most popular; Feels Like Home comes just in time for winter, a warm floral cider that is fermented with oak soaked in rum; and for spring they have New World, their flagship cider, dry with subtle tropical notes. Each one different, and each one creatively delicious.
“There’s so many possibilities with just apples.” says Bhatt. “We’re just scratching the surface.”
The Cider Houses:
Bantam Tap Room – 40 Merriam Street, Somerville, MA 02143, 617.299.8600
Downeast Cider – 256 Marginal Streest, Building 32, East Boston, MA 02128, 857.301.8881