Category: Learn

Tom Oliver on Beer Sessions Radio — Part 3

The talk turns more toward beer in Part 3 of the Tom Oliver episode of Beer Sessions Radio, but we do get to hear from Tom what happens when a bunch of English cidermakers are turned loose in a Belgian bar, how he rates the spontaneously fermented lambic beers from Cantillon, and what the name of his next collaboration cider with Greg Hall of Virtue Cider might be. Part 3 was the hardest for me to transcribe, as the participants became more lively over the course of the episode; it was sometimes difficult to make out who was speaking and what they were saying. But I think I’ve done a pretty good job of it. Enjoy! (If you haven’t read Part 1 or Part 2, do that now!)

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CARBONE: Hey, welcome back to Beer Sessions Radio on the Heritage Radio Network. [Flute music in background.] Flautist Tony Forder, Ale Street News editor. Poet and flautist. A little bit of the culture of England, the guy’s a beer editor and he also plays flute, amazing! And you got a guy over there, they grow…[canned applause]…it’s the perry tree, the perry tree brings out…he doesn’t even have a flute, he made that noise with his mouth! It’s amazing.

Tony, you were down at Craft Brewers Conference, you do your annual Ale Street News trip to Belgium, tell us what’s going on. You’ve got these beers that are really awesome.

FORDER: Yeah, I poured a couple of beers I bought. Of course, we did our annual trip to Belgium, and what can you bring back from Belgium except Westvleteren 12.

CARBONE: Hey, that’s popular, why not? I’ve never had that in my life.

FORDER: Really, OK? The rarest beer in the world, supposedly. It’s seems to be getting a little more available recently, thanks to the Shelton Brothers.

CARBONE: And on that, the Shelton Brothers, what did you guys do that was over the winter, you guys did a short allocation. Tell us about this Westvleteren thing, because people went nuts!

SHELTON: We did a very brief five-minute presentation of Westvleteren, what was it, in December? It was five minutes because it sold out so quickly, Jimmy. The monks there needed to raise some funds—they don’t sell beer in the States ordinarily—they needed to raise some funds to fix their monastery. And so they asked us to sell the beer in the States. And it turned into a big mess because everybody wanted it, and not everybody could get it.

CARBONE: So you had to establish rules.

SHELTON: We had some kind of rules, and some people were upset because they didn’t get it. And some people were happy because they did get it. And it turned into this big PR problem for us.

CARBONE: So you did do some things…

CARTER: I didn’t get it, and I was upset.

CARBONE: You sold it only in retail shops, right?

SHELTON: Certainly not in bars, yeah.

ROLYA: No, it was only in…and a lot of this was after long discussions with the monastery. And the monks were very adamant about that. They did this in Belgium as well. It was only going to be available in retail shops. And it had to be sold for a particular price. We tried to make sure—there were a few problems, but on the whole—made sure that it was available and at this specific price. We didn’t want people…

CARBONE: I know it’s a cult item, and I have to say, I’m the kind of guy…I’m not into cult beers because…

CARTER? FORDER?: Good for you, Jimmy.

CARBONE: I feel like there’s so many good local beers, and so many other beers that we can import—and ciders—that when I have the Westvleteren, I’m tasting it now, they say oh the St. Bernadus is the same beer. For me, one of my favorites is in your portfolio, the Achel Brewery, which is also Trappist. For me, the Achel is the top Trappist brewery.

SHELTON: Well, this beer is called the best beer in the world sometimes—because the RateBeer and the BeerAdvocate—because it’s so rare.

CARBONE: But it’s hogwash.

SHELTON: And the strong and rare…I mean, basically, it doesn’t mean it’s the best beer. You can’t really say what’s the best beer. But it’s rare, and that’s what sort of launches it up there.

ROLYA: It’s a very good beer. And it’s also personal preference. Achel is definitely, they’re one of the two Trappist breweries who actually, the monks are involved in the day-to-day process. Westvleteren is the other.

CARBONE: So Westvleteren and then Achel. So tell us a couple of your other top Belgian beers, because you guys have so many…I mean, we’re talking about ciders and perries, but really…

SHELTON: Well the Cantillon in general.

CARBONE: The Cantillon.

SHELTON: Which is also rare, but not as rare as this. Deservedly so, Cantillon is brilliant.

CARBONE: Tom, do you like some Belgian beers?

OLIVER: Yeah, Cantillon beers are fantastic. They just take your whole mouth on a whole different journey, and pull you left and right and up and down and leave you long…

FORDER: I think we need some flute music to go with that little poem.

OLIVER: Living in the past, eh?

CARBONE: This is the ode to the Westvleteren. Many of us have never tried it, and I just did tonight. And many of you may one day. But I will say this, there’s many good beers in this world out there, and many good ciders and perries.

ROLYA: Tony, I think you visited some of our other Belgian breweries, was it De Struise?

FORDER: I can say with the Westvleteren that we did see evidence of the reason they sent that beer to the US, was to raise money—there’s a whole new wing on that monastery, and a few light…SUVs around, but we won’t talk about that. Yeah, we did go to de Struisse. Very interesting, our group of 30 sat in their schoolroom—they inhabit a schoolhouse—and Carlo there gave us a talk. They were doing a lot of construction around this, there was no heat, and it was freezing. And we were sitting in the schoolhouse like good little school kids, because they kept giving us beer.

CARBONE: That’s your Belgian trip.

FORDER: Great beer. Yeah. We had their Our Monk and the Jesus Beer [?].

CARBONE: Let’s talk about beer, because I think many people listening have never tried this beer. So it’s the Westvleteren, which one is this? Is there a particular beer?

FORDER: This is the 12, it goes 8, 10, and 12.

CARBONE: So what’s this, a quad, a quadruple or what?

FORDER: Yeah, it’s a strong, it’s basically the classic dark Trappist strong ale.

CARBONE: It’s nice, do they use the candi sugars in this?

FORDER: It’s called the 12 because that’s the degree, but it’s actually about 10.5, 11 percent alcohol I think.

ROLYA: My favorite is the 8.

SHELTON: It should be noted, Jimmy, that the beer the monks drink is actually the lightest alcohol beer. Which I think is about 6%, something like that?

ROLYA: I think it’s even less. The one that they drink is actually not available commercially. It’s just something that they make for themselves. It’s a table beer, it’s like an abbey single I guess we would call it.

SHELTON: The real strong Belgian Trappist beers are sort of a new invention in the big picture, that are made to sell commercially. They’re not really what the monks would ever drink.

FORDER: The story with the St. Bernardus is, we actually stayed at the St. Bernardus bed and breakfast where we drank the Abt 12. St. Bernardus used to make the beer for St. Sixtus Abbey, which is Westvleteren. And then in the ’90s the contract ran out, and that was when the Trappists said, if you want to be a Trappist—have the Trappist stamp—you have to brew it in the monastery. And that’s when Westvleteren brought the beer back in house. Meanwhile, St. Bernardus kept making the same beer, they just changed the name. So we did do a taste test actually, late at night in the bed and breakfast, between the St. Bernardus 12 and the Westvleteren 12. And there was a preference, but I don’t know if I should tell.

CARBONE: Well this is cool. A little background, you went to Belgium, Shelton Brothers has some cool things. Tom, so you also like beer as well as cider, I’m sure?

OLIVER: I enjoy anything with some character and some taste. But I will share this with you. There was a time about five or six years ago, where a group of cidermakers from England went over to Hasselt in Belgium to do a weekend of talking about cider—selling cider—in a wonderful old barn that’d been converted, just outside Hasselt. It was a fantastic weekend.

But what started to happen was, in the evening, after everything had died down and finished, we’d go to a bar in Hasselt. I don’t know what it was called, but it had the most incredible selection, as I’m sure lots of [Belgian] bars do. And what we decided to do on one night, was to start from the strongest and work down. Well, I know that I personally got to the sixteenth beer before I retired hurt. And some people went on longer than me. But we all awoke the next day—eventually—with the sorest of heads. But having had a fantastic experience. Because the difference between all the beers is extraordinary. Even when they seem to be similar, they’re not. I love the variety.

CARBONE: Alright, so that was Westvleteren. Tony, you brought another beer, what’s this one?

FORDER: Yeah, talking about going from the strong down to the lighter, this is actually the symposium beer that was brewed for the conference down in DC.

CARBONE: The Craft Brewers Conference.

FORDER: Yeah. Craft Brewers Conference was a bit of a quick change-around for us, because we got back from Belgium on the Sunday and down to DC for the conference on the Tuesday. It was cool. Beggars and Theives, it was a collaboration between three breweries there. And interestingly, typically these conference beers get a bunch of brewers together and they make something really strong with tons of ingredients. This is more of a session [beer], it’s called Anti-Imperial Rye Lager at 4.9%. It shows you there are different trends in the craft brewing industry than just making strong beer.

CARBONE: I know it was made by DC Brau and The Brewer’s Art and Devil’s Backbone.

FORDER: Devil’s Backbone, in Virginia.

So it was Virginia, DC, and Maryland. That’s pretty great. I want Tom to try it, too. Talking about what the monks at Westvleteren actually drink…and also the Shelton Brothers, for me, you were always pioneers in session beers. Five, six years ago when everyone was just coming up with their Imperial IPA, it was Dan Shelton who said, you know, we’ve called Thiriez Extra. And we’ve got Taras Boulba. All these really sessionable but flavorful beers, like 4.5%, that’s what I like to drink.

SHELTON: Well Jimmy, we’re so far ahead now we’re beyond that. I’m just kidding. We were just talking about the new thing being a session beer, the collaborative brew. But I think it’s a trend right now, which is a very good trend. Because beer—the essence of beer—is something you drink a lot of, that you can handle a lot of beer in one night. I think Tom would understand, and that grump [Tony?], you guys would understand, growing up in England, it’s your session beer idea.

FORDER: Absolutely. Four percent was the standard for bitter, even the Fuller’s ESB for example, five percent was like whoa, that’s strong. But that’s where beers start over here.

SHELTON: A lot of flavor, but not too much alcohol.

OLIVER: And that’s one of the harder things with cider, because if you take it as it is—just the fruit, with the fruit sugars in it, the sun over the growing year is giving you—then some years you’ll get a six percent cider. But on a year when you have fantastic sun and maybe not much rain, you can get seven, seven-and-a-half, eight percent ciders. Now that puts you into something that’s half the strength of wine. And that does mean that in terms of, if you’re selling cider as a publican or whatever, then you really have to be aware that you’ve got to charge a good price for your product. Because otherwise people aren’t going to drink more than one or two pints, if you’re drinking pints.

CARBONE: And Clint, let’s get you on here. So, Clint Carter from Mens Health, you sent me a number of emails for like a year. You guys came out with an awesome beer article. But you’re also doing something about looking at the nutritional aspect of beer?

CARTER: You might not have understood how we were using all of the answers to your questions, but we were…when you had recommended beers to us, we would send them off to a lab. We were looking at a lot of, we were looking at calories, we were looking at folate, we were looking at polyphenols. I know it’s a much different way to approach beer, but that’s something that, at least our readers are concerned about, so it’s something that we care about, too.

But what we wound up doing was looking at a lot, we took 30 really amazing beers, we sent them all off to a lab. What’s interesting about beer that hasn’t really been acknowledged fully yet, is it has a lot of the same really nutritional qualities that, say, wine has been getting a lot of attention for. So it’s got polyphenols in there. The yeast gives it a lot of B vitamins, so we were looking at that. And there’s actually a lot of really good things in there, which is why there’s a lot of research out there to suggest that people who drink in moderation are healthier on average. So we were looking at that, among other things, and just geeking out on delicious beer, which is something I think we could all do.

CARBONE: So Tom, do you think that drinking beer and cider is part of a healthy lifestyle?

OLIVER: I think you’ve only got to look around this table to see that these six bodies are tuned to perfection. [Laughter.]

CARBONE: We’re buff!

OLIVER: So you know, here’s the evidence.

CARBONE: Tony’s going to play some flute while I do my soliloquy, thank you. [Flute music.] You know, beer and cider, it keeps you going. [Beer Sessions Radio] had a great song, it was called I Like Beer, and it summed it all up. Sometimes you drink liquor, it makes you sicker. Wine, wine can slow you down, because it’s too much alcohol. But for me, beer and cider, four to six percent, that’s what I can drink, it keeps me going. And it gives me extra energy. I feel like if I had a good beer the night before, I wake up the next day. If I don’t, I just get tired. So what else can you say about that, you can send in your answers to us @beer_sessions on Twitter. Because we’re going to start a conversation about Beer Is Healthy For You, man, I think it’s part of a healthy lifestyle, you know?

And BR, you’ve got something to say? You’re an athlete, you play hockey, you do all these things.

ROLYA: I’m a reluctant athlete.

CARBONE: But you’re part of a healthy lifestyle, and you consume beer.

ROLYA: Yeah! Well what’s hockey without beer, or beer without hockey?

SHELTON: It makes you violent, getting out there and…

CARBONE: But Joel, you don’t have a healthy lifestyle, so you don’t count. Tom sure does!

ROLYA: I went to high school in Belgium, and my main sport which I’ve been doing since I was about eight or ten years old has been horseback riding. I no longer compete, but I still ride every week. And when I lived in Belgium, they would do these trail rides, I guess, we went through farm lands and small towns. But it always went, from the barn we would ride through the woods to the farms to another town, sit down at the cafe, and they would have beer and wine for us. And then the horses would get their snack. And then we’d come back out and get back on our horses.

CARBONE: Since we’re talking about some of your great beers like Westvleteren—so if you’re out horseback riding and you had to pick a Shelton Brothers Belgian beer, what would that be tonight?

ROLYA: It’s going to be one of the lower alcohol ones, for sure.

CARBONE: Well, give us a name, come on!

ROLYA: I would probably have to go with one of the de la Senne beers, simply because—or the Bink Blond—that’s a tough one, Jimmy, you put me on the spot!

CARBONE: Bink Blond is pretty awesome.

FORDER: I would say that beer goes very well with yoga. I’ve done beer tastings with my yoga class. [Laughter.] Shout out to Joe Sixpack, the writer in Philadelphia, his wife is a yoga instructor. He does yoga and beer tastings also.

CARBONE: What about you, Joel? Do you do anything healthy with beer?

SHELTON: No. [Laughter.]

CARBONE: And Clint from Mens Health, what about you? What’s a healthy and beer combination?

CARTER: I’m a cyclist, and something I see is over and over is that anybody who rides seriously—rides a bike—finishes every long ride with a beer. Which is astonishing to me, it’s all over the place.

CARBONE: And Tom, working on the farm…tell us again the village you’re from in England, what’s it called?

OLIVER: It’s Ocle Pychard. It comes from, ‘Ocle’ means ring of oaks, because there were a lot of oak trees there, and ‘Pychard’ is because the whole estate was given to a knight who helped William the Conqueror in 1066, and he was from Picardy. So we’ve got the “ring of oaks” and “Picardy” and it’s Ocle Pychard.

CARBONE: So you’re working on the farm, how do you finish your day with a healthy beverage, what would you choose?

OLIVER: You choose a cider. And you choose a dry cider. I always choose not one of mine. I think I know mine back to front…

CARBONE: I tell you, we’re leaving very soon. We’re going to have a quick meal at Roberta’s, and then we’re going to Jimmy’s No. 43. We’re going to taste all of Tom’s ciders, including the perry which really stands out. If you haven’t had perry, you’ve got to try it, and you’ll be a fanatic for it. Even for the price, it’s not that expensive. Price does come up.

OLIVER: You’re dead right there.

CARBONE: There’s not that much perry out there, not that many people appreciate it. But when you try Oliver’s perry, you’ll get it.

SHELTON: And you should have the best. Don’t worry about the price that much.

CARBONE: Beer’s still cheaper than wine. So hey, we’re going to do a quick runaround. Everybody here’s doing something cool. Tom, you’re in town, the last thing is, what’s going on in Michigan with Greg Hall?

OLIVER: Greg and me are going to look at…Gold Rush was the first combination between us. The second combination is going to have the word ‘West’ in it, the second cider’s going to come out at the end of May. And I’m looking forward to blending it and launching it with Greg in Fennville and then in Chicago.

CARBONE: And Clint, what’s the next beer-related thing you’re doing with Mens Health?

CARTER: I’m always drinking, and I think that that’s significant. But the beer package is in the magazine that’s on the stands right now. We’ve got Garrett Oliver talking about the best places to travel. Dale Talde giving his ode to cheap beer, Charlie Bamforth—really smart guy—helped us devise a really great beer test that you contributed to, so a lot of cool stuff in there.

CARBONE: Awesome. BR, what’s going on with the Shelton Brothers in the next couple weeks.

ROLYA: Well, we have The Festival, Round Two taking place in Portland, Maine on June 21st and 22nd. We’re doing that in conjunction with 12 Percent Imports. And all of our brewers, cidermakers, and meadmakers will be there pouring their beers, ciders, and meads. And we’ll also do a lot of events around New York City with the producers who are coming in.

CARBONE: Looking forward to that. And Tony, what’s going on at Ale Street News? Are you still selling that Crafty Carton or what?

FORDER: Yeah, Crafty Carton. We’re on Version 3, it’s coming out now. I think liquids are cool in a carton, there’s water in a carton now. It’s cool in plastic, not that that’s an issue with beer.

CARBONE: So it’s like the takeaway growler.

FORDER: Takeaway growler. And the carton, the hotels are really catching on to it. You take it to your hotel room or in glass-free areas. I’m also recruiting American brewers for the American Pavilion at the Mondial de la Biére in Europe, for…

CARBONE: And when is that, that’s in Strasbourg, France right?

FORDER: They moved to a town called Mulhouse.

CARBONE: In France as well?

FORDER: Yep, in Alsace.

CARBONE: Is that tied into the Montréal beer event?

FORDER: Yes, it’s the European version of it. And I’m putting together the American Pavilion again.

CARBONE: That’s terrific. And Joel, want to say anything else about The Festival or anything?

SHELTON: BR said it all. You should all come to The Festival. It’s the best collection of brewers, cidermakers, and meadmakers in the world in one place. The best thing is I’ll be there, and I’ll wear a nametag and you can come up and talk to me.

CARBONE: All right. So check out our website for more events, and you can always go to goodbeerseal.com and learn everything about beer. On June 14th and 15th, Savor—the premier beer and food pairing event—will be held in New York City. That’s the Brewers Association—they’re awesome!—check them out at savorcraftbeer.com. And we’re organizing a very interesting thing in New York City that weekend, a bunch of Long Island breweries, who are all our friends, are going to come to many Good Beer Seal bars—including Jimmy’s No. 43—and do special tastings. Because at Savor, they only select certain breweries from around the country. And we’re going to rock out Savor in New York City.

FORDER: Can I mention something, Jimmy, really quick? There is actually a cider festival in Long Island in the fall, put on by Andy Calimano. So that’s the first one ever.

CARBONE: That’s awesome. And we also have Cider Week New York, which is coming back in October. So we’ve got a lot of cider going on. And with that we’ll have more shows, and I know Greg Hall’s coming to New York tomorrow to hang out with Tom. And one more thing, I’m going to give a little shout out to our good friends—after five years, Beer Table will be closing its doors in Park Slope. They’ll be searching for a larger space with a full kitchen. The closing day is set for April 27th. So go check out Bier Table while it’s up. I’m sure it’ll be back. And right now you can go to Beer Table Pantry in Grand Central Station.

So that’s it! I’d like to thank our sponsor GreatBrewers.com who have helped to bring this podcast to you tonight. Beer Sessions Radio is supported by the Good Beer Seal. So thanks to Tony, Clint, BR, Tom, and everybody else for joining me here on the Heritage Radio Network—Joel Shelton, too!. Hey, I’m Jimmy Carbone, thanks to our producers Jack Inslee, Bree O’Connor, and our engineer Joe Galarraga. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time on Beer Sessions Radio!

Tom Oliver on Beer Sessions Radio — Part 2

In Part 2 of the Tom Oliver episode of Beer Sessions Radio, topics of discussion include Oliver’s extensive product lineup, the so-called Magners Effect, New England style ciders, wild yeast and Brettanomyces, perry pears, and much more. If you haven’t read Part 1, do that now! Follow the link for a transcript of Part 3.

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CARBONE: Hey, welcome back to Beer Sessions Radio on the Heritage Radio Network. I’m Jimmy Carbone with a special guest, Tom Oliver, the finest cidermaker and perrymaker in England. And a whole bunch of people from Shelton Brothers, Ale Street News, and Mens Health. Awesome, awesome, awesome! Joel Shelton, tell us about—you just popped another cider from Tom Oliver in England—what is it?

SHELTON: Let me read the label there, Jimmy. Oliver’s Herefordshire Cider Medium, it’s a very basic name, Tom. Tom, we talked earlier today with you about your preference in cider. You said you wanted bone dry, still. This is medium, this is going to be a little to the right of your preference?

OLIVER: Yep, but I hope while you were drinking it, this is a cider that’s conditioned in the bottle. So the sparkle is derived from the fermentation finishing in the bottle. It’s got a lovely apple sweetness to it, which is the unfermented apple sugars, but there’s some nice acidity to balance it. And then you’ve got those beautiful tannins which give you a little bit of roughness on the tongue at the end, give you some real depth to the drink and some length to it. This is really quite sweet. But because of the tannins and the acidity, I think it holds together really well as a drink. And it’s not too offputting.

CARBONE: Tom, this brings up a good point. The number of styles that you make: you’re making ciders and perries, dry cider, medium cider. Tell us your philosophy behind that.

OLIVER: Alright. Well it’s a disaster area in terms of sensibilities, because what we try and do at home, if you walk into our cider house, I hope to have at least a dozen—if not 16—different bottled ciders. I’ll find a cider for you whether you drink cider or not. And that’s the idea. So we range from dry to sweet, from still to sparkling, and everything in between. And then that’s just the bottled products. We have draft products, so we’ll have dry, medium, and sweet ciders. We’ll have single-variety ciders, so those are ciders made from individual apples, apples like the Yarlington Mill. Which is not a classic single-variety apple, but it makes a beautiful, warm, gentle, apple-y cider. And then we have perries, and we haven’t even started on the perries: single-variety perries, blended perries. So I hope that when anyone comes to our cider house—and do feel free if you’re ever in Ocle Pychard in Herefordshire—please come and visit us, and you can try 20 different ciders and perries.

SHELTON: Tom, if someone doesn’t like any of them, do you force them to like one when they visit you?

OLIVER: I try never to resort to violence, but I try to do a bit of a pleading thing. And if that doesn’t work, I just say “Have some cheese.”

FORDER: I would mention the fact that young generations [are] really getting into ciders, I can verify that. Both my daughters—one who’s not quite drinking age yet, but the other is—they really do like cider a lot.

OLIVER: I trust that you’re bringing them up very properly then, Tony. Because exposure to cider is a great thing. And I think the whole thing that’s happened in the UK, it’s known as the Magners Effect. Cider was introduced, and it was made to become a trendy drink that young people really enjoyed. You would pass bars in London at 6:30 in the evening when everyone tips out of the office, young people would be out drinking cider. That was unheard of 10 or 15 years ago. So cider has seen somewhat of a revolution there, and I see it going through a similar growing process with different things urging it forward over here as well.

CARBONE: One thing, I actually have a funny anecdote. Cider has come a long way. Back in the ’90s there was this English show, Absolutely Fabulous. Does anyone know that show, Ab Fab? OK, so there was one episode where the two older ladies, they were the wild partying chicks from the ’70s. And then their children were mild and meek. And they would go out, after their study session, they would share a can of cider. They made fun of it, because it wasn’t considered drinking. In the back of a lot our minds, cider wasn’t considered “a drink.” But only now with artisanal producers do we consider it—is that funny? It was funny on the show! Let’s pull up that clip, come on, Absolutely Fabulous!

CARTER: I’d be interested, Tom, when you taste around—when you’re here tasting different ciders—do you feel like there are a lot of bad ciders that are creating a bad impression for the overall category?

OLIVER: I just think that ciders are made for a purpose. What I might deem as a cider that’s not appropriate for me, it’s probably because it’s been designed for an 18-year-old lady who’s going to drink it in a hot nightclub at a very chilled temperature. And it’s going to be just what she wants to drink. But it certainly won’t be what I want to drink.

CARBONE: Well, what are some of those brands? Because I don’t want to drink that stuff!

OLIVER: Over here you’ve got…

CARBONE: Joel, you tell us. What is it, Magners? What are these?

SHELTON: Well, I was just going to say that you can go there if you want to meet 18-year-old ladies, but that’s a different story.

CARTER: I’d say I’ve certainly had some ciders that made me think more along the lines of Zima or something like that.

SHELTON: Whatever happened to Zima by the way? It’s a shame!

CARBONE: Enough, cut cut cut cut! Back to serious…sorry I brought up the Magners!

FORDER: There is an area where they’re adding all kinds of different fruit flavors into commercial ciders, which is like the flavored malt beverage…

CARBONE: So how do we know? One thing that I like about the new hard cider scene is that it’s a specialty product. I can get it at Good Beer Seal bars like Jimmy’s No. 43 and specialty stores. But if I walk into the typical—wherever you get your drinks—I wouldn’t get a cider, because I don’t want to just get an apple alcohol product.

OLIVER: I think this is where cider is really up for grabs. And I certainly think Greg Hall has come in with an angle on this. His early ciders are only available on draft, and that in itself gives you an idea where he’s targeting, where he sees the opportunities. Because you do…I want to be able to walk into a pub anywhere in the world and get a good cider on draft. And it’s not possible at the moment. And it’s not possible in England all the time, don’t think that it’s some sort of mecca of good cider. The hardest place to find good draft cider is in my home county. It’s an extraordinary thing, but we struggle. You’re more likely to find good draft cider in London.

CARBONE: It always has an identity crisis, where there’s really good ciders like yours and Farnum Hill that we love. And them I’m getting pitched all the time…it’s a cider, but they’ve added honey or maple syrup. So it’s more of a beverage, you know?

OLIVER: This is a tradition that started when cider first arrived in America. The Mayflower and Boston from there, there’s a tradition as I understand of using raisins and honey in ciders. And this is not just for meads, but for ciders as well. It just makes cider, you’re almost taking it back to its roots here. So I’m not sure it’s a bad thing or a good thing, it’s just another way of selling cider.

CARBONE: Well, the [cider] we had is the terrific Gold Rush that Tom made with Greg Hall. And we just had the Herefordshire Medium. Are there any more ciders or perries here tonight for us to talk about?

ROLYA: No, we don’t have any more ciders or perries. But we’ve got plenty of beer.

CARBONE: So let’s pop some beer! So let’s go on to perry since we’re popping beer.

ROLYA: One thing I did want to mention about all of Tom’s ciders—and this is what we really enjoy about them—is that they’re all naturally fermented. He uses the wild yeasts that are there on the skins and in the air to ferment the ciders. Which really creates just a really nice character to them.

OLIVER: Yeah. I think wild yeasts are so interesting. And I admire every beer person that dabbles in the wild yeast world.

FORDER: Is there a taste of Brettanomyces in here?

OLIVER: Definitely. But you can get—in ciders you can get what appears to be a Brett influence and it’s not actually coming from the Brett. But yeah, there are some flavor aspects that definitely hinge on Brettanomyces.

SHELTON: The acidity of the apples remind you of the Brett sometimes, right?

CARBONE: I think you guys hang out too much! Let’s flip this! Now we’re talking about perry. Because we’ve got cider down, everyone kind of knows cider. But perry, that’s pear cider. How is that tradition different, and the process and all that.

OLIVER: You’ve got to understand, with perry—and we’re talking about perry made from perry pears—this is a particularly unique type of fruit. It’s an inedible pear, as a whole. They grow on great big old trees that are massive. These trees are 100, 150, 200 years old. They stand out in the countryside. When they blossom, which is about now it should be in the UK if the weather was half decent, these great big trees covered in this white blossom, they look absolutely fantastic. But there’s very few of them. So true perry made from perry pears is a very scarce drink. Therefore, in order to make commercial use of the popularity of cider, “pear cider” has been invented. And “pear cider” is a drink made from whatever people put in it. But I can suggest that there’s a little bit of cider in there, there’s a little bit of imported pear juice, and there’s a little bit of this and that and the other. But once again, perry—truly a traditional product from a very small area of Herefordshire, Worcestershire, and Gloucestershire—it’s a fantastic drink and a worthy addition.

CARBONE: So typically, tell us…you start by growing trees, this is agriculture. You’re growing apple trees, and you’re growing pear trees. What’s the minimum age for each tree before you can make a quality product?

OLIVER: You can get all different sorts of trees with different rootstocks that give you maturity at different ages. But the traditional trees on tall stems—standard trees—for apples it’s 10 years, for pears it’s 30 years before you get a commercial return. This is a lifetime’s investment in land and in trees and in looking after them. The newer varieties growing on smaller rootstocks and bush things, you can get yields after 1, 2, or 3 years. So commercially there’s some great things going on in breeding technology to get these smaller trees fruiting more quickly. But I will say the best ciders I make come from trees that are 70 or 80 years old or more. And that’s because they’re nitrogen-deprived, the fruit is. They are beyond doing anything other than just let them grow. You may get sheep or cattle grazing underneath them, but these nitrogen-starved trees give you the best fruit for working with.

CARBONE: So how does that relate to—I know with wine, they have old vine wines, is that the same kind of thing?

OLIVER: It would, but we don’t extol the virtues of old apple trees. But I really think, it’s yet another possibility. Maybe I should say…I was reviewing some of the ciders and perries I made a few weeks ago, and what became clear to me is I need to really remember that the old trees produce the best fruit for making the sort of ciders and perries I make. I can’t get away from that, it’s a fact.

FORDER: Do you do any distillation?

OLIVER: I don’t. I wish I did. But I think I’ve left it too late in my life to start distilling. To get a cider brandy, it needs to be at least three years. So that’s like a five year period from now. And if I wanted a good 20 year old, that would put me at…

FORDER: Don’t give it away!

OLIVER: OK, OK.

CARBONE: BR, what was your question?

ROLYA: I was going to say, Tom, you grow some of your own perry pears?

OLIVER: Yes.

ROLYA: But then Lauren’s told me great stories of you just driving about, sometimes collecting pears from other sources?

OLIVER: I love finding perry pear trees, and I love finding reasons to go on to people’s land and scrump perry [pears] and cider apples. I did discover a variety called Coppy about 10 years ago. This was a variety that had been lost and was an endangered variety, nobody knew where there was a tree with this variety on it. And I just happened to find this one tree in an old orchard. So we saved one variety, and a number of people have found other old varieties. So we’ve now got a situation where we have 120 peary pear varieties preserved in at least four different locations in the UK, which is fantastic. In terms of agriculture, in terms of biodiversity, and in terms of just preserving the history of something—it’s ongoing and it’s exciting.

CARBONE: That’s amazing. For me, too, I love all the new really great hard ciders. But the really good old-school perries, like your perry is amazing. And I’ve had Christian Drouin from Normandy, and his perry really stands out as well.

OLIVER: There’s some fantastic poirés from Normandy. I think if you give it…it’s the rarest of raw materials, then in order to make the most of it, we should make the best perry from them.

CARBONE: Excellent. Hey, let’s stop on that note, because that was the best thing I’ve heard all night. I’m looking forward to drinking perries and ciders tonight with Tom Oliver—one of our favorite cidermakers in the world—at Jimmy’s No. 43 tonight. Alright, we’ll take a short break. We’ll be back in a few minutes on Beer Sessions Radio.

Tom Oliver on Beer Sessions Radio — Part 1

Tom Oliver of Oliver’s Cider and Perry is currently traveling around the US as tour manager and sound engineer for The Proclaimers. Along the way he’s making a number of cider-related appearances at tasting events and as a special guest on various radio shows. Tom is not only an exceptional cidermaker and perrymaker but is very well spoken and an unrivaled ambassador for real cider. His April 9th appearance on the Brooklyn-based Beer Sessions Radio is definitely worth a listen…but if you can’t spare the time, I’ve transcribed the first segment of the episode below. Follow the links for transcripts of Part 2 and Part 3!

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JIMMY CARBONE: Hey, welcome to Beer Sessions Radio on the Heritage Radio Network. It’s Jimmy Carbone from Jimmy’s No. 43 and The Good Beer Seal in New York. It’s April 9th, 2013, and we’ve got an awesome show. Thanks to our sponsor, GreatBrewers.com. If you want to learn more about the world of beer—beer education—check out the BeerCloud to find out where to get your favorite beer. Go to GreatBrewers.com. And thank you to our other supporter, Good Beer Seal at goodbeerseal.com. Right now there’s 41 New York City beer bars that serve and promote really good craft beer.

All right! So this is an awesome show, a very special show. We’ve done a few shows in the past about cider, and one of our favorite cidermakers in the world is Tom Oliver. He’s here from England, he’s collaborated with Greg Hall, our buddy, formerly of Goose Island Brewing, who’s now starting Virtue Cider in Michigan. He’s done a lot of great things. We have some of his ciders here today. And we’re joined by Tom Oliver, BR Rolya, and Joel Shelton from Shelton Brothers who import it. So Tom, welcome to the show!

TOM OLIVER: Thank you Jimmy, great to be here.

CARBONE: The first question I have to ask, is please say your name and the village that you’re from in England.

OLIVER: OK, so my name is Tom Oliver. And the village is Ocle Pychard in Herefordshire. In case anyone in Herefordshire is listening!

CARBONE: BR and Joel, how did you guys ever—you guys have so many beers and ciders with Shelton Brothers, you guys started in Belgium, you’re in France, and New Zealand—how did you guys ever meet Tom and how did you guys ever start bringing in cider in addition to your excellent beer portfolio?

BR ROLYA: That was Joel’s brother Will—Joel and Dan’s brother—who traveled to England and said Hey! I just had a revelation that cider can actually be good, it’s not an overly sweetened beverage to get you drunk. It’s complex as a good lambic, and is interesting, and there’s that sense of terroir that comes out of it from growing the local orchards, the local apples. It’s a very traditional cider growing region that Tom will tell us about, cider variety apple growing region.

CARBONE: We’ve seen big changes in New York City, the last two years we’ve had Cider Week New York, and at my place—Jimmy’s No. 43—we’re selling more cider than wine now. Also there’s a connection to agriculture we’re really trying to represent the cidermakers who grow their own apples. And we know some cidermakers in New York who also grow grapes and make wine, and they’re making cider. So Tom, I know you fall into that category. Tell us a little bit about—this is a family business, it goes way back—tell us about Oliver’s.

OLIVER: Cider’s been made on the farm through the last three centuries. This particular moment in time, I think we see cider as probably having the brightest future that it’s ever had. Because the interest is not just from the diehard cider drinker, but younger people now are switching on to the possibility that cider definitely offers them something that’s special. And this in turn is meaning that we can make better ciders because there’s more purpose. So we’ve taken it from being a farm gate—just whoever turns up with any old container you’ll fill it—in the last 15 years, the whole thing’s turned around in the UK. And I think that’s spreading around the world now.

CARBONE: So growing up, your father was making cider and wine?

OLIVER: Yep, my dad was more a fruit wine maker. My granddad made cider. And my granddad made cider because it was demanded—the workforce enjoyed the cider in the summer when they were making hay. You know you sweat a lot, you need to replace the fluids, and cider was a good, healthy way of doing it. But these things have to move on, and you can no longer do that.

CARBONE: We have another guest here. Tony Forder, he’s the editor of Ale Street News, one of the leading American craft beer magazines. So Tony you’re from England as well, tell us a little bit about the cider culture in England.

TONY FORDER: Yeah, I can tell you a little bit, Jimmy. I’m from Sussex, and the first time I ever got drunk was when some friends of mine stole some cider from the neighboring woodyard when I was 13 years [old], and it was quite an introduction to cider! It’s really a great alternative to beer, I find it really refreshing as sort of an apertif kind of thing, or a daytime drink. But it’s very popular all over England.

CARBONE: Tom, tell us more about the cider culture in England.

OLIVER: There’s always been your diehard cider drinker who would drink the still, dry ciders that are the way that the apple, when it’s fully fermented, will give you this dry, still cider. But nowadays, they’re able to sparkle ciders, carbonate them, introduce some sweetness, and so they have a real appeal across the board. From the dry, wine drinker to the younger person who wants a little bit of sweetness and a little bit of fizz. And this gives you just such a breadth of choice for cider. This cider that you’re trying here—this Gold Rush—this was the cider that Greg Hall and myself made together. It’s the first transatlantic linkup in terms of cider. It’s a full bittersweet cider made with the classic cider apples like Yarlington Mill and Dabinett that grow in the orchards of Herefordshire and down in Somerset and Devon and all the cider growing—apple growing—counties of England. It’s got some bitterness, it’s got some dryness, it’s got some astringency, it’s got sort of a barnyard-y farm-y feel to it too. Got a nice apple-y sweetness to it, and a little bit of that acid giving you some zing to it. So it’s a big, full drink. And this is the sort of drink that really represents what bittersweet cider apples can give you. Some people love it, some people are a little bit put off by it, but we’re very pleased to say a couple of weeks ago at GLINTCAP, which is the Great Lakes Cider & Perry Competition, there were two ciders that were awarded gold medals in the English Cider section, and this was one of them.

CARBONE: Was that in America or in England?

OLIVER: That was in America, at the Great Lakes…

FORDER: Greg Hall of course is the former Goose Island brewer who is now into cider.

CARBONE: Is that a new thing, the Great Lakes Cider and Perry…?

OLIVER: They’ve been going for at least eight years, and I’m sure someone will correct me on that. But they had over 450 entries this year, which was double the entries from previous years. It was a great example of just how much cider is now being made at a craft level in America. And how the interest is growing. It’s fantastic, the choice now is exploding. I think that’s the great thing that you get with cider, is choice. And it’s up to you to make the choice of what you like.

CARBONE: There’s so many styles. Another guest here today, it’s Clint Carter from Men’s Health. He just put together a really awesome beer piece in the magazine. Clint, do you guys get to taste a lot of ciders in the course of your magazine work?

CLINT CARTER: Yeah, we do taste some ciders. But I’ll say that I haven’t had this Gold Rush. And this is excellent, I love this. It’s got a lot of the things that I like in a good saison, that dryness, a little bit spicy. I’m certainly interested in exploring more. I’m kind of a diehard beer drinker, but anything that I can taste that tastes as good as this, I’m interested in drinking more of.

CARBONE: I definitely feel like that for us, the last couple years in New York, with Cider Week New York, we’ve been exposed to a lot more traditional ciders. Whether they’re from Asturias in Spain where it’s super funky and tart, or your interesting English ales—I mean ciders, I’m thinking beer in my head you know! Let’s raise our glasses to you, Tom! What I want to talk more about…just tell us about your day, and your life. You grew up on a farm, and you’ve been part of this cycle of agriculture, and you’re making alcohol, this is going back how many years, hundreds of years?

OLIVER: It is, but of course I can only really talk about my time, the small amount of time I’ve been here. And what’s happened for us is on the farm, we were for all my youth hop growers as well. And hops, which is a main ingredient in beer which is so close to everybody’s heart here, I was hoping that hops would sustain us. [Sound from uncorked bottle.] Beautiful pop from one of those bottle conditioned ciders there. That hops would be the main cash crop for the farm. But in 1999 this ceased to be. And so what happened is we had to work out…diversification is the name of the game in agriculture on small farms in the UK. And one of the options for us was to take the cider and perry make it into a larger—I use the word commercial concern—but I think that’s almost laughable. I don’t make cider as a commercial concern, first and foremost is I try to make cider that is the best. And then from there I hope I can make it a great commercial concern. But I want to make the best cider, that’s the point of doing it.

CARBONE: BR, so…for example, the Gold Rush, which is the collaboration with Greg Hall and Tom Oliver, where in America, what cities can you get this in?

ROLYA: Well that opens up the can of worms of distribution in the US. But I would say in most of the major cities you can get the Gold Rush as well as the other…

CARBONE: Chicago?

ROLYA: Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia certainly. We came into cider, cider was part of our portfolio before I began with the company. But a lot of us didn’t know that much about cider. Lauren Shepherd is our cider expert, she’s out in Colorado, and she’s the one who deals with Tom on a day to day basis. But he’s also introduced us to some other fantastic UK cidermakers including Hogan’s ciders and also we have Henney’s, we have several cidermakers from…

CARBONE: I’ve had the Henney’s, and I think we’ve got Hogan’s in, we’re going to have a tasting.

OLIVER: Yes, we are.

CARBONE: If anyone’s in New York City, 7:30 tonight at Jimmy’s No. 43. Tom Oliver is going to give a tasting of ciders.

ROLYA: We also have a few from North America. We’ve got West County from Western Massachusetts, AeppelTreow from Wisconsin. And we started recently bringing in a Normandy cider—du Perche—from L’Hermitiére.

CARBONE: Joel, how does this work for you? You’re one of the Shelton Brothers, you get to do all these fun things…beer, of course! Do you get engaged in any of the cider events or with the cidermakers?

JOEL SHELTON: Whenever I have a chance. We’ve been talking about cider on our show a lot. We admit—the Shelton Brothers that is, most of our employees—is we don’t really know enough about it. And we’re learning as we import, which is a good way to learn, because you get free cider! I’ve actually learned as much about it today as I have in all the time previous, just being with Tom and hearing about it. We deal with so much beer that we don’t even, we have so many small breweries and we’re just getting into cider. And Lauren, as mentioned before—Lauren, our representative in Colorado—is the expert, she’s been pushing us to appreciate cider. And we make fun of her, just because it’s fun to pick on a girl.

ROLYA: Hey!

SHELTON: We don’t pick on BR.

CARBONE: You can’t pick on BR.

SHELTON: We didn’t grow up with it, you know? None of us grew up with it. We drank beer as kids. Cider was juice when we were growing up. So we’ll have to learn about it. And Tom grew up with it, and he’s teaching us in the US that cider actually can get you feeling really good and can be as funky and as interesting and as complex as any good beer. And I think it’s going to start taking over a huge part of the alcohol market, honestly. We’re loving it, and it’s just a matter of time before we learn more about it. That’s true of the American people in general, and people everywhere else.

CARBONE: Tom, have you tried a number of American ciders?

OLIVER: I have. Not always the case, but I am a cider drinker. I make it, but I drink it, and I would much rather drink other people’s ciders than mine. So Farnum Hill I’m very familiar with, Steve Wood’s number of great ciders from there. Greg Hall’s ciders, I know RedStreak and I’m looking forward to Lapinette and The Mitten. And I try everywhere I go, if there’s a cider available, I’ll try it. The great thing about it is now that the whole approach to cider in America is a lot more ordered. In the UK, it’s still bound up in the traditions of the farm and it fits in with the season and the end of the year when you’ve got all the rest of the harvest in, yes, you’ll get the apples in and you’ll make cider and you’ll drink it. Whereas coming to America, I just see a lot more application of science, a lot more thought about it, and I’m really excited because I think the options for quality are fantastic. And without quality, you’re lost.

FORDER: I think that’s true. One development I think we’ve seen a lot is that the ciders that were available say five years ago, ten years ago, tend to be really on the sweeter side. And what we’ve seen in the last couple years is really a broadening of the whole category. Getting more traditional, drier ciders in the market. So there’s just, there’s a lot more availability on the traditional side.

ROLYA: And we’re lucky here in New York in terms that we have the Hudson Valley just up north. And a lot of those cidermakers are combining both, they’re focusing either on a British cider tradition or a French cider tradition or combining the two or doing something completely different. There’s a really nice range we can get here in New York City, we’re fairly lucky being in an apple growing region.

CARBONE: All right! We’re going to take a short break, we’ll back in a few minutes to talk more about cider with Tom Oliver on Beer Sessions Radio.

Greg Hall of Virtue Cider: Interview Transcript

The guys at Aleheads have posted a podcast featuring an interview with Greg Hall of Virtue Cider. Hall is the former brewmaster at craft brewing pioneer Goose Island and is bringing his vast experience from the craft beer world to the craft cider world. There’s much of interest in the 40-minute interview, particularly Hall’s desire to release many different styles of cider based on the various English, French, Spanish, and New World cidermaking traditions.

I agree with Hall’s vision for craft cider and believe that Virtue has a nice blueprint for success in the American market, but I’m interested to hear other viewpoints. Please start the conversation by leaving a comment! (If there are any obvious errors in the transcript, please let me know so I can fix them.)

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Aleheads: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Aleheads podcast. I’m your host Slouch Sixpack. And today I’m delighted to be joined with a true craft beer pioneer and legend, Greg Hall, former brewmaster at Goose Island. His latest venture is Virtue Cider. They’re looking to produce heirloom apple ciders using modern craft fermentation and aging techniques. Greg, welcome to the show!

Greg Hall: Hey, thanks a lot! Thanks for having me on.

Aleheads: Well I’ve been following the story of Virtue pretty closely ever since it was announced. There was a recent announcement that you’re coming out with an initial offering called RedStreak. Is this going to be the flagship cider for Virtue?

Greg Hall: This is going to be our first one. This year, because of the turnaround from leaving Goose Island until the apple harvest season was only a few months, so we didn’t have time to get our facility up and running. So we are partnering with a winemaker in southwest Michigan [St. Julian] who is making our cider this year. And in the future we’ll be doing that at our own facility. But with that in mind, we thought it would be best to stick to one to start with. So we’re making an English-style, kind of a farmhouse-style cider. My experience in traveling England and trying a bunch of wonderful ciders there…it’s going to have some English varieties and some nice acidity and also a little bit of tannin. And that’s called RedStreak.

Aleheads: In the development of this particular recipe, have you found that designing—or coming up with a cider offering—is more akin to what you experience making beers with Goose Island, or is the reliance on having to source fruit…is making cider more similar to wine?

Greg Hall: Well, I’ve never made wine, so I can’t speak to that. Of course there’s obviously similarities. But I approached it like we’ve been doing making beer at Goose, where we just try to control as many different variables as possible. And use different apples and different levels of ripeness and different yeast varieties and different temperatures—and all those different things to really influence different flavors in the cider. We actually started off with about 24 different varieties that we tested and 18 different yeast strains, and boiled that down to five apples we really liked and three different yeast strains. So we did three separate fermentations and blended those together and are aging some of that in wood. So we’re trying to develop the complexity that you get in a native-fermented cider, one that’s fermented with yeast that’s native to the orchard. And do that by crossing different yeast strains rather than relying on one strain. And we think we’re getting pretty close.

Aleheads: So there’s going to be five different apple varieties in the RedStreak. And I’ve read that cider apples have almost no utility for consumption, just eating, that they just don’t taste good. How have you been able to get a hold of enough apples to be able to get this thing going?

Greg Hall: Well, one of the things that worked out really strongly in our favor is the fact that we’re making our cider in Michigan. And we relied on a lot of Michigan apples and some Illinois apples as well. But the big apple farmers typically are growing the varieties that you’ll find in most supermarkets all over the country. And if you go to a supermarket in Washington state or Washington, D.C. or Los Angeles or rural Kansas, you’re going to get the same varieties everywhere, about nine varieties. So the big commercial apple growers grow mostly those. But in Michigan there are still over a thousand family farmers growing apples. So a lot of those are multi-generational, and they’re growing apples that their great-grandfathers were growing. So they’ve got some of those older varieties still growing in Michigan.

And then we’ve got a nice partnership with a farmer in the Chicago area, about 40-50 miles outside of town, called Nichols Farm. And he grows a bunch of heirloom varieties that we tried a bunch of. And one we decided to use a lot of is called Cox’s Orange Pippin, which is an old English variety. And it contributes a nice acidity and some tannin—it’s actually a pretty good eating apple, too. You don’t see a lot of them, so we got as many as we could, we got about 20,000 pounds of those. It turned into a pretty good cider.

Aleheads: Are there really any examples of ciders that are available to consumers in the US right now that are similar to what you’re doing? Or is nobody in the country really making cider the way that Virtue intends to?

Greg Hall: Well, I think we’re going to go about it a little bit differently, but there’s really a lot of great cider in the US. Typically it’s pretty small producers. Theirs might be local or regional—some of these guys are really sub-regional. This guy up in northern Michigan named Dan Young who’s got a company called Tandem Ciders, and he makes fantastic cider. But they really only sell it in one county. And then there’s Farnum Hill from Lebanon, New Hampshire. They make some great ciders that are starting to get out there on the East Coast. Steve Wood makes that cider, and he grows all his own apples—so when they run out of apples, they can’t really make any more cider. There’s other people like that. Diane Flynt down at Foggy Ridge in the western part of the state of Virginia, she makes terrific cider with some heirloom varieties, and they’re really great ciders. But you’ve got to be in the neighborhood to get them. And what I thought was, there’s an opportunity to make these real traditional ciders and give them a little bit broader audience. And that’s what we’re trying to do with Virtue.

Aleheads: Of course from your work with Goose Island…when did you become head brewer there? Mid or early ’90s, or before that?

Greg Hall: I think it was ’91 or ’92. I think it was ’92 when our first brewer left…it was so long ago it’s hard to recall. But I started working there in ’88, I went through Siebel in ’89, and then I took over in either ’91 or ’92. Back then, the craft beer world was a lot like the cider world today. There were some good brands scattered around the US, but if you went to most bars or most restaurants or stores, there wasn’t a whole lot of availability.

Aleheads: Yeah, I was thinking about that sort of natural similarity, where the craft beer world now, of course we’re approaching—or maybe we’ve actually hit—2,000 craft brewers in the country, it’s just impossible for everyone to know each other. But I guess in the world of cider—as you say, there’s only handfuls of really small, sub-regional kinds of ciderists out there—so it must be exciting to getting into a second fermented beverage at this kind of state in its history in the US.

Greg Hall: Yeah, it is a lot of fun. There was actually a craft cider conference in Chicago just a couple weeks ago. And there were probably a little over a hundred people in for that. And I got to meet a lot of cidermakers that I hadn’t met before from all over the country. And we talked a lot about growing pains. And people asked me a lot of questions, because I’d kind of gone through that with the beer side. And one of the fun guys I got to catch up with is Brad Page, who’s at Colorado Cider Company. And he was one of the early brewers at Wynkoop when they first opened back in ’88. So I think we were both at our first craft beer conference in Chicago in 1988, and it was about the same size as the craft cider conference. But that was a long time ago.

Aleheads: I grew up in southeastern Michigan, and the economic challenges that that state has faced over the past couple decades with the auto industry moving out is pretty well known. So it’s exciting to see—obviously, there’s lots of strong craft brewing in Michigan with companies like Bell’s and Founders and tons and tons more. But I’m excited to see that it looks like Michigan’s going to be part of this cider revival as well. Did Virtue purchase some land in Michigan, southwest Michigan I believe?

Greg Hall: We’ve got some land we’ve identified, we’ve got an offer into the bank, they’re reviewing the offer, and we hope to be announcing something in the next few weeks. But we’re looking at southwest Michigan—I bought a house up there—so I’m kind of going back and forth between that area and Chicago right now. It’s only a couple hours away, so it’s not too bad—the commute to go up there for a few days a week and then come back. But Michigan’s a great apple state, with all those different apple farmers.

One of the things that I really loved about the brewing world was the two or three days a year I got to go out and meet hop farmers, and go out on the hop farms. The only thing I didn’t like was it was only two or three days a year. Making cider, I’m three miles away from one of our apple growers. So I’ve been sleeping in his orchard [?] for the last seven or eight years. So it’s really fun to be around the farmers and the trees all the time, instead of just a couple times a year.

And I think that’s going to be one of the really cool things about cider—craft cider in the next five or ten years in the US—is while there are local breweries in every market now, very few of them are able to get their malt or hops locally. Unless you’re in the Northwest, it’s hard to do. But there are local cidermakers in many different states that are using local apples. So the whole local thing—drink local—it’s not just made locally, it’s actually grown locally. And I think that is really going to excite a lot of people. Because the apples are different based on where you’re growing them, you’ll have all sorts of different ciders from all over the country. That’ll be a lot of fun.

Aleheads: That is an interesting aspect of this. There’s tons of excellent breweries all over the East Coast, but they’re all dependent on malthouses primarily west of the Mississippi, and primarily hops grown in the Pacific Northwest. Despite the fact that local breweries have this connection with the community and it’s made right there, there’s a little bit of a disconnect in the ingredients. We’re starting to see some hop growing in New York, and I think they’re doing some stuff in North Carolina and other areas. But there is that disconnect that doesn’t necessarily exist with cider. Tell us about—you spent some time in Europe—can you tell us about some of your experiences with cidermakers over there and the way that cider is viewed culturally in different countries in Europe?

Greg Hall: Sure. It’s a whole different ballgame over there. It’s been part of the tradition of drinking, really as long as beer has, or wine in many of these cultures. Depending on the region, it can be anywhere—like in England, it’s about 15% of the beer market. And if you go the West Country—counties like Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, and Somerset—it might be half of the beer market. So it’s part of everybody’s everyday life. You’ll go in and they’ll have as many ciders on tap sometimes as beers. Wales, too. And then when you go to Normandy, it’s kind of the same thing in France. Normandy and Brittany there, you are driving around and there are cidermakers every couple miles. And a lot of them over there are very small—and they’re family cidermakers—so they grow their own apples, they produce their cider right there, and then the only place you can get it is right there on the farm. So there is surprising variation from one farm to the next, even when they are almost adjacent to each other.

But it shows the different techniques of cidermaking, just controling one or two variables can really change the cider quite a bit. And that was something that was really interesting for me in getting into it. I was a little worried when I was thinking about doing cider that I wouldn’t have the flexibility that I had in beer. With beer, you can make anything from a kölsch beer to a barrel-aged imperial stout, and they are as different as you can imagine them being. And I thought, boy, with cider it’s just going to be apples, how am I going to make apples taste different? And it turns out, between not only different apple varieties but different yeast strains and different milling and aging techniques, there’s lots of different things you can do to really change one cider from another. There’s a lot of variables in there. Just all the test ciders that we did over the autumn here in Chicago, we came up with all these different flavors, it was a lot of fun. I can’t wait to have a bigger facility so I can really play with the different things.

Aleheads: It’s my understanding, at least in England, that in some ways cider is very much a working person’s drink. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily always the case, but that seems to be what I’ve heard. And when you were at Goose Island, part of your philosophy seemed to be to present the idea that beer could be complex and could pair with foods in the way that wine does. Trying to elevate it to wine status, especially with your barrel-aged beers and some of your wild beers and things like that in the large bottle format. Have you given thought as to how you’re trying to present craft cider to a population that doesn’t have that kind of cultural understanding or preconceptions about what cider is? And how are you trying to present it—I assume the crossover is going to be with a lot of people that like craft beer, and trying to introduce them to craft cider—and how are you trying to get them interested and present cider as a product?

Greg Hall: I think there’s a couple things there. One is, like you say, in England a lot of people over there view it as kind of a working class drink. And there are some low-priced ciders that are more on the sweet side than the tart or high-tannin side, that might be used more as an alcohol delivery device than a refreshing alcoholic delivery device rather than something that really enhances a meal. But I think when you get into the West Country, again, the places where there’s the small cidermakers, people really treat it with a lot more respect. And they’re drinking stuff for the complexity and the flavor and the local character, rather than just to get a buzz on. It’s the same way it was, again, with beer 25 years ago, is we have to do a little bit of a job of educating—everybody from the distributor, the wholesaler, down to the retailer, and finally the drinker about how cider can be a little bit different than what they expect.

And one of the things just in the US is there’s a lot of people that don’t realize that cider is a fermented beverage. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve told I’m getting into the cider business, and they’re like ‘Oh, we love—my kids love juice boxes. That’s great!’ And I’m like, ‘Well, that’s not what we’re doing. That’s apple juice, we’re not making apple juice, we’re making cider!’ And I think just about everywhere else in the world, cider or cidre or whatever they call it locally is fermented and apple juice is unfermented. But here, I don’t know the roots of that—people think of cider as a sweet, unfiltered apple drink you have in the fall. [Commercial cidermaking became illegal during Prohibition and farmers had to get creative with semantics to sell the juice.] And that’s great, too, but we will have to do some education.

I think it’s a lot different than it was in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Because back then, finding someone who was really into beer—maybe Belgian beers or English ales—it was very hard to find people like that. Not as many people traveled, you didn’t really have the whole Internet thing and BeerAdvocate and all these wonderful resources like yourself to educate people. You had to basically go find an out-of-publication Michael Jackson book, The World Guide to Beer. I think every brewer in America had The World Guide to Beer back in the late ’80s and early ’90s. And that’s the only way you could find out about other beers, that was it! Today it’s really easy to disseminate information, so it’s a little bit different time. And people, because they expect so much from beer now, I think it’ll be really easy to transition them into putting cider in their repertoire. We don’t expect anyone’s going to drop beer or drop wine and only drink cider. But we think there’s an opportunity to get people to add it to the list of things they drink. And it works well on many occasions. It can be very refreshing and then, as you were alluding to, it’s a fantastic pairing with food.

I remember back in the mid-’90s when Goose Island first started bottling and distributing. And I’d go into some of my favorite restaurants and I’d ask the chefs—who I’m used to see coming into our brewpub—why don’t you guys carry our beer? And they’d say, well, we’re a nice restaurant, we really sell mostly wine…I like your beer, I drink it at home, it’s just that our customers #1 prefer wine and #2 we already have Heineken and Amstel, so we’ve already got both kinds of beer. And that was a typical response in the mid-’90s. And then in the decade that followed, when chefs in restaurants started putting beers on, maybe do beers they liked to drink and put those on. And some of these wonderful hop bombs—and I’m as much a hophead as anybody—they’re delicious to drink, but they really don’t work so well with food. And what I found is a lot of chefs would try stuff and then they’d say, well you know this beer’s really good, but I can’t really have my staff recommend pairing them with their dishes. We want something that has lower bitterness and higher acidity, and just a little bit of tannin. And you look at cider, and it has exactly that.

So when we at Goose came out with beers like Matilda and Sofie and then into things like Madame Rose and Juliet, we were kind of going to what the chefs were asking for as far as food pairings. And I think we’ve been very successful at Goose making beers that work really well with food. And there are a lot of other brewers doing that same thing, too. Rob Tod [Allagash] for instance, his beers go great with food. And a lot of Garrett Oliver‘s especially—a lot of his cork-and-cage things he’s making out of Brooklyn—are great with food because they kind of offer a little bit more acidity and not quite as much tannin, and then really the complexity that a fine wine would have. I look at cider and I say boy, it’s got no hops and no bitterness, it’s got a little bit of tannin depending on how much you want to put in there, and it’s got a lot more acidity than anything but a lambic would have, and it’s right up the alley of what chefs are looking for to pair with their food. And on top of that, it’s really nice, especially nice, with cheese. I’m actually doing a class at Murray’s Cheese on Bleecker in the West Village in New York Thursday night, pairing both beer and cider with cheese. You talk to the people at Murray’s, they’ll tell you that both beer and cider are much better pairings with cheese than wine is. So I think we’ve come a long way in the last 20 years.

Aleheads: One of the trends or truisms that people talk about in the craft beer world is that “sour is the new hoppy”. People have certainly acclimated to hoppy beers and IPAs and Double IPAs are tremendously popular. It seems to be no matter where you are it’s these sour beers and you said it—Matilda and Sofie and beers like that—that are almost impossible to make enough of because they’re labor-intensive and expensive and they require the barrels and all of this. It seems like there’s a market for ciders with the same acidity—it’s not necessarily the same drink—but it has probably more in common, I would think—some of these ciders you’re talking about—might have more in common with a sour beer like Sofie or something like that than they would with a Double IPA or something like that. It almost seems like a market of drinker who appreciates or enjoys sour or funky beers might be people that’d be interested in trying ciders like the ones Virtue’s going to be making.

Greg Hall: Yeah, absolutely. That’s me you’re talking about. We’ve been saying—I think we’ve been probably one of the first five or ten breweries saying that sour is the new hoppy—we’ve been saying that for about five years. And it’s maybe taken a little bit longer to get into the mainstream, but beers with acidity—whether you’re talking something really sour like the stuff out of Cascade out in Portland or some of the really tart lambics or the stuff like Rodenbach. You know, those beers are starting to really gain some mainstream momentum because they’re so quenching and they have such depth of character. And they’re still good with food, they really enhance so many different types of dishes. And I do believe it’s a great opportunity with cider to do the exact same thing.

Most cider apples, you press apples and you measure the pH of the juice. We’ve gotten anything from about 2.8 pH all the way up to 4.2, 4.4. Most of the stuff we’ve pressed was in the 3.2 to 3.6 range. So it’s already very acidic when it’s just coming straight out of the apple. So it’s a great, great start for making a tart beverage. And then depending on the type of microflora you introduce—if you want to do something like they do in northern Spain in the Basque region or Asturias, and go with a full malolactic fermentation—you can get some real nice acidity that I think there’s really nothing more quenching on a hot summer day than an [unclear] or one of the wonderful Spanish ciders. And I look forward to making ciders like that, too.

That’s one of the cool things—back in the late ’80s, early ’90s, you’d go over to England or Germany or Belgium, and everybody had their own beer traditions. They didn’t overlap at all. There were no hefeweizens made in the UK, and there was really nothing very hoppy other than just a few examples in Germany that I can remember. There wasn’t a lot of crossover. And then you had brewers in America making pilsners and IPAs and brown ales and Belgian ales, all out of one brewery. And that was unheard of anywhere else in the world at the time. And I look at cider and it’s the same kind of traditions. You go to England—I actually took a cidermaking class in England—and the guy (who I won’t name), but the instructor in the cidermaking class, he’s like ‘Those French ciders are all real mousy. They’re dirty, they don’t have clean fermentations. And then the Spanish stuff is lactic, it’s terrible.’ And I look at that and I say, boy these are just different styles. As a cidermaker, I want to make French cider and English cider and Spanish cider and some New World ciders too. I’m sure there’s people doing that, but as I said, they’re so small I haven’t even found them yet in the US. There will be a lot of that.

I have had a great French-style cider from a place called EZ Orchards in Salem, Oregon. And they’ve got a website, but they’re really tiny, I don’t think you can get them outside of Oregon, I’m not sure yet. I’m excited to go out there next month and visit them and try their cider. But they’re making really great French-style cider out in Oregon. And then there’s people like Wandering Aengus making some really traditional English ciders out there. I haven’t had any American Spanish-style ciders yet, but I’m sure there’s somebody out there doing it. We’re going to be one of them in the next couple years, and it’s exciting.

Aleheads: When is RedStreak going to be available and how wide an initial distribution are you going to have?

Greg Hall: Our first year, our first season last fall, we bought almost 300,000 pounds of apples, which seems like a lot of apples…and it is, it’s probably about a million apples. And pressed those. One of the things that’s different about beer and cider is you’ve got a pretty short season to make cider. If you’re using fresh apples, you can start pressing maybe in September and you’re done by early January. That’s where we were at, so we had a limited amount of cider we could make this year. So we’re going to be really focusing on just a few markets. Of course, the Chicago market, just because this is where I’ve lived for most of my life and have a lot of friends here and a lot of contacts, so we’ll kick it off here. We’re also going to do a little bit in southwest Michigan. And I’ve got some friends in New York who have promised to help me out too, so we’re going to put a little bit in New York and see how that goes. And that’ll probably be it for 2012. And then we’ll be looking to add some markets in 2013 and years following.

We don’t plan on being the biggest cidermaker, the guys in Vermont—Woodchuck—do a real good job doing a nice mainstream cider that you can find in six-packs all over the country. And that’s really not the market we’re going towards, we’re going more for the draft and the cork-and-cage style stuff. But it’s really interesting of course with Crispin recently being purchased by MillerCoors, I think that’ll be great for the whole cider industry, the category. You’ll get people who, again, think of cider as something your kid drinks around Halloween, you’ll bring a lot more people into the category. They make some pretty cool stuff too. I know Bruce has been fairly innovative with using different yeast strains and doing some barrel aging, and I think that’s going to be great for cider. You’re going to get other people opening things up a little bit. With Crispin’s leading [?] with MillerCoors, I’m sure they’re going to try to put a Crispin handle next to every Blue Moon handle in the country in the next few years.

Aleheads: Yeah, I don’t doubt that. I’ve read an article in Time Out Chicago that you were featured in, and you talked about—I guess I’d call it a criticism of Crispin—in the use of some extra additives, I think they use apple juice concentrate for sweetening at the end and some other sort of additives. Do you see that as a real problem like the end product isn’t good for cider as a whole? It sounds like right now you feel positive about the move.

Greg Hall: Here’s what I feel. I feel like there’s—just like beer—there are adjunct beers and there are all-malt beers, and they’re all beer and they’re for different drinkers. The people that drink adjunct beers aren’t bad people because they drink adjunct beers, and there’s a heck of a lot of those people. I look at cider in kind of the same boat. If you’re really going to get big in cider, it’s hard to do with fresh apples. And I guess, now that I know what Crispin was trying to do, they probably had a plan to grow pretty big and have recipes that they could recreate on a much, much larger scale. And it was smart to go with apple juice concentrate as their primary sugar for a lot of their ciders, because you can use apple juice concentrate year round. Does it make the same quality that you get with fresh apples? It’s a different quality. Some people like it better. You could certainly argue that most people like it better. Just like most people like adjunct beers better.

Again, it’s good for the category to have somebody like that—even when they are making apple juice concentrate ciders—they’re also playing with different yeasts and playing with barrels and all sorts of cool stuff. And they do make some fresh apple ciders. I don’t know what their mix is, but they probably do a little of both, and they’ll probably—if they’re going to get as big as I’m sure the people at Tenth and Blake want them to get—it’s not going to be 100% fresh apples. It’s going to be hard to do that and make cider year round. It’s kind of like fresh hopped beer, everybody’s had a fresh hopped beer, probably, that listens to your show. And those can be pretty spectacular. But you can’t make a whole lot of those. Cider is going to be kind of the same way. We’re going to see what we can do and we’re going to do our best job with fresh apples. What we’re about is not just making great ciders, but also supporting the local apple growers and keeping them growing apples for another generation or two. If we can do that, we feel like we’re on the good side of things. We’re going to really push that.

Aleheads: It sounds like you’re committed to the idea of classic ciders from various regions in Europe and New World ciders. But I know from your work with Goose Island that you’re always looking to push the envelope—try new things and see what happens. I think you had made some mention about putting some of the initial batches of RedStreak in barrels. Are there any other kinds of experiments that you could talk about…it might even just be a pipe dream at this point, something you’re thinking about doing?

Greg Hall: I only wish we had the apples and the time and the space to do everything we’ve talked about doing. And we will, we will soon. But there’s so many different things you can do. And we just keep thinking of more and more things. One of our cidermakers here, Brian, did a cider with some lager yeast. I didn’t expect that would be that good, but it was super clean and it was very tasty, really let the apple shine through really well. There’s all sorts of different yeast strains you can use. As I think I said earlier, we tried about 18 different yeast strains, and once we found about seven that we liked, we tried those with all sorts of different apple varieties. Just like with beer, it imparts completely different flavors. And then you take two of those different flavors and you blend them together and you get another flavor, and you start adding on layers of complexity. So just with nothing but apples and yeast, I think we could probably make 50 different ciders. And I’m pretty excited about that.

Aleheads: Obviously with different yeasts there’s going to be different fermentation times. My understanding of some of the traditional styles is that it’s quite a bit longer fermentation time than with most ale yeasts for example. How long does it take to turn around this first batch of RedStreak, roughly?

Greg Hall: Well, from pressing until serving, about four months. We feel pretty good about that length of time. Certainly you put yeast into freshly pressed apple juice, you put enough yeast in and you let it ferment at a high temperature, you can be done in three days, it’ll ferment super fast. Will it make the kind of cider you want to make? Well, it depends on what you want to make. I think that’s just another variable in the process. And by fermenting at a lower temperature with a lower concentration of yeast, we’re able to see some pretty cool things that we’re already finding are different than a lot of the stuff that’s out there right now.

Aleheads: There’s a small ciderhouse—I’m in Pittsburgh—called Arsenal Cider. And one of the products that they offer is—I think they call it IPC or India Pale Cider or something like that. It’s a mildly hopped cider. I just bottled a batch of homebrew that—a recipe that I’d found on a HomeBrewTalk  forum [perhaps this thread]—that’s sort of a hybrid between beer and cider [graff]. You make a wort with some crystal malt and add unpasteurized apple juice and then add an English ale yeast to it. And it turns around really quickly and you use a small amount of low alpha acid bittering hops. And it came out with a pretty interesting thing. Have you thought about any beer/cider hybrids considering the vast knowlege you have about making beer?

Greg Hall: You know, I would say, have I considered it? Very quickly. But we’re not planning on doing stuff like that. Just because right now I look at all the different options I have really with solely those two ingredients: apples and yeast. If we can do 50 different ciders with those two, and then start going from there, that’s going to give me enough flexibility to do a lot of cool stuff. We actually did have some hopped ciders a couple weeks ago at the conference—actually Brad Page from Colorado Cider Company who was the guy who worked at Wynkoop before—he made a hopped cider [Grasshop-ah] that was pretty tasty, it had some lemongrass in there too. There’s going to be a lot of that I think, and I think that’s really cool. That’s probably not where we’re going to land. We’ll get flavors from the fruit and the yeast and then from the barrel. I don’t think we’ll disappoint you with the lot of varieties we’ll come out with, that’ll be a lot.

Aleheads: I’m not worried about that all, I was just curious! Greg, thanks so much for coming on, I know you’ve got to run. You’ve been very generous with your time and we definitely learned a lot and we’re looking forward to trying Virtue Cider’s initial offering, it’s going to be RedStreak. Any other upcoming events you want to promote or anything you want our listeners to know?

Greg Hall: What I would ask the listeners to do is go out and find your local cidermaker and support them. The more support they get, the more apples they’ll be able to buy next year, and make some more cider. I think we’re going to see a great cider renaissance in this country.

Aleheads: Fantastic. For anybody who wants to learn more about Virtue Cider, you can find them on the web at virtuecider.com. There’s Twitter @VirtueCider, they’re on Facebook as well, and we’ll provide links to the post. Greg, thanks so much.

And for Greg Hall, this has been Slouch Sixpack saying good night and good drunk.

Greg Hall: Thanks, cheers!