There’s Hard Cider in Them Thar Hills

The Recorder, August 3rd, 2015, by Christ Curtis.

Field Maloney said that back in the 1980s, when his parents Judith and Terry Maloney started West County Cider, there were no hard cider businesses.

“In the ’80s and ’90s, it was lonely and we fought the good fight, believing in cider,” Maloney said. “It’s nice now feeling redeemed because now people want cider. But we still have to figure out how to survive and prosper. ”

The cider business has exploded in the past few years and the Maloneys aren’t alone in the business anymore.

According to numbers compiled by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, about 54 million gallons of hard cider were produced in the United States last year, up from 32 million the year before and 18 million in 2012. In fact, 2012 is when the numbers showed a serious uptick; production grew at a sedate pace during the rest of the 10-year period, growing from 4 million in 2004 to 9 million in 2011.

Artifact Cider Project is among the new cider makers stepping into the market and on Sunday joined West County for the High Summer Orchard Party, selling cider in a patch of cleared field on Peckville Road in Shelburne.
Co-owner Soham Bhatt said he feels good about the business.

“I think that as an agricultural product, utilizing the surplus apples that we have we’ll always be doing a service to the farmers if we can do it and sell it. So looking at it microscopically sometimes can be good. The good thing is it just so happens that macroscopically people are discovering that cider can be good, too, all over the country,” Bhatt said.

Bhatt and lifelong friend Jake Mazar started drinking hard cider because Mazar developed Celiac disease, meaning he couldn’t handle the gluten in beer, Bhatt said. Eventually they started making their own, and expanded their cider horizons when they stumbled on West County Cider. Bhatt and Mazar pulled the trigger and incorporated as Artifact Cider Project in 2013, launching in 2014 with their first batch of 500 gallons. This year’s harvest is 5,000 gallons, the apples grown in the immediate area — Colrain, Ashfield, Buckland, Shelburne — pressed at Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain then fermented, blended and finished in Springfield.

More than a hundred people came out for the event Sunday.

Easthampton residents Sean Ryan, 32, and Tamsen Conner, 31, with dog Scout, said they aren’t longtime cider drinkers.

“Not long-time, couple of years. We’re following the trend,” Ryan said. “There’s more available,” Conner said.

Ryan said they started with the widely available Woodchuck, and branched out from there, particularly once they moved to the area.

“We were living in Texas at the time. There is not craft cider the way there is here,” Conner said.

Maureen Borg of Chesterfield, with a friend and a cup of Artifact’s Wild Thing cider, said she likes craft brews in general, whether beer, cider or mead, but good cider is just now becoming available.

Borg draws a parallel to the changes in the beer industry, as the market opened up from cheap, mass-produced beer to embrace microbreweries. “It was only recently that we had decent cider,” Borg said.

Sue McFarland of Conway, on the board of the Franklin County Cider Days cider festival — Nov. 7 and 8 this year — said the cider making revival is riding the coattails of the artisanal beer industry. “I don’t want to say it’s the new ‘it’ thing, but it seems to be,” McFarland said.