Hard cider has a long history in the United States, especially here in New York, dating back to colonial times. It was one of the most popular and widely consumed alcoholic beverages largely in part to the prevalence of its main ingredient, the apple.
Unlike other alcoholic beverages, hard cider didn’t make an immediate comeback after prohibition mainly because most of the heirloom apple trees that grew cider apples were transitioned to eating apples. It is only in the past few years that drinkers are rediscovering it, and we’re proud to say a lot of that discovery is happening right here in New York state, a place Angry Orchard is proud to call home.
Within the past decade, more and more craft breweries, distilleries and wineries have opened throughout the Mid-Hudson Valley region. According to an announcement from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office, the region added the most craft beverage manufacturers statewide with 93 openings in the past year. The area is home to 65 breweries, 27 distillers and 59 wineries, coming in first, first and third in the state, respectively. And while the established presence of these craft beverages in the region is clear, hard cider deserves its own seat at the table. There are 16 cider producers in the region to date, leading cider production statewide.
Though the United States recently has seen a revival of hard cider, cider makers like myself face certain misconceptions about the beverage, similar to those faced by craft brewers 30 years ago. Most often, we see people confuse or compare cider to beer. However, the two are quite different in terms of ingredients, production and taste. Unlike beer, cider is fermented using apples; beer is brewed using malt and flavored with hops, making cider more similar to wine, also made with fruit.
Having an orchard in the Hudson Valley allows us to teach visitors about cider. It also gives us a home for recipe development and experimentation. For example, our Angry Orchard Rosé hard cider that launched nationally earlier this year, was developed and previewed right here at our orchard in Walden.
The good news is that with a heightened curiosity around craft beverages and with New York state being the second-highest apple producer in the country, there’s no sign of the hard cider industry here slowing down. And it only makes sense for the region to embrace hard cider along with other craft beverage production and the many benefits that come along with it.
Aside from greatly boosting tourism dollars and the expansion of employment opportunities, craft beverage outposts, such as cideries, are helping to preserve agricultural heritage and the region’s landscape. The growth has directly benefited New York farmers and proprietors, many of whom are right here in our backyards, by increasing the demand for locally sourced products and fostering new relationships and collaborations among other agribusinesses. For example, each year Angry Orchard collaborates with Crown Maple in Dover Plains on a Maple Wooden Sleeper, a hard cider made with maple syrup. There is no limit to the creativity of craft producers, giving drinkers a variety of unique, high-quality beverage choices for every palate.
This growth is evident as many facilities have expanded, or plan to expand facilities in order to meet the demand and accommodate an increased number of visitors. For instance, we opened the Angry Orchard Cider House in 2015 as our official home for cider research and development. Over the past few years it has evolved into a popular destination for locals and visitors alike. In order to withstand the influx of visitors to the orchard, we’ve created additional spaces for people to gather with family and friends. In 2016, we partnered with Animal Planet’s “Treehouse Masters” to build a tree house that gives visitors a unique way to experience hard cider and appreciate the picturesque views of the Shawangunk Mountains that surround the orchard. The cider garden, next to the treehouse is a 40-foot-by-40-foot indoor-outdoor space where visitors can enjoy events, food and cider and view the barrel room, where many of our ciders are aged, all year-round. We’ve also started to replace apple trees on the orchard with heirloom cider making varieties, all different types, to see what grows well in the region.
Steeped in natural beauty, history, a lively culture and a burgeoning food scene, the Hudson Valley is continually evolving while still treasuring its roots. As a well-established tourism destination in the Northeast, the region’s explosive growth of breweries, wineries, distilleries and cideries like Angry Orchard will only add to the already expansive list of the region’s offerings and its appeal to visitors in the years to come.
Ryan Burk is the head cider maker of Angry Orchard where he leads all research and development at the Angry Orchard, a 60-acre orchard and Cider House, in Walden.