Category: cider

The New American Cider Guide: Apple Knocker Hard Cider

It’s now March, and the phone interviews with cider makers for our upcoming book, The New American Cider Guide, are well underway. I don’t have to do too many truly “cold calls,” but with only one or two emails preceding, some calls are barely defrosted before that first ring. Yet the conversations themselves are decidedly warm and rewarding. I’m learning a lot about individual cider businesses and what makes cider makers tick.

That’s a good thing, because it will be many more interviews and a lot more writing before we achieve the reward of holding the finished book in our hands. But with several profiles behind us, we wanted to take a little peek at what it could be like.

Brad Genung from Apple Knocker Hard Cider was one of the first to reply to my interview request and to send me some photographs for our book. Using my write up of the interview and his photos, I’ve created a mock-up version of the Apple Knocker profile. Though I most likely will play with it a bit before print, I hope that you enjoy this preview.

Here it is, folks: Apple Knocker Profile for The New American Cider Guide . If you can’t open the pdf, here’s the content:

apple knocker h.c. color

Surrounding areas once ridiculed the inhabitants of Cobden, Illinois, as rustic country bumpkins, or “apple knockers.” Full of gumption, working-class Cobden took ownership of that term by making Appleknockers its high school mascot. When the school made it to the state basketball finals in 1964, the “apple knockers” were fully transformed, from foolish to tenacious.

Modern-day apple knocker Brad Genung embodies that spirit of grit. He spent about five years developing Apple Knocker Hard Cider before selling his first production run of 6,000 gallons in 2012. Though Genung acknowledges “there’s a little bit of anxiety in every bottle,” he has reason to believe Apple Knocker will be a success; current production is up to 20,000 gallons, and the business has had to pull back distribution so that the supply can meet demand.

Currently Genung uses apples from local orchards, but Spring 2014 heralds the beginning of Apple Knocker’s own orchard with the planting of two acres, to be extended at the rate of an acre a year. The trees will all be trellised in a similar fashion to his wine grape vineyards. The dense spacing—every 8 feet on 12 foot centers for a total of 460 trees per acre—is made possible because all of the trees are grafted onto dwarf rootstock.

Apple Knocker Hard Cider Bottles

Genung believes that there are three main approaches to making cider. Beer brewers who decide to go into cider focus on big, bold flavors; traditional cider makers use “beautiful, wonderfully tannic apples” to create ciders with depth and complexity; and winemakers make cider the way they make good white wine, by focusing on fresh fruit character. Genung, who has owned Owl Creek Vineyard since 1995, takes the vintner’s approach. On first impression, this may come as a surprise; Apple Knocker is sold in 22 oz. bombers with a label that’s reminiscent of craft brewing. But part of what drew Genung to cider is the convivial culture that surrounds it, and he worried that wine bottles would align his product with wine’s serious and restrictive image. Genung wanted his packaging to reflect the “free expression” phase that cider is currently in.

Brad Genung’s experimentation has resulted in a core trio: Hard Knocks, Bad Apple, and Sweet Knockers. So far, he’s proudest of Hard Knocks, which is a semi-dry cider. He ferments it to dryness using Belgian yeasts, and then adds back apple juice for a touch of sweetness. He describes it as having some citrus and sour flavors, with a light oak character on the finish. He’s also working on developing a dry hopped cider; by using Cascade hops at cooler temperatures, he hopes to imbue only a light hoppiness to the cider, complementing the flavor of the apples. Even when borrowing techniques from the beer brewing tradition, he’s looking for “the clearest expression of the apple.”

“It’s delicate, and it’s ethereal, like the great moments in life. You pick up these subtleties that you appreciate so wonderfully, and then it’s all gone. It’s like the really defining moments in life that you always harken back to, that’ll put a smile on your face to make you happy. That’s what enjoying a good cider should be like.”

Apple Knocker Hard Cider

Photo: Brad Genung stands behind dock crushing crew Tim and Karin with about-to-be-pressed cider apples. The apples are pressed cold to inhibit any wild yeasts or red wine yeasts that might be present, without having to add sulfites.

The New American Cider Guide

Old-time cider mills are still a common sight in the Great Lakes.

At the start of each new year, I look back at the old to reflect upon my successes and failures. Which goals did I fulfill, which ones remained merely dreams? One failed project that continues to haunt me is The Cider Guide to North America, a book that I began researching in June 2012. Armed with a laptop, camera, voice recorder, GPS receiver, and a pocket notebook, I set out on the first of what my wife and I would refer to as my “cider trips.” This journey through the Mid-Atlantic took me to 12 different cidermakers and distillers, all generous with their time and all eager to share their stories. The six-day trip from Virginia to New York was exhausting but incredibly energizing. I was convinced more than ever that cider had a bright future and that I was in the right place at the right time to document it.

The breathtaking mountain scenery of the Pacific Northwest.

Future trips took me to the West Coast, the Great Lakes, the Hudson Valley, and New England. Along the way, I angrily pounded my steering wheel in snarled traffic, was hassled by a customs agent even though I’d declared every bottle, and grew sick of McDonald’s coffee and Panera sandwiches. Some visits didn’t materialize and I had to readjust my complex itinerary on the fly. I slept on tasting room floors, in unheated guest houses, at primitive Forest Service campgrounds, in brightly-lit rest areas, and next to somber gravestones in an out-of-the-way cemetery. But I also drove on more jaw-droppingly scenic roads than most people will experience in a lifetime. I shared lavish meals and drank amazing cider with gracious hosts who took a chance on someone they’d never met. I was welcomed with open arms nearly everywhere, and was amply rewarded for stepping out of my comfort zone to undertake such a Herculean (perhaps Quixotic?) task. I still shake my head in wonder at all of the hospitality I was shown.

The peaceful confines of Ivy Cemetery.

In all, I’ve interviewed over one hundred cidermakers, winemakers, distillers, orchardists, importers, event promoters, and bar owners, gaining a broad-spectrum view of American cider culture in the process. I’ve traveled to Franklin County CiderDays (twice), GLINTCAP (twice), and Virginia Cider Week. I’ve made many friends through cider, which left me feeling all the more guilty for putting the project on the back burner. I knew there was still demand for the information I’d gathered and the perspective I’d gained, yet somehow life kept getting in the way…a common theme for those who can’t yet justify a full-time career in cider.

Enjoying the San Juan Islands of Washington from the deck of a ferry.

My wife Melissa has repeatedly urged me to dust off my notes and revive the book project. I knew she was right; cidermakers across the country had taken time out from their busy schedules to speak with me, and I’d done almost nothing to repay that debt. Recently she upped the ante by offering her services as writer, editor, fact checker, layout designer…basically whatever I needed to help the book project rise from the ashes. So I’m pleased to announce that, together, we are hard at work making the first guidebook to American cider a reality.

The Bitterroot Mountains of western Montana.

The New American Cider Guide will profile every commercial cider producer in the United States, from the smallest garage operation to the largest industrial behemoth. (If it’s not on our map, it won’t be in the book. Leave a comment if we’ve overlooked you!) Taken as a whole, these profiles will offer an insider’s view of the resurgence of modern American cider culture. The New American Cider Guide will appeal equally to the intrepid cider traveler who is planning a road trip and to the curious cider enthusiast who wants to learn the story behind what’s in the bottle.

San Diego County has a surprisingly rich apple history.

If you haven’t already, please like Cider Guide on Facebook, follow Cider Guide on Twitter, and subscribe to these Cider Guide posts (at the top of the right sidebar) for updates on the book’s progress. You can also visit for more information. Cheers!

Cider Week Virginia — Part 2

As in Part 1, Melissa shares her experiences at Cider Week Virginia 2013. Cider Fest was held on Saturday, November 23rd and is the marquee event of Cider Week Virginia. — Eric

the barn at castle hill
The barn at Castle Hill, site of Cider Fest

The day of the Cider Fest at Castle Hill dawned bright and clear. The festivities didn’t start until 11, so Eric and Ben made a quick trip to Beer Run in Charlottesville. I stayed behind so that Heron could get in his 9 o’clock nap before another big day. Allowing Eric to go to Beer Run unsupervised—or even worse, with Ben the beer aficionado—was like telling a preschooler “I’m just going to drop you off at the candy store for a couple of hours, honey. Here’s your piggybank.” Here’s what Eric has to say about Beer Run:

Beer Run turned out to be an excellent place for stocking up on Virginia cider, with bottles from AlbemarleBlue BeeBold RockCastle HillFoggy RidgeOld Hill, and Potter’s all in one place. I bought a few imports that I can’t find at home—Txopinondo, Le Père Jules (Brut), and Eric Bordelet (Sidre Brut Tendre and Poiré Authentique)—and convinced Ben to buy the last bottle of B. Nektar Zombie Killer, a cherry cyser. Beer Run also has a full kitchen, and we couldn’t pass up the Saturday morning breakfast taco menu: Ben opted for El Gringo while I chose The Gardener. And last but not least, Beer Run does growler fills at the bar. Potter’s Farmhouse Dry is the house cider, though I opted for a fill of Bell’s Two Hearted to give to my IPA-loving friends who were watching our dog back home.

When the dangerous duo returned from their foray, we quickly checked out of the motel, swung by Bodo’s Bagels for some seriously good bagels, then hopped back in the Subaru and headed toward Castle Hill in Keswick.

Tickets to Cider Fest were $20 each, which got us each a tasting glass and 10 drink tickets. Each drink ticket could be exchanged for a 1 to 2 ounce pour of cider from any of the six cidermakers at the festival (Bold Rock was not in attendance). Some ciders were only available by the glass, while other ciders were only available by the bottle.

Castle Hill’s picturesque barn, situated on a grassy hilltop overlooking a pond, is a perfect spot for a big event. The cidermakers were set up inside, while food vendors could be found just outside the barn’s sliding doors. It turned out to be a gorgeous day, with blue skies, sunshine, and temperatures in the mid-fifties. Families laid out picnic blankets on the lawn and watched the pick-up soccer games the children played.

11:15 am, when you could still see the cidermakers from afar
11:15 am, when you could still see the cidermakers from afar

We had arrived early. Our game plan was to space out the tastings, enjoying the grounds and each other’s company between pours. For almost an hour we sipped slowly. Civilized, we kept notes of each cider that we tasted. Then the band—Love Canon, a bluegrass-inflected ’80s tribute band—began to play and people began to pour in. Soon enough, Heron began to fuss. We went for a walk, trying to soothe him.

I had never been to Castle Hill before, and I wanted to see the kvevri that Eric had told me about. Kvevri are large terracotta amphorae used to ferment cider (or wine) in. Seven thousand years ago, amphorae were the first vessels used for the fermentation of grape juice into wine. Although most of the amphorae at Castle Hill are buried beneath the frost line, with only the lids visible, one broken six-foot tall amphora can be found on display. It was cool to glimpse a piece of history (and I was pretty excited to use the word “amphora,” too. Who knows when I would get another chance?)

Eric with the kvevri
Eric with the kvevri

After feeding Heron in the merciful calm of the tasting room and taking another walk, I returned to the car. Weary of the crowds, Eric and Ben had set up folding chairs in the parking lot. They pulled out bottles of cider. Yes, my friends, yes. Tailgating. I want it on the record: it wasn’t my idea. Eric had been holding back a bottle of Flag Hill Farm’s Sapsucker for just such a special occasion, and Ben parried with a Sidra Menéndez collected during a recent cycling trip in Mallorca. At least it was high-class tailgating.

a little extra at Castle Hill
A little extra at Castle Hill

Laughing and shaking our heads, we pulled out fistfuls of unused tickets from our pockets. Eric and I still had 11 tickets between us! With an hour and a half until the festival was done, and people still coming through the gates, we decided to try and use our tickets up. Unfortunately, the lines were unmanageable. Several cidermakers were out of one or all of their ciders, and the ciders that were left seemed to be the ones that I had already tasted! Courtney from Blue Bee had bravely manned her table all day, but she was forced to abandon her post when she ran out of stock.

Although there were plenty of people swaying to the band or enjoying the sunshine, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one frustrated and disappointed by the difficulty in gaining access to the cider. The numbers might explain it: last year’s crowd numbered 200-250 people; the crowd had easily tripled for 2013!

With unused tickets still in our pockets, we left Cider Fest. I was glad to be on the way home. This had been our first trip away from home with the baby. It had been fun, but it wasn’t easy.

And, after all, there’s always plenty of cider waiting for us at home.

The West family at Castle Hill
The West family at Castle Hill

Cider Week Virginia 2013

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cidwerweekva200by144The second annual Cider Week Virginia kicks off today at locations across the commonwealth. If you live in Virginia, chances are you’re familiar with where most of these events are taking place. If not, the map above should give you an idea of the growing number of events being held over the next 10 days. (If you’re reading this in a feed reader or in your email, click through to the site to view and interact with the map.) I’m especially looking forward to the East/West Cider Smackdown at Albemarle CiderWorks on Friday the 22nd and the Cider Fest at Castle Hill Cider on Saturday the 23rd. The Richmond Cider Celebration on Saturday the 16th is another highlight, and numerous tastings, dinners, gallery openings, cidermaking workshops, and other fun events will be turning people on to cider throughout Cider Week.

If you’re looking for me in the crowd next weekend, I’m in my mid-30s, bald, glasses, salt-and-pepper beard, roughly 6 feet tall, and accompanied by my beautiful wife and two-and-a-half month old son!

CiderDays 2013 Preview

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View a larger version of the map at

Franklin County CiderDays in Massachusetts—traditionally held the first weekend in November—is now in its 19th year. What began as a humble harvest celebration at West County Cider is now a county-wide celebration of apples, sweet cider, and hard cider.

This year’s CiderDays will be held on November 2nd and 3rd. Many events are open to the public, but some events are ticketed or require a $5 tasting glass to attend. Tickets for ticketed events are on sale at the CiderDays website and I suggest you snap yours up quickly! There’s also a Facebook page where you can follow the latest CiderDays updates.

What follows is a preview of the workshops and tastings that I’m looking forward to. There are plenty of other events happening during CiderDays weekend, so visit the CiderDays site for a tentative schedule and further details.

If you’re headed to CiderDays, I can’t wait to meet you! Leave a comment below so we can share a cider together.

Apple Varieties for the Organic Orchard
Tom Burford and Michael Phillips
Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls
Two of the most knowledgeable apple growers in the country team up to discuss which varieties are most suitable for growing with organic methods. Michael is passionate about organic and beyond-organic methods, and his books The Apple Grower and The Holistic Orchard are both excellent. Tom is not particularly known as an organic advocate, perhaps because existing organic techniques do not fare well in his native Virginia. But Tom does travel regularly to the world’s major apple growing regions and certainly knows a thing or about growing apples, organic or otherwise! These two were paired up for a talk in 2011 that was highly engaging, like listening to two musicians effortlessly improvising and playing off one another’s riffs.

Finding a Great Cider Apple in Your Backyard
John Bunker and Claude Jolicoeur
Apex Orchards, Shelburne
John is the man behind Fedco Trees and was recently featured in an excellent article by Rowan Jacobsen. Claude is better known for his cidermaking prowess, but is surely knowledgeable about varieties that thrive in colder northern climes (he’s a native of Quebec City). The title of the talk leads me to believe that it’s about taking whatever apples you have access to and making great cider with them…which would be welcomed by many amateur cidermakers who get their start by collecting fruit from the trees of friends, neighbors, and abandoned properties. Once you’ve assessed what the apples you have access to are lending to your cider, you can then plant or source varieties that make up for any deficiencies. As much as I enjoy listening to Tom and Michael, I will be at Apex Orchards on Saturday morning to hear what John and Claude have to say!

Author Signings
Jolicoeur, Phillips, Burford, Bradshaw, Watson, Traverso
Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls
There is a bumper crop of excellent books on apples and cider this fall. Stop by the author table and chat with the wonderful people who have shared their expertise with us. Here’s a list of the latest books from each author, with a link to the book on Amazon:

The New Cider Maker’s Handbook – Claude Jolicoeur
The Holistic Orchard – Michael Phillips
Apples of North America – Tom Burford
World’s Best Ciders – Bill Bradshaw (& Pete Brown)
Cider, Hard and Sweet (3rd Edition) – Ben Watson
The Apple Lover’s Cookbook – Amy Traverso

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. Unlike many tasting festivals, there are no drink tokens or tickets to be purchased; you are welcome to as many samples as you can reasonably consume during the session. Ben Watson, who organizes the Cider Salon and vets the participants, told me that this should be the largest collection of ciders at a CiderDays yet; looking at my program from 2011, there were 29 producers and 58 different ciders, ice ciders, and perries on offer. The Shelburne Buckland Community Center will host the Cider Salon this year, which is a slightly larger venue than the one at Old Deerfield…so fighting through shoulder-to-shoulder crowds should be a thing of the past. The evening salon will likely sell out before the day of the event, so don’t wait around to buy your ticket!

CiderDays Harvest Supper

Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls
Advance Ticket Price: $40
I didn’t attend the supper in 2011, but I heard that it was fantastic. This year’s lineup doesn’t look like it will disappoint! My understanding is that vegetarian options are available, but there is only one type of ticket available for purchase online; I will do some research and edit the post with details for those with special dietary needs.

Apples for Juice and Cider
Claude Jolicoeur
Brook Farm Orchard, Ashfield
Alan Surprenant 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! I look forward to revisiting Brook Farm this year and learning more about what makes quality apple juice and cider.

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 cider is made with foraged apples from local homesteads. 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.

Spanish Cider Tasting
Jim Asbel
Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls
Advance Ticket Price: $25
Most people—if they’ve tried Spanish cider at all—walk away thinking that all sidra is strongly sour, acetic, with almost unapproachably funky aromas and flavors. While some traditional sidra could accurately be described this way, many progressive cidermakers in Asturias produce a balanced cider that is pure in a way that few North American ciders can approach—traditional sidras are spontaneously fermented, unfiltered, unpasteurized, and uncarbonated. Mention this to any beer geek and it sounds like a dream beverage! Jim Asbel (Ciders of Spain) imports a diverse selection of sidra from Asturias, including Guzman Riestra Sidra Brut Nature—a dry, bottle-conditioned cider made with French bittersweet apples—and Diamantes de Hielo, a “frost cider” made in the spirit of Quebec ice cider. While I can’t guarantee that Jim will be pouring these exact ciders at the tasting, I can guarantee that you’ll emerge with a stronger appreciation for the Asturian cidermaking tradition.

North vs. South Heritage Apple Tasting

John Bunker and Tom Burford
Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls
Advance Ticket Price: $20
This is Part Two of a tasting that began at CiderDays in 2011. My notes from Part One indicate that John Bunker brought Black Oxford, Esopus Spitzenburg, Gray Pearmain, King David, Lincolnville Russet, Pomme Grise, and Newtown Pippin to face off against Tom Burford’s Arkansas Black, Ralls, Stayman, Virginia Beauty, Winesap, Yates, and Albemarle Pippin. My recollection is that the audience preferred John’s Northern apples in that tasting, so I know that Tom will have sought out some especially flavorful Southern varieties for this year’s bout. Count me in for Part Two!

Cider and Cheese Pairing

Murray’s Cheese (NYC)
Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls
Advance Ticket Price: $25
If Murray’s believes that cider pairs well with cheese, then you better believe it! A mainstay in Greenwich Village since 1940, Murray’s stocks a surprisingly good selection of bottled ciders in addition to their vast array of cheeses and other gourmet foods. I don’t consume much dairy, but reading The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese a few years ago opened my eyes to the hundreds of small-scale cheese operations that are thriving around the country. I love fermented foods in general and I’m always interested to hear perspectives on pairing cider with food, so I will definitely be in attendance at this session.