Friday, August 30, 2013

Beak & Skiff - Cider and Spirits With An Old-Fashioned Twist

So I was at the Finger Lakes Wine Festival when I saw this really cool looking stand. “What is that?” I asked myself. There were wine bottles and booze bottles. And a name I had never heard before….Beak & Skiff.

So I meandered over….and was I glad I did!
Their family owned orchard began in 1911 when George Skiff, an onion farmer on the North Side of Syracuse, and Charles Beak, a dairy farmer, met at the farmers market and decided it would be fruitful to join forces and enter the emerging apple business. They found that the hillside area along Route 20 provided the perfect conditions for growing apples and began planting that very year. During the 1920s and 30s Beak & Skiff began selling apples to grocery stores such as Victory, A&P and other small local grocers.
The 1930s brought some of the toughest years for American agriculture as drought swept across the nation. In 1937, the hardships struck close to home when it became so dry that all the trees in the orchard lost their leaves. The orchard once again fell on hard times in 1945 when a late spring freeze destroyed an entire crop of apples.

In 1949 they started to use heat to fight off frost by lighting smudge pots on cold spring mornings. Throughout the years they have continually improved their methods so that they have never lost an entire crop of apples again. They began using irrigation methods to keep the trees watered. Their increased production throughout the decade led to a need for larger apple boxes to store their harvests.
One of the challenges of growing apples in the valley is the tendency for cold air to settle. So in order to further protect the delicate apple blossoms that become apples they became the first orchard in the Northeast to use wind machines to move cold air out of their valley so it couldn't damage the blossoms. Over the years this innovative method has saved thousands of apples from being destroyed before they had a chance to grow. In the early 60s they added Controlled Atmosphere rooms so that apples could be stored longer.
In 1975 Beak & Skiff diversified from the strictly wholesale business of past years by opening their pick your own orchard on what has become known as Apple Hill. A few years later they converted an old dairy barn into the Apple Hill Country Store and bake shop. This has been one of their most successful ventures and has provided families in Central NY with a place to create wonderful family memories year after year. They first began making apple cider the same year they opened the country store.

In 2001 Beak & Skiff branched out again by creating a line of hard ciders. The success of their hard cider line led them to further jump into the spirits business with the launch of their small batch premium vodka and gin. Their 1911 Spirits brand was the first in Onondaga county to hold a distillery license and the first to produce gin.
They have been growing apples for more than 100 years. Every winter each one of their 250,000 trees is trimmed by hand. In the spring they bring in over 400 hives of bees to help pollinate their crop. In partnership with the Cornell extension, they grow over 15 varieties of apples on their land in the hills and valleys of LaFayette, NY. Now in their fifth generation they continue to make advancements and improvement in and around the orchard. In 2013 they planted almost 15,000 new trees and began renovating their apple hill.
OK, so let's talk cider.
1911 Hard Cider Light & Crisp is exactly what it says it is. It's like a glass of bright, tart apples, with brisk acidity and great apple flavor. Not too heavy, and not too sweet, this is an easy drinking cider. Very quaffable. Almost near sparkling wine - like Prosecco!

1911 Hard Cider Premium Small Batch is their standard bearer for the line. This is a touch more austere, a bigger, bolder flavor. A hint more sweetness. Excellent!

1911 Hard Cider Raspberry follows the trend of raspberry sweetened ciders. Of course, it's very good! The raspberries lend the hint of berry flavor that compliments the apple so well, and of course, their combined tartness, makes this a fabulous elixir!!! Wonderful!

I was a little spurious of the Blueberry, but my fears were allays once I tried it. Very nice nose on the blueberry. It actually smells like blueberries, and not blueberry extract. Very lovely. Nice touch. Prefer the raspberry, but for those who like blueberry, you will be thrilled.

1911 Hard Cider Sweet Apple was my guilty pleasure. I loved it. I know we're all supposed to be sitting here saying I like dry this, or dry that/ Sorry, this tasted like Martinelli's sparkling cider, but with booze in it. I absolutely loved it! It was sweet without being cloying. Smelled like a bowl of fresh cut tart apples, and had the acidity to balance the whole thing out. Fantastic!

Gala Apple Wine was the only still wine r cider of the tasting. This is a lovely, semi-dry apple wine, with a lovely nose of bright green apples, and a hint of sweetness to compliment the bright, zippy acidity. One of the best apple wines I have tried.

Beak & Skiff Distillery is the newest addition to Beak & Skiff Apple Farms located near LaFayette, N.Y.  In 2010 we commenced production on the ultimate apple spirit, vodka. The vodka was very nice. It had a very, very slight hint of apple, but was otherwise clean and dry, and complete. Very nice. But I was most impressed with the gin. The Gin was wonderful, with a big dollop of botanicals, and only a whisp of apple, this was a very, very nice gin, perfect for mixed drinks - still joneses for a G&T with this stuff - and for a very special Martini....especially a dirty one with this stuff. Really, really nice!

Beak & Skiff has retrenched it's look, and it's line in the 18 months or so. The design is just the right amount of retro - turn of the century, country store retro. I love it! It is fabulous all the way through. The design, the packaging, and the product are all of high quality, and their showing at Finger Lakes Wine Festival was an excellent idea. They have positioned themselves to be among the top cider makers in the marketplace beautifully, and their distilled product is nothing to be trifled with, also of high quality. Really great stuff, and excited to see what they come up with next! Fantastic!