‘Ugly’ New Paltz apples produce growing Brooklyn cider brand

By Ryan Deffenbaugh

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After decades traveling Europe and the rest of the world tasting top-tier wines, Peter Yi came across a beverage so good he decided to change careers to produce his own back home in New York.

That beverage wasn’t wine, it was Spanish hard cider, from the country’s Basque region. The cider started an obsession for Yi that continued back home to New York, where he took his inspiration from the ciders of that region and France to launch Brooklyn Cider House.

In just two years, Yi has grown the company from rented space at a winery in the Finger Lakes to a 200-acre orchard and production facility in New Paltz and, soon, a production and tasting facility in Brooklyn.

Yi’s previous work as a wine buyer sent him on the road to taste wines from the top 20 percent of producers in the world. Cider, he said, never interested him much in that time.

But then he tasted a Spanish cider he described as “bone dry.” It was naturally made, no sugar or any other additives, and versatile enough to pair with everything from flaky fish to red meats. He decided he had to make his own.

“I don’t know how the world is going to accept it,” Yi said, “but I’ve tasted four or five thousand wines a year for 25 years and this just captured me.”

In 2014, Yi rented space at Ravines Wine Cellar, a winery in Geneva on the west side of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes region upstate. With an eye toward where he wanted the cidery to ultimately end up, he started producing his cider under the name Brooklyn Cider House.

Yi then began searching for an orchard where he could grow apples and produce the cider, preferably close to Brooklyn. He landed at Twin Star Farms, a 200-acre commercial apple orchard about a 7-minute drive from Main Street in New Paltz. Yi closed on the property in June 2015, renaming it Twin Star Orchards.

He now produces 5,000 cases of Brooklyn Cider per year at the site from apples grown on the property, where he has planted an additional 8,000 heirloom apple trees.

Brooklyn Cider House offers a line of five ciders, ranging from “Kinda Dry” to “Bone Dry.” Yi said what separates his ciders is that the flavor comes only from the apples. He doesn’t add sugar, hops or any other fruits. That approach comes in part from his experience in the wine industry.

“You would never make a Burgundy or Pinot Noir and then add blackberries or hops or honey,” Yi said. “But in the cider industry, people do that. But if you grow the best types of apples, apples that are bitter, tart and sweet and in season, all the flavor can come from the apples.”

To produce Brooklyn Cider House cider, Yi and his staff of between 10 and 20 full- and part-time employees pick apples as soon as they are ripe, usually between September and early November. The apples are instantly pressed, fermented and then aged between six and 18 months, depending on the variety of cider.

The apples are “dry farmed,” not irrigated, which makes them smaller but packed with more flavor, Yi said. That’s where the company’s slogan, “Ugly Apples Taste Better,” painted on a red barn at the orchard facing Ohioville Road in New Paltz, comes from. While grocery stores are often more concerned with appearance and size, Brooklyn Cider House embraces even the ugliest and slightest of apples.

“We don’t care about size; we don’t care about appearance. Zero interest,” Yi said. “We just want flavor.”

That flavor comes from apples such as Northern Spy, Kingston Black and other traditional varieties. Of the site’s 200 acres, 100 are dedicated to apples for cider production, the other 100 for the more traditional U-Pick table varieties.

The orchard offers U-Pick throughout the fall, and has a 3,000-square-foot storeroom that offers cider tastings, wine and nonalcoholic cider, along with other New York-made products. Yi also added a pavilion with an imported Italian woodfire brick oven for pizza and burgers.

While his product is currently sold in Brooklyn bars and liquor stores, as well as in Westchester and the Hudson Valley, Yi will add a physical presence behind the Brooklyn Cider House name later this fall when he launches a restaurant, tasting room and production facility in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Yi will truck apples down from the New Paltz orchard to 15,000-square-foot former warehouse, where it will be pressed and aged in the same process as at Twin Star Orchard.

“There isn’t a cidery in Brooklyn right now, so I think we are going to have an advantage there, since for people in Brooklyn, local is huge,” Yi said. The restaurants and tasting room has already drawn attention. It’s been featured in The New York Times, New York magazine and Brooklyn magazine as a fall restaurant opening to look for.

Yi said the biggest difficulty with his type of cider is a lack of familiarity, both among potential customers and sommeliers and bartenders.

“Most people think of it as this sweet apple-flavored carbonated beverage,” Yi said. “So to get them to taste our product, which is a completely different beverage, it is challenging.”

But as the industry grows and more producers make this style of cider, the misconception will fade, Yi said. And cider production in the state is definitely growing.

A press release from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office this month announced that the number of farm cideries in the state had tripled since 2014, up to 24 from eight. The farm cidery title comes from legislation passed in 2013 that established a new license for cider producers who use crops exclusively grown in New York.

From Oct. 21 through Oct. 30, New York City will hold Cider Week, an annual event that promotes cider products at bars and events throughout the city. The Hudson Valley hosted a Cider Week of its own in June.

Yi said he is just hoping to spread knowledge of the style of cider he fell in love with, “one bottle at a time.”

“I truly believe in this,” he said. “This is not following any trend. For someone who was so in love with wine, I want to show the world the cider that inspired me to go into this business.”

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About the author

Ryan Deffenbaugh covers energy, education, food and beverage and the Sound Shore for the Westchester County Business Journal. He previously worked for Westchester Magazine and The Citizen daily newspaper (Auburn, N.Y.). He started with the Westchester County Business Journal in March 2016.

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