When you need to advance beyond the next creative horizon; when you have an idea buzzing around in your mind that needs to be refracted through the lens of a different constellation of thoughts; or when you are tired, tired, worn, and barely able to think in the middle of a long slog of seasonal work – what do you do? Seek out your colleagues. Cider makers are a sociable lot, though often isolated by the demands of their individual businesses. So it is not surprising when they get together, but it is delightful. I’ve been fortunate to peek in on a couple of events recently that have opportuned some cider-maker mind-melding. In this post, I’ll talk about a recent Cider Salon, and in a following post, I’ll write about a tasting with Finger Lakes Cider godfather Peter Hoover.
The Cider Salon at Jimmy’s Number 43 during Cider Week New York was an intimate afternoon and evening of talks and tastings with a variety of cider makers, authors, and orchardists from New York, New England, and even a few invited visitors from the Northwest. Rubbing elbows with fellow cider people was unavoidable, as the space was small, and the audience enthusiastic. Many a small or aspiring cider maker was there, and the atmosphere was sparking with the individual excitements of cider enthusiasts, tempered by the wonderful opportunity to see and participate in discussions with and between the more established commercial cider makers. This is what makes a salon such a great format – the informal opportunities to chat with colleagues and hear from people whose work your admire. But also the opportunity to get beyond the sales pitch and talk creatively, intellectually, about the craft with those who know it and love it with equal fervor.
Shepherded by cider writer Eric West and organized and hosted by proprietor Jimmy Carbone and Gay Howard of United States of Cider, the day brought commercial cider makers new and old together. Jacob Lagoner introduced his Embark Craft Ciders from the shores of Lake Ontario, and Jahil Maplestone of Descendant Cider in the heart of the City paired up with Murrays for some cheese tasting. Highlights for me were the sparring contest between Steve Wood of Farnum Hill and Kevin Zielinski of EZ Orchards on the challenges and triumphs of orcharding and cider making in the Northeast versus the Northwest. Reverend Nat himself from Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider also made it out from the West Coast to wow the East Coast apple purists with the hopped, fruited, magicked and suited ciders he has been so successful with on his side of the country.
Andy Brennan of Aaron Burr Cider and Steve Selin of South Hill Cider talked wild apples, a conversation that was continued with Rowan Jacobsen, author of Apples of Uncommon Character and recently an article “The Feral Cider Society”, during an event at Wassail the following day. Every so often I get author envy when I see someone write a book or an article I wish I had written. Rowan Jacobsen wins the envy prize this month, but he kindly signed my copy of his book, so thank you sir, for upping the cider writing game!
All cider makers bring something different to the craft, and Steve, Andy, and Rowan bring a particularly artistic viewpoint. Rowan is a writer; Andy is a painter and draftsman; Steve is a musician and luthier. I suspect that they think about cider, apples, and trees in ways that mirror their other endeavors, reorienting materials, experimenting within the structures of a form, and thus, reorganizing how we experience and understand the the genre of cider itself. They imagine cider in ways that take us outside the orchard, beyond the restaurant pairing menu, and into the unique genetic, environmental landscape that has created the feral apples of the Northeastern United States.
Their approach reshapes not only how we experience the taste of cider made by wild fruit, but how we think about the landscape these feral trees inhabit. The landscape history of our Northeastern region, one of deforestation, cultivation, and reforestation, is one that most of us are unaware of. Trees are everywhere, right? They make us see the trees in our wooded regions differently. Through their ciders, though, the palette of the forest, and its depth of history becomes more nuanced. Steve, Andy, and Rowan may be the most recognized voices on the art of wild, or feral fruit, but there are certainly many others out in the woods, who know their trees, and who are exploring the evolving character of the fruitful American woodland.
And it’s not just the forests upstate that are being explored and turned inside out. Even Wassail’s cider director Dan Pucci chimed in to talk about foraging in the wilds of New York City, endeavors chronicled in this Vice article.
This is what excites me most about cider, the approaches that trace not just a taste, or an aroma, but that reorient our whole relationship to landscape through the appreciation of the fruit, the tree, the land, and the people who interact with it over time.
My echo of this Cider Salon on the bare pages of a blog can in no way reproduce the buzz of the crowd or the flow of conversation. Which is why I hope there are more cider salons in the future. The small scale, non-commercial cider makers who peppered the audience certainly can’t make it to NYC often, and Jimmy’s place was barely big enough to hold this inaugural group. Cider Salons, go forth a multiply. It would be lovely to see more opportunities to talk about the art, history, and culture of the craft!