Thursday, August 22, 2013

Blurring the Line Between Craft Brewing and Cider -Bad Seed Cider Lights Up the Industry (HV)

Every once in a while you meet some people who have struck a completely different chord, and you think to yourself, “Why didn’t think of that?” This is such a story. This is the story of two brewers stuck inside cidermaker bodies.
Back in April, I bounded out of the office at lunch time, in an effort to enjoy an absolutely perfect spring day. I was on my own, as no one from my office was available to join me. I wasn‘t so unhappy about that. I was in an exploring mood, and when that happens I can move pretty damn fast for a fat man. I am a fast walker. And I got myself down to Union Square Greenmarket that April afternoon, to see what vendors might be there, and to sample something different.

My large, fast strides were happily rewarded – among the rows of stands, flush with flowers, cheeses, baked goods, and farm raised meats, was a new stand – Bad Seed Cider. There, I met, at a well-marked tent/stand Albert Wikilow and his wife. Albert Wilklow, 30, and Devin Britton, 29, started Bad Seed Cider on January 1, 2011, using from Wilklow Orchards, in the Historic Hudson River Valley. 

In the Hudson Valley the 1700’s and 1800’s there were more cidery’s than breweries. The owners osit that its more likely Samuel Adams would have been seen drinking Cider in a pub than a glass of Beer. Before prohibition the fermented juice of apples (called simply cider) was the most popular beverage in America with estimated per capita consumption as high as one barrel per year. In fact in temperate regions such as Ireland, England, Northern France and Northern Spain, cider is still a popular alcoholic beverage.

The two, who have been friends since high school and crafted their first batches of cider in an apartment they shared, planned their entrance into the cider market. Both maintain their day jobs, then make the cider on nights and weekends. Currently, they use Wilklow Orchard facilities for their production, which includes everything from sterilizing bottles, fermenting and aging seven varieties of cider, as well as filling, capping and bottle conditioning.

So far, it’s been far from glamorous. “You really are 90 percent dishwasher,” said Wilklow.

But the dishwashing is a small part of their business strategy: They reinvest profits into the company. This approach, in addition to testing product with friends, selling it to a wide audience at the greenmarkets, and listening to customer feedback have helped Bad Seed grow. “We can’t keep up with it,” Britton said.

The cider has been a hit since they started, and the two men have been chasing their success. According to an article in Ulster magazine, “As part of Bad Seed’s expansion into new markets, the two purchased a new bottling and labeling machine that cost as much as a “couple of nice trucks.” Its arrival by the end of the year should help the two distribute their product north to Albany, through the Hudson Valley, ending up in the five boroughs, and Long Island. This summer, they started selling four varieties of Bad Seed at Half Time Beverage in Poughkeepsie. They are also planning to sell kegs, and even wooden casks, to bars.”

Continued the piece, “And the company, which started out in a 425-square-foot production room, is ready for another phase. The two are preparing to build a facility next year at Wilklow Orchards. While it’s still in the planning stages, it could be as large as 8,500 square feet, with a windowed view into the production room. In one trip, visitors can see the orchards, meet the farmers and watch workers create the cider.”

“People want to see where it’s all coming from,” Britton told the magazine. “We want to be able to give really in-depth tours.”

That said, when I visited the tent, Wikilow told me all about their ciders, and I bought four bottles! I brought them home, and have been hooked ever since.

Ann Monroe wrote in the Winter 2013 issue Edible Brooklyn magazine, “The two are aiming not just at cider aficionados, but at craft beer and wine drinkers as well. A single bottle costs $8–$15, depending on the variety, because the ingredients are so expensive: Wilklow grows the apples and berries but must buy hops (they’ve planted some hop vines but they’re nowhere near ready for harvest), yeast ($200 worth in every 150-gallon tank) and new bourbon barrels for every batch of bourbon-aged cider. Not to mention the licenses (roughly $2,000 for two pieces of paper, Albert says) and a whole lot of labor, most of it undertaken after the two are done with their day jobs.”

I was immediately drawn in, because these guys weren’t letting tradition and convention hem them in. They were using Belgian yeasts and Bourbon barrels to make their ciders. Inventive, with great packaging. Very exciting stuff!!!

So I brought the bottle back to the farm, and started drinking. Here’s a few tasting notes and thoughts….

Bad Seed Dry is a 5.5% ABV cider. This is by their own admission a classic and relatively straightforward cider, very pale, straw yellow in color with large carbonation and little head. Big tart apples bound out of the glass. There’s a sour note very much like a Saison? The sweetness of the apples balances out with a lovely acidity, and a beautiful dry finish. Mild. Soft. Bright. Very drinkable.

Raspberry Reserve is an orange-pink-coral 5.1% ABV cider made with fresh apples and locally grown raspberries. You gotta love tasting notes that include this note about the sweetness on the nose: “reminded us of Jolly Ranchers or even Airhead candies.” The cider is a beautiful tart blend of green apple and bright, tart raspberries. Big, bright, and beautiful, its fabulous acidity makes this super refreshing and extremely quaffable.

Belgian Abbey Cider weighs in at a slightly heavier 6.2% ABV is a classic farmhouse cider. This is an elegant, old fashion straw colored cider that is absolutely closer to a sparkling wine. Earthy, with hints of forest floor or leather, this is a tart effervescent cider meant for drinking, yes, but could easily accompany a more sophisticated meal, or even a turkey with cornbread and oyster stuffing. It is impressive.

Belgian Witte Reserve is cider first brewed with orange peel, Coriander, and Hops then fermented with a Belgian beer yeast. Witte beer, also known as Wheat beer, is a beer that is brewed with a large proportion of wheat in addition to malted barley. I love wheat beers, and this was an instant favorite with me. A big, sour, hazy cider. So unique and different, I didn’t know what to make of it. I kept taking big sips, pondering it, and then taking more big sips. I kept trying to analyze it, but all I wanted to do was drink it!! I think that’s the best possible thing I could say about any beverage!! So unique and incredible. Loved it!!! 

Bourbon Barrel Reserve is a style that here-to-fore had been the provenance of craft brewers until recently. This is the biggest of the ciders I tried, weighing in at a decent 6.9% ABV. Its nothing compared to the many beers made in the same fashion which usually weigh in at BVS easily twice the ABV. Aged in oak barrels, the Bourbon Barrel Reserve cider has a golden, ginger ale-like color. Big whiffs of bourbon as are to be expected. The cider exhibits all the apple flavor you’d expect, but mixed with a ginger-beer quality blended with bourbon. A massively complex cider, with a great nose. Something uniquely different. You gotta try it!

I was confused for a long time. Most of the summer. But the more I thought about them, the more I thought about them! I’ve been editing a lot of beer books lately, (and cider books!) and so I was so incredibly intrigued by what these guys were doing. I love what these guys are doing! They have burred the line between cider and beer, and in the meantime are making some absolutely fascinating concoctions! And I am excited to see what they will come up with next. But you should not wait. Get out there and buy Bad Seed Cider. Bad Seed is one of the hottest ciders in the industry. You are missing something every second you wait!!!!

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