Franklin County Cider Days a global phenomenon

The Recorder. November 2, 2014. Tom Relihan. 

Whether they were McIntosh, Fuji, Empire, Gold Rush or Cameo, Franklin County was all about apples during the weekend.

Most of those varieties were well represented in Shelburne Falls, where participants in the Franklin County CiderDays packed into a massive white tent outside the Shelburne Buckland Community Center Saturday night to taste hard ciders from around the world.

“I like cider. I like to taste different types,” said Kevin Bourinot of Sterling as he sipped a sample of a cloudy, straw-colored cider from Millstone Cellars, of Monkton, Md. “This is my fifth year coming.”

Between Friday and Sunday, the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce sponsored the event, the 20th annual, and saw local apple lovers participate in a variety of cider-related events in Colrain, Shelburne, Ashfield, Deerfield, Greenfield, Hawley, Gill, Northfield and New Salem.

The tasting, dubbed the Cider Salon, featured over 30 different cideries from as far away as Washington state, Michigan and England.
James Asbel, owner of Ciders of Spain, which imports hard ciders from the Asturias region in northern Spain, said CiderDays is the most important day of the year for his company.

“This is our kick-off event for the year,” said Asbel. “It begins with CiderDays. We launched our company here in 2012, it’s one of the greatest gatherings of cider aficionados in the country.”

Tom Oliver, who owns Oliver’s Cider and Perry Ltd, of Heresfordshire, England, traveled to the event after Ben Watson, author “Cider, Hard and Sweet,” invited him to give a lecture and tasting of British ciders on Sunday.

“At the same time, it’s an opportunity to present my ciders and perries to a new audience of tasters,” Oliver said. “I make ciders from a slightly contrasting way to the American ciders. All the apples and raw materials I use are unique to the region of England I’m from.”

Closer to home, Rick Intres of Bear Meadow Farm in Ashfield, was pouring samples at the event for the first time as a licensed cider maker.

“This is my first year as a licensed cider maker,” said Intres, who has been making cider at home for 15 years. Intres said he decided to make the leap into commercial cidermaking after he was laid off from his job as a diagnostic molecular biologist at Berkshire Medical Center.

“My job description just went away, so I got my license in June, and as a cider maker, you can’t not want to be here,” he said.

For Kathy Halberg of Shelburne Falls, this year was her first time attending the event.

“I’ve never come before, but my husband makes cider in the cellar,” said Halberg. “This is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, it’s all very interesting and there’s such a plethora of ciders — still, sparkling, sweet and dry!”

Earlier in the day, at Deerfield’s Clarkdale Fruit Farm, visitors milled about, their arms filled to capacity with bags of apples and jugs of cider. At noon, Andy Dulude and Sukie Kindwall of the Conway-based orchard equipment company OESCO Inc., gave a demonstration on how to use a Slovenian apple press and an electric grinder to make cider.
The press, which, according to Dulude, only OESCO is currently importing, operates by filling up a natural rubber bladder with water, that then presses the mashed apples dry, producing about 34 gallons of fresh cider per hour. The portable press is made of stainless steel and runs on garden hoses and household electricity.

Clarkdale owner Tom Clark and his son, Ben, gave a talk in the cider house about the farm’s 100-year history and the process through which they make their cider.

Other events throughout the weekend included demonstrations and workshops on cider making, cooking with apples and ciders, orchard tending workshops and other tasting events.