The hardest part of making someone a cider drinker, says Michelle da Silva and Dana Masterpolo, co-founders of new Cambridge-based Bantam Cider, is first getting them to understand that this hard cider is probably unlike any mainstream, mass-produced cider they’ve ever had before.
“There is definitely a perception of what cider is, and Michelle and I went into this not overly concerned about what people already thought—there are a lot of folks who don’t even know what cider is. We want to move forward and bring them on board,” says Masterpolo.
At tastings, Masterpolo says, someone will take a few sips and then a confused look appears—they like it, but don’t know to process that they do.
“When they try it they are immediately—”
“—It takes them a minute to admit it and register it in their brain,” da Silva interrupts. “It’s like, ‘it’s okay, you can really love it.”
Bantam Cider, founded and run by da Silva and Masterpolo, are changing cider perceptions with their flagship release, Wunderkind. It’s dry, crisp and lands far, far, on the other end of the cider spectrum from sickly sweet brands like Strongbow and Magners.
The pair started making cider in their kitchen about four years ago.
DIY food and drink making was ingrained in Da Silva, who has made her own cheese and spirits for years, and who fondly remembers her Portuguese grandparents making wine. They’ve come a long way—and many, many test batches isolating different apple varieties, yeast strains, and blending experiments— from their first kitchen experiments to get to that final flagship recipe.
Rather than decide on the kind of apples they wanted first and then seek them out, they decided to ask farmers, “What do you have available?” They settled on a blend of four varieties, all of which come from five farms in Western Massachusetts. Each variety of apple brings a different element: Empire (spicy notes), McIntosh (aroma), Cortland (body) and Green (tartness). Add to that a sparkling wine yeast and a touch of flower-blossom honey for a dry, balanced cider with a subtle touch of sweetness.
And to top off its versatility, you can drink cider with just about any food. Cider straddles both the wine and the beer market, which can be a challenge, but also an opportunity. Wunderkind is packaged in 22-ounce bottles, a format familiar to beer drinkers as a “bomber” and with a simple elegant design that resembles wine bottles.
“I haven’t found one thing it’s not good with,” says da Silva. She says Wunderkind pairs especially well with spicy Thai and Indian, oysters, pork, whitefish, with eggs and brunch and all sorts of cheese.
More ciders are in the works, but the recipes are still somewhat unknown—and therein lies the fun. “Lavender, mint, bitters, lots of funky things that may or may not work” are just some of the experiments Masterpolo says they’ve tried.
Local will continue to be the focus, as the cider is made from Massachusetts apples pressed at Carver Hill Orchard and fermented and blended at Westport Wineries. They self-distribute (for now) the bottles at shops and bars around Cambridge, Somerville and Boston.
As we leave the bar at the end of the interview, two waitresses interject to gush about how much they love the cider.
For them, the hard work’s already done—and two new cider converts are created.