Sparkling Apples

In mid-March New York Senator Charles Schumer gave a sparkling bump to the state’s resurging cider industry when he announced a proposal that would make selling hard cider made from New York apples much easier and less expensive for the producer. The CIDER (Cider, Investment & Development through Excise Tax Reduction) Act aims to modernize the definition for hard apple and pear cider to increase their allowed alcohol by volume from 7 percent to 8.5 percent, so the ciders can be labeled and taxed like hard cider, rather than wine. He would also like to change the effects of the “champagne” tax, which raises tariffs on alcoholic beverages with a certain level of carbonation. The apple-growing population of Schumer’s constituency produces the second most abundant supply of apples in the country. Currently hard cider is the only alcoholic beverage that can be sold in grocery stores and liquor stores. The market’s also being buoyed by a growing New York thirst for these crisp, fruit-tinged beverages, and a bumper crop of new producers upstate and down. Here on the East End, there are two new cider producers, one a farm and another a winery.

Bob Gammon looks comfortable in his Carhartt pants and vest. His hands are rugged like a farmer’s, but his face still expresses disbelief. “If you had told me I’d be peddling apples 15 years ago,” he says, “I’d never have believed you.”
But knee-deep in apples he is. He and his brother, Scott, have taken over what for his father was a retirement activity, Woodside Orchards, an apple farm with more than 6,000 dwarf apple trees of 29 varieties. And until two years ago, their living was made off U-pick and apple cider sold by the gallon for $7.
It was nice, being a short season and all, but kids go to college and the brothers started thinking about how to extend the season and generate more revenue. In a region where wineries line the road and there seems to be a new brewery every few months, hard cider was an obvious evolution.
It took two years to get the necessary licenses, and in 2012, Woodside offered its first batch for sale in their retail cider and donut stand on the Main Road in Aquebogue. The cider was for sale in growlers, the four-pint jugs used by the breweries, for $16; $12 for a refill. They sold out. Which meant winter 2012–2013 was a time for rethinking, renovating, perfecting and hoping that the consumers’ thirst for cider had yet to be slaked.
The stand is slated to open in mid-May and will sell a dry and a sweet cider; the brothers have plans to ship the cider in kegs to bars and restaurants. In the meantime, they’re still experimenting with different yeasts, consulting with local winemakers and brewers and finding out which combo of apples, fermentation and aging suits them best.
“In any business, you have to be able to adapt,” says Gammon. The brothers are doing it apple by apple.
729 Main Road, Aquebogue, NY

Peconic Bay Winery may be getting out of the wine game, but in the cider game, the stakes are getting interesting. The winery introduced True Believer Cider, under the name Standard Cider Company, in 2010, made with apples from Red Jacket Farms in the Finger Lakes. The apples are crushed, or “milled” as they say in cider talk, upstate and then shipped to Cutchogue for fermentation. The juice takes another trip to Washingtonville’s Brotherhood winery where it is carbonated and bottled in brown 750s with a champagne closure. (They had to travel that far to find a bottling line to fit their bottles.) Two kinds are produced, the straight True Believer and True Companion, made with fresh ginger. The bottles go for $12.99 and average about 7 percent alcohol.
Jim Silver, the mind behind the Standard Cider Company, says he has secured distribution through Clare Rose, the beer-distribution behemoth, on Long Island and is looking for placements in big-name grocery chains. Until then, the cider is always on the shelf at Empire State Cellars in Riverhead’s Tanger Outlet Center. •