Episode 6 – John Bunker & Rowan Jacobsen

Download: 006_John_Bunker_Rowan_Jacobsen.mp3 [25.6MB, 28:01]

ERIC WEST (Intro): Hello there! Welcome to the Cider Guide Podcast. I am your host Eric West. In this podcast I interview personalities from the wide world of apples and cider, and I think I’ve got a great interview for you this time.

This is Episode 6. There’s been a brief hiatus as I’ve been out in the orchard—like hopefully many of my listeners—picking apples, pressing apples to juice, attending various cider festivals. So I hope you’ll excuse the delay.

In this interview, I am on location at Franklin County CiderDays in Massachusetts. I had the great fortune of talking with both John Bunker and Rowan Jacobsen after their talk on Saturday morning.

John Bunker, he’s an apple expert—one of the US’s most pre-eminent cider experts. He’s based out of Palermo, Maine. There he runs his own heritage apple CSA program called Out on a Limb. He is the found of Fedco Trees, where you can order many different heirloom and cider variety apple trees. He is the driving force behind the Maine Heritage Orchard, where varieties that are indigenous to Maine are being planted, with the hopes of preserving them for future generations. And he’s also the author of Not Far from the Tree, which is a look at the apple and cider culture of Palermo, Maine—and I guess, by extension, of New England and the country as a whole.

And Rowan Jacobsen, he’s the James Beard Award-winning author of A Geography of Oysters and many other great articles and books. I first came across his work in American Terroir. But his most recent book is on apples, it’s called Apples of Uncommon Character. And he’s a very talented writer—food writer, travel writer, talking about the sustainability of our food systems.

So without further ado, this is our talk at CiderDays from November 1st, 2014.

Rowan Jacobsen (L) & John Bunker (R)

ERIC WEST: It’s November 1st. We are at Franklin County CiderDays. And I’m very privileged to have two amazing, amazing authorities with me here.

On my right is John Bunker. You may know him as the founder of Fedco Trees. He is the author of Not Far from the Tree. And on my left is Rowan Jacobsen, also a very talented authority. His latest book is Apples of Uncommon Character.

Guys, thanks for being here with me today.


JOHN BUNKER: Thank you.

WEST: So John, I’m going to start with you. You guys just did a talk on fruit exploration. And that is something that seems to be very near and dear to your heart. Can you talk us through a little bit about the history of apples in Maine, and why it’s necessary now to go explore for some of that fruit that was once grown in Maine?

BUNKER: Well, it’s a long history. It would have begun before 1600 when fishermen from Europe were fishing off the coast of Maine. Every ship had the apple barrel. So the apple cores, the apple seeds were deposited into the ocean, all over the islands. So off the coast of Maine you find there were orchards very early on, from seed. Planted—either on purpose or inadvertently—by the fishermen from Europe, largely from Portugal. Nobody knows a lot of the details except that we know that there were orchards very early on.

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Franklin County CiderDays 2014 Preview


Franklin County CiderDays in Massachusetts—held the first weekend in November—is now celebrating its 20th edition. What began as a humble harvest celebration by West County Cider is now a New England-wide celebration of orchards, apples, sweet cider, and hard cider.

CiderDays 2014 will be held October 31st to November 2nd. Many events are free and open to the public, but some events are ticketed and other events require a $5 tasting glass to fully drink in the experience. Tickets for ticketed events are available online and I suggest you snap yours up quickly! There’s also a Facebook page where you can follow the latest updates.

If you are attending CiderDays, please be warned that the venues are spread across the entire county. Be sure you know the drive time from Point A to Point B! That way you’ll avoid rushing around and you won’t pick up an unwanted speeding ticket. If you’re using a smartphone for navigation, I’m not sure that you’ll always get signal. I have the locations pre-loaded on a GPS device just in case. Make sure someone stays sober enough to drive safely!

And speaking of West County Cider, it’s definitely worth a brief visit. West County is the first modern commercial cider producer in the US, and they continue to make interesting ciders. I particularly enjoy their rosé cider, made with the red-fleshed Redfield variety. They don’t give tours or let you wander through the production area, but it is possible to purchase 750ml bottles of cider at a reasonable price. I’ve always visited West County in the morning, but I’ve heard that Morris dancers often perform later in the day.

What follows is a preview of the workshops and tastings that most interest me. There are more events scheduled during the weekend than any one person could possibly attend, so please visit the CiderDays site for an up-to-date listing and decide what most interests you!

Fruit Exploring
John Bunker & Rowan Jacobsen
Apex Orchards, Shelburne

John Bunker is one of the country’s premier apple experts. He is the founder of Fedco Trees, co-owner of the Out on a Limb Heritage Apple CSA, and driving force behind the Maine Heritage Orchard. Rowan Jacobsen is one of the country’s premier food writers. His work often focuses on the diversity and sustainability of our food systems. His first book—A Geography of Oysters—was a James Beard Award winner, and his most recent book—Apples of Uncommon Character—is a beautiful look at our most revered and unique apple varieties.

These two first linked up when Rowan wrote an excellent article about John in the March/April 2013 issue of Mother Jones. Based on the title of the talk, my guess is that it will be about collecting fruit from the trees of friends, neighbors, and abandoned properties, identifying the variety when possible, assessing the overall characteristics of the apple, and then putting the fruit to its best possible use. If so, this talk would be welcomed by amateur cidermakers, many of whom get their start this way. I highly recommend this one!

All Day
Marketplace and Author Signings
Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls

The marketplace at Shelburne Buckland Community Center is not to be missed. In particular, keep an eye out for Scott Farms and other orchards that bring a wide variety of heirloom apples, quince, and other fruit to sample and purchase.

While you’re there, stop by the author table and chat with the wonderful people who have shared their expertise about apples and cider with us. Here’s a list of the latest books from each author, with a link to the book on Amazon where applicable:

The Apple Lover’s Cookbook — Amy Traverso   The Holistic Orchard — Michael Phillips
Apples of Uncommon Character — Rowan Jacobsen   Not Far From The Tree – John Bunker   Apples of New England — Russell Powell
The New Cider Maker’s Handbook — Claude Jolicoeur   Cider, Hard and Sweet — Ben Watson

3:00-4:30 and 5:15-6:45
Cider Salon I and II
Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls
Advance Ticket Price: $25/session

The highlight of CiderDays for hard cider enthusiasts. The salons are held in a large covered tent outside the community center. Unlike many tasting festivals, there are no drink tokens or tickets to be purchased; you are welcome to try as many samples as you can reasonably consume during the session. Both sessions were sold out in advance last year, making it a bit difficult to move around inside the crowded tent. I’d recommend buying tickets for both sessions so you have plenty of time to try everything on your checklist. Ben Watson organizes the Cider Salon each year and vets the participants, so expect quality offerings at every table!

Franklin County Food & Drink

While tickets to the fantastic CiderDays Harvest Supper are already sold out, many area restaurants are serving up fixed-price meals, cocktails, and other delights featuring apples and cider. Of these, the dinner at MRKT Restaurant in Greenfield is the most ambitious. Chef Josean Jimenez is offering two sittings of a four-course dinner, at 5PM and 8PM. Each course is paired with an appropriate cider from West County.

Daylight Saving Time ends early Sunday morning. Don’t forget to “fall back” an hour!

Apples for Juice and Cider
Claude Jolicoeur & Alan Surprenant
Brook Farm Orchard, Ashfield

[This talk has been moved to Bear Swamp Orchard. Thanks to Steve Gougeon for the update.]

Alan is the orchardist at Brook Farm, caring for a hundred or so apple trees that were planted in 1990 on Antonovka rootstock. During my 2011 visit for a similar workshop, I was fascinated at how Alan had aggressively pruned the trees to keep them at a reasonable height, quite unlike what you’d expect to see in a standard orchard. Claude and Alan were offering fresh-pressed juice to attendees as they arrived in 2011, quite a warm welcome!

Most experienced cidermakers have an intuitive sense of what characteristics to look for, but are there ways to quantify what you want in a quality juice blend? Are factors like Brix, pH, total acidity, and tannin important? If so, how do you measure them? Claude did a similar talk with John Bunker last year that was really good, and I imagine this talk will also be very enlightening.

So You Want to Be a Commercial Cidermaker
Steve Gougeon and Andy Brennan
Bear Swamp Orchard, Ashfield

I have no plans to become a commercial cidermaker, though many cider enthusiasts do dream of “going pro” someday. If that’s you, then you’ll want to drive out for this session! Steve is the orchardist/cidermaker at Bear Swamp in Ashfield and Andy is the orchardist/cidermaker at Aaron Burr in New York’s Hudson Valley. Both gentlemen have adopted a traditional farmstead approach to cidermaking: Steve uses his own organic apples and doesn’t employ commercial yeasts, while Andy’s flagship ciders are made with foraged apples. Andy in particular is very outspoken about his reverence for “true cider.” So these guys are passionate about their craft and have deliberately chosen to take the high road with regard to producing quality ciders.

British Cider Tasting and Discussion
Tom Oliver
Deerfield Community Center, Deerfield

Tom Oliver is a legend in the cidermaking and perrymaking community. This event is already sold out, and for good reason. (If you’d like to learn more about Tom, check out Episode 1 of the Cider Guide Podcast.) My guess is that we’ll be sampling cider and perry from the Shelton Brothers portfolio, whose stable of English producers includes Burrow Hill, Henney’s, Hogan’s, Oliver’s, and Ross-on-Wye. Those offerings are not imported in any great quantity, so this is a tasting that I am very much looking forward to.

Apples to Juice to Cider

John Bunker and Steve Wood
Deerfield Community Center, Deerfield
Advance Ticket Price: $20

Who knows what will happen when these two legends share the stage? I wouldn’t miss it for anything! Steve is the visionary behind Farnum Hill Ciders and is an expert on the topic of growing apples for cidermaking. He has also contributed to an upcoming book on making sweet cider and hard cider at home called Apples to Cider.


Cider and Cheese Pairing

Provisions (Northampton)
Deerfield Community Center, Deerfield
Advance Ticket Price: $25

Reading The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese a few years ago really opened my eyes to the hundreds of small-scale cheese operations that are thriving around the country. I’m definitely a novice when it comes to cheese, but I do love fermented foods of all sorts and I’m always interested to learn more about pairing cider with various foods, so this should be an informative session worth attending.

Episode 5 – Andy Brennan

Download: 005_Andy_Brennan [39.2MB, 42:42]

ERIC WEST (Intro): This is the Cider Guide Podcast, I’m your host Eric West. Each week I sit down to chat with a personality from the wide world of cider. No boring theme music, no annoying advertisements, just engaging conversation with interesting guests. If you’re a first-time listener, please visit ciderguide.com/podcast to hear my past interviews with such luminaries as Tom Oliver of Oliver’s Cider & Perry, Nicole Leibon of Farnum Hill Ciders, author and photographer Bill Bradshaw, and Mike Beck of Uncle John’s.

Andy Brennan of Aaron Burr Cider in the Hudson Valley of New York joins me for Episode 5. Andy has received a great deal of positive press—much of it highlighting his use of foraged apples—and his ciders are highly regarded by tastemakers in New York City. Aaron Burr is a shining example of a small-scale cidery that is taking the high road with regard to quality while still achieving success in the marketplace. In this conversation, Andy and I chat about how he became interested in growing apples and making cider, why he uses organic and beyond-organic methods in his farmstead orchard, his success in foraging and collecting unwanted apples for cidermaking, why he enjoys making cider with non-traditional ingredients such as ginger and elderberry, and much much more.

Here’s my conversation with Andy Brennan.

Andy Brennan of Aaron Burr Cider

ERIC WEST: Let’s start off with this. So down here in Virginia, we have a number of cities and counties and universities named after founding fathers. But for those who don’t remember their U.S. history, they may not know who Aaron Burr is. So I wanted to ask you—who was Aaron Burr and why did you choose his name to name your cidery after?

ANDY BRENNAN: Briefly, for those who don’t know, Aaron Burr [was] the vice president to Thomas Jefferson—the third vice president. He actually tied Thomas Jefferson in the election. And at the time, there was no way of determining who would be president. But long story short, Aaron Burr was a very interesting person during the Revolutionary War, had a very interesting political career. Afterwards, he was the one who shot and killed [Alexander] Hamilton in a duel. He later tried to secede Mexico!

WEST: And that’s why you use the dueling pistol as your logo on your labels, is that right?

BRENNAN: Yeah, it’s from that most famous incident.

WEST: And there’s a tie to your own property, right? A tie that Aaron Burr has to your own farmstead? Continue reading

Cider Festivals – Autumn 2014

Cider Summit Seattle
September 5-6

The 5th annual Cider Summit Seattle will be held at the South Lake Union Discovery Center. With over 150 ciders being poured from the Pacific Northwest and beyond, you’ll likely need both days to sample everything on your wish list.

Washington Cider Week
September 4-14

Cider Summit Seattle is just one of dozens of different events being held in Seattle, Spokane, Yakima, Port Townsend, and other cities during Washington Cider Week. Oregon Cider Week in June is always a success; both events have done a great deal to raise awareness of cider in the Northwest. Get ready for a number of tap handle takeovers, special cider cocktails, cider/food pairings, and cider tasting flights at bars and restaurants throughout the state!

Great Lakes Cider & Perry Festival
September 6

The 7th annual Great Lakes festival will be held at Uncle John’s Cider Mill in St. John’s, Michigan with 100+ ciders and perries for festival goers to sample. Producers from Michigan and the entire Great Lakes region bring home plenty of GLINTCAP medals each year…so be prepared to taste some great cider! I haven’t seen an official list of what’s being poured, but cidermakers from around the country send bottles to be poured at the festival.

Cider Swig
September 27

Cider Swig is a new event for 2014 that will be held in Gig Harbor (near Tacoma in the greater Seattle area). Sample 50+ ciders from well-known regional producers while enjoying live music, food, and a variety of workshops and kid-friendly activities.

Pour the Core
September 27 – Philadelphia
October 4 – Long Island

Pour the Core began on Long Island in 2012 and expanded to Philadelphia in 2013. The ciders available at these festivals are mostly mainstream, national brands, but the Philadelphia event is doing a nice job of attracting Pennsylvania craft cider producers to participate.

Cider Week Finger Lakes
October 3-12

The 3rd annual Cider Week Finger Lakes is anchored by the Ithaca Apple Harvest Festival. On offer are a variety of events such as tastings, cider dinners with local chefs, a local orchard tour, and a cider-flavored square dance. Visitors and locals alike will have the opportunity to try local cider by the glass or presented in cider flights, pairings with hand-selected entrées, and cider cocktails at a number of venues throughout Ithaca and the Finger Lakes region. Participating cidermakers include Bellwether Hard Cider, Eve’s Cidery, Redbyrd Orchard Cider, and BlackBird Cider Works.

Cider Week New York City
October 24 – November 2

This is the original Cider Week on the East Coast, now in its 4th edition in New York City. Organized by Glynwood’s Apple Project, the event features workshops, tastings, cider/food pairings, and more. Whereas similar events often focus on ciders exclusively from the local area, Cider Week New York City also features important regional cidermakers such as Farnum Hill Ciders, West County Cider, and Eden Ice Cider. This year’s schedule hasn’t been posted, but there should be many different events happening throughout the city every evening.

Franklin County CiderDays
October 31 – November 2

The 20th annual CiderDays festival will be held at a variety of orchards and other sites throughout Franklin County, Massachusetts. According to the website, the target audience for the festival is “all who love apples, fresh or hard cider, apple cuisine, apple orchards or just being in New England in the fall.” There are numerous workshops and tastings for backyard apple growers and cider enthusiasts, two 90-minute Cider Salons with unlimited tastings of ciders from around the country, and a New England-themed Harvest Supper prepared with locally grown ingredients.

The 2011 CiderDays was my first and it was well worth the drive up from Virginia! I made it back in 2013 and plan to attend in 2014 as well. Some of this year’s workshops and tastings that catch my eye are Fruit Exploring with John Bunker & Rowan Jacobsen, Ice Cidermaking with Claude Jolicoeur, So You Want to Be a Commercial Cidermaker with Steve Gougeon and Andy Brennan, and British Cider Tasting and Discussion with Tom Oliver. Both Cider Salons were sold out last year so I recommend buying your tickets in advance!

CiderFest NC
November 2

CiderFest NC is in its second year, celebrating the many craft ciders now available in North Carolina. The event is held in Weaverville—just north of Asheville—and is close to the state’s primary apple growing region in Henderson County.

Cider Week Hudson Valley
November 14-23

The Hudson Valley now has its own cider week. Growers and cidermakers there have told me that traveling to New York City during the peak of the apple harvest was not at all convenient, so this seems like a nice solution. The website doesn’t reveal much at the moment aside from a list of the participating cidermakers…but the list is an impressive one that includes Aaron Burr and Slyboro.

November 14-23
Cider Week Virginia

Cider Week Virginia is the only event of its kind (to my knowledge) that is officially designated by a governing body. Charlottesville and Richmond host many of the events, but each year the schedule includes more tastings, workshops, and dinners in population centers across the commonwealth. As a resident of Virginia, I’m very excited that we have a cider week of our own. Come on out and support AlbemarleBlue BeeBold Rock, Castle Hill, Cobbler Mountain, Corcoran, Foggy Ridge, Old HillPotter’s, and Winchester Cider Works during the 3rd annual Cider Week Virginia!

Cider Guide Podcast – Episode 4 – Mike Beck

Download: 004_Mike_Beck [31.5MB, 34:17]

ERIC WEST (Intro): This is the Cider Guide Podcast, I’m your host Eric West. Each week I sit down to chat with a personality from the wide world of cider. No boring theme music, no annoying advertisements, just engaging conversation with interesting guests. Past episodes are always available at ciderguide.com/podcast and feature such luminaries as Tom Oliver of Oliver’s Cider & Perry, Nicole Leibon of Farnum Hill Ciders, and author, photographer, and all-around cider enthusiast Bill Bradshaw.

Mike Beck of Uncle John’s Cider Mill in St. Johns, Michigan joins me for Episode 4. Not only does Mike oversee a huge seasonal retail operation at Uncle John’s, he also happens to make some of the best cider, fortified cider, and apple-based spirits in the country. And did I mention that he’s a founding board member of the Great Lakes Cider & Perry Association and president of the board of the United States Association of Cider Makers? Mike and I chat about why Michigan is such a great place to make hard cider, how Uncle John’s has survived while other orchards have languished, his diverse canned and bottled product lineup, his past and present efforts to further the interests of the cider industry, and much much more.

Here’s my conversation with Mike Beck.


Mike Beck, escanciador. Source: Tandem Ciders.

ERIC WEST: Joining me today is Mike Beck of Uncle John’s Cider Mill in St. Johns, Michigan. Mike, I know you’re a busy guy, thanks for joining me today.

MIKE BECK: Hey, no problem. My pleasure, Eric.

WEST: Well, first thing, I wanted to congratulate you on your recent award at the Royal Bath & West Show in Somerset [England]—a Very Highly Commended for your Russet. Is this the second or third year in a row that you’ve won an award there?

BECK: Third year in a row, actually, yes.

WEST: Third year, excellent. So I wanted to start off with this. I’m always curious about where people are in the world, and what makes their region a special place for making cider. Could you talk a little bit about Michigan—and maybe your own orchard—and what makes it a special place to be making cider?

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