Cider, it turns out, comes in many forms. Between sweet cider, the kind that comes in a plastic jug, and the heady, clear stuff that tastes like apple moonshine and comes in a sealed bottle, the options are growing. Standing in the tasting room at Finger Lakes Cider House, overlooking Cayuga Lake, visitors have a chance to try a flight of ciders and find out just how different they can be.
The cider house doesn’t just sell its own ciders, but is an umbrella tasting room for five local artisan ciders: Good Life, Black Diamond, Redbyrd Orchard, Eve’s Cidery, and South Hill Cider. While cider apples tend to be sharper and harder than the eating apples in the produce aisle, each cider is a blend of different apples balanced, like wine, between sweetness and acidity, with alcohol content from under 2 percent to over 8. There are fizzy ciders (made with champagne yeast) and “still” ciders. There are also fortified, porter-type ciders known as “pommeau.”
The most popular type is the champagne style. “The trend in cider is bubbles,” said Melissa Madden.
The still ciders come as a surprise, with a smooth feel reminiscent of wine, but a sweet tone a little like whiskey. On this flight, Madden serves a Still Barrel from Redbyrd, and an Albee Hill from Eve’s Cidery in Van Etten. Both are excellent and thought-provoking. There’s a Cazenovia cider- also from Good Life- and then the Bluegrass Russet, and a Porters Pommeau from Black Diamond. These drier ciders are a far cry from sweet cider in a jug, and much closer to what our pioneer ancestors drank. According to food reviewer Peggy Haine, “Ciders now are where the wine industry was twenty years ago.” On a recent trip across the country, Haine and her husband Peter Hoover, a cider maker, tasted ciders from here to Seattle. “The best ones are here,” she admitted. “Although there are good ones in Quebec. In other places they just don’t have the winters to make good cider.”
Madden and her husband, Garrett Miller, started the farm, Good Life Farm, in 2008, aiming for a full-diet CSA (community supported agriculture). They grow asparagus and vegetables, fruit and meat animals: turkeys, geese, cattle. They planted apple, peach, and pear trees, and began making cider. For five years they’ve been offering an annual asparagus festival, Asparaganza, on the last weekend in May. Then, almost a year ago, they opened the Cider House. “Last year,” said Madden, “Asparaganza was our opening celebration.”
With a huge open room, deck viewing the lake, and Maddens’ inclusive community spirit, the Cider House also serves as a host venue for public events This evening, Madden is getting ready for the Encore Players’ reading of Nora Ephron’s works.
Miller is on the deck building more shelves to hold bottles of cider; one floor below, another man is bottling 850 bottles of Honeoye, a carbonated, champagne-style Good Life cider. The life of the farm goes on all around, all day, every day; it’s a little different from the typical wine-tasting room, which a passerby on Rt. 89 might take it for.
“The farm is a plant and animal polyculture,” Melissa explained. The rows of fruit trees have long strips of cultivated ground for asparagus in between them. In the summer, when the farm raises turkeys, mobile electrical fences are moved constantly, to keep the turkeys on fresh pasture. The turkeys keep the bugs and weeds under control, and clean up the orchards after the picking season has finished. The beef cattle occasionally graze between the orchard rows, too. “We’ve found that if they have grass, they leave the trees alone,” said Madden. “These cows are amenable to the fences being in weird shapes. I really like the cows.”
Madden also uses draft horses for mowing and logging. In addition to his heavy lifting, one draft horse, Leo, works the tourist crowds. “He loves people, and he loves attention, which is not like a lot of horses.” True to her description, Leo introduced himself right away to this reporter, posed for pictures, and stood calmly for petting and scratching. “Little kids especially love him. He’s kind of a ham; he doesn’t mind at all to have a crowd around him.”
In addition to the tastings, the cider house serves charcuterie, cheese boards and pickle plates “whenever we are open” and special Friday night dinners, for which all ingredients are locally sourced, organic or biodynamic. Contributing farms are: Interbrook Farm, Remembrance Farm, Stick and Stone Farm, Engelbert Farm, Three Stone Farm, Grey Rock Farm, Wide Awake Bakery, Kriemhild Dairy, Good Life Farm, and Seneca Salt Company. §