By TINKY WEISBLAT, For the Recorder, October 30, 2019
CiderDays will return this weekend (from Friday, Nov. 1, to Sunday, Nov. 3).
What started 25 years ago as a tiny celebration at West County Cider in Shelburne Falls is now one of our area’s richest and most popular festivals, stretching across a range of venues in Western Massachusetts.
This celebration of the final harvest gives New Englanders the opportunity to take a breath before winter descends; to give thanks for the bounty and the beauty of our area; and, of course, to enjoy local cider — both hard and sweet.
I celebrated Cider Days in advance this year by touring one small but hardy cidery, Headwater Cider on Forget Road in East Hawley.
Owner, picker and cidermaker Peter Mitchell is very much at home there. His loading dock doubles as a patio. When photographer Paul Franz and I visited Headwater, Mitchell had the area set up for cocktails. Old apple crates served as his bar. We sipped and admired the panoramic view as Paul’s dog, Dixie, darted between apple trees. It was a calm and refreshing afternoon.
Before we started drinking the cocktails, however, Mitchell gave us a tour of his cider operation. He purchased the orchard in 2005, he explained, and built the mill for pressing in 2007. His first commercial batch of cider came out in 2009, making this year his 10th anniversary in the business.
The cider-making area is clean and efficient. Mitchell was particularly proud of his horizontal, accordion- style cider press. He noted that his old vertical press took three people to operate. Additionally, the press constantly needed cleaning.
The new press efficiently squeezes all the juice out of apple puree. It then dumps the apple scraps into a wheelbarrow, which can be wheeled outside to dispose in the compost.
Mitchell also showed us the special equipment that helps him make and bottle “petillant” cider, or cider that has a light fizz. (For legal reasons, he informed us, one can use the word “sparkling” only to refer to wine.) The petillant cider is new this year and is bottled with a “Hey Nineteen” label, a dual reference to the vintage and to the song by Steely Dan.
Mitchell has another new cider in the works, a drink called Ice Cider.
This cordial takes two winters to make. It involves freezing and then thawing cider repeatedly to purify it.
Water is separated out repeatedly, leaving only alcohol and sugar.
He started making the Ice Cider last year so it will be ready for consumption in 2020. Mitchell produces 1500 gallons of cider each year.
Some of it is sold in 750milliliter bottles, both at the cidery (which is open by appointment) and at a variety of locations.
He also sells kegs of cider.
Headwater Cider can be found on tap at Hearty Eats and by the bottle at the West End Pub, Hope and Olive and the Blue Rock Restaurant.
Although he hopes one day to subsist solely on profits from cider, Mitchell currently still works 30 hours a week for the Department of Environmental Protection.
This makes life busy — particularly at this time of year, when he is picking apples, pressing cider and getting ready for Cider Days. What seems to keep him going is his passion for the land and for what he does on it.
“Our motto is ‘Grow what you press. Press what you grow,’” he said.
Mitchell smiled as he surveyed his orchard, which started out with three varieties of apples and now has 40, although he plans to reduce that number to 20 in the coming years. He has identified the varieties he believes offer the most intensive apple flavor.
“ A diversity of apples is a good thing because every year is different,” he noted.
Headwater Cider will hold an open house this Sunday, Nov. 3, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For a full list of Cider Days activities, ciderdays.org.
Headwater Cider Cocktails
Peter Mitchell likes variety in his cocktails as well as his apples and cider. He mixed up six cider-related cocktails for Paul and me. All but one featured local ingredients in addition to Headwater Cider.
We began with a classic Martini, made with Element vermouth.
Headwater Cider is one of the ingredients in this aromatic wine.
We moved on to more fruity drinks. Elderflower Surprise displayed gorgeous color and offered a pleasing mixture of flavors.
Mitchell’s Cider Shandy was a cooling, refreshing drink, perfect for a sunny day. The Cider Old-Fashioned played with my grandfather’s favorite cocktail and blended a bit of sweetness with its cider, thanks to the fruit and maple syrups.
The Snakebite was another summery drink. Lime juice gave it a Southwestern edge.
And then there was the Tinky, which as you may have guessed was named after me. I was flattered that Peter Mitchell thought I resembled this bright, bubbly beverage — or maybe it resembled me.
Our cider-maker-cum-bartender mixed the drinks in a cocktail shaker (actually a Mason jar). He recommended serving all but the Tinky, for which all of the ingredients are chilled, over ice.
If you want a stronger flavor, you may place ice in your shaker, leave the drink in it for a minute, and then strain the liquid through the ice.
Headwater Cider Martini
6 parts gin 6 parts Element dry vermouth (made in Millers Falls using Headwater Cider) Combine the gin and vermouth in a cocktail shaker.
Decant into a martini glass. Add stuffed jumbo olives. The yield will depend on how much gin and vermouth you use.
Ingredients: 1 tablespoon orange juice 3/4 ounce St.
Germain elderflower liqueur 2 ounces bourbon 2 ounces Headwater “Hey Nineteen” cider Apple slices for garnish
Combine all the ingredients except the apple slices in a cocktail shaker. Pour the liquid into two lowball glasses. Cut a slit in each apple slice so it can rest on the side of the cocktail glasses. Serves two.
Equal parts Headwater New England dry cider and Artisan Beverage Cooperative Ginger Libation Put ice cubes in a glass. Pour the cider halfway up. Fill the glass with ginger libation. Serves one person.
Hawley Cider Old Fashioned
6 ounces of Headwater’s awardwinning Clesson Cider 2 ounces bourbon 1 ounce Bug Hill Farm black-currant syrup 1 ounce Hawley maple syrup (plus a little more if needed) Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Serve in glasses over ice. Add a little more maple syrup if you think your drink needs it. (We did) Serves two people.
6 ounces Headwater Quercus Cider 1-1/2 ounces Element light rum 1 ounce lime juice
Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker.
Pour into lowball glasses. Serves two people.
2 ounces cranberry juice 3/4 ounce Bug Hill Farm blackcurrant cordial 14 ounces Headwater “Hey Nineteen” cider Combine the ingredients in a large cocktail shaker. Strain into flutes. Serves two to four people.
Tinky Weisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.”
Visit her website, tinkycooks.com.