Photos by Devon Regan of Drink Craft Beer
A few months ago, when Ross Brockman googled “craft cider,” he found that no one was calling themselves a craft cider company.
And now, when you Google “New England craft cider”—the first three results to come up? Downeast Cider House, a four-month old craft cider company founded by recent Bates College graduates Ben Manter, Tyler Mosher, and Brockman.
After starting in Waterville, Maine, they’re moving operations to Leominster, Mass. (home of cider saint Johnny Appleseed) where they will be contract brewing cider available on draft and (soon enough, hopefully) 12-ounce cans.
The seed was planted to start a hard cider company after a fateful dinner with Tyler’s dad, when he casually remarked that the hard cider industry was taking off.
He was right—the US cider market is igniting. Hard cider sales grew 26 percent from 2010 to 2011, according to industry studies.
But, big cider companies like Vermont Cider Co., which owns Woodchuck Cider, and had 47 percent of the hard cider market share last year, largely dominate that market. Woodchuck, and other cider leaders like Strongbow and Magners, also use apple juice concentrate in lieu of real apples in their cider.
But as smaller cider brands like New Hampshire’s Farnum Hill and Cambridge’s Bantam have discovered, there’s room in the market for locally produced craft cider. That’s where Downeast hopes to position themselves—as a New England cider company whose cider tastes like real New England apples.
“From the farm is the idea of it. It smells like apples—real apples—looks like apple cider should look, and tastes like apple cider should taste,” said Brockman.
The original blend cider is made from McIntosh, Gala, Cortland, and Red Delicious apples grown in Maine (and Massachuetts when they move down here). Unlike many ciders which use a champagne yeast, they decided on a ale yeast that lends itself to a smoother finish, and added tannins to further smooth out the mouthfeel.
Mainers and Bostonians have taken it to it so far, drinking it on draft at 45 to 50 accounts in Maine and around 15 so far in Boston. And after meeting with Luke Livingston of Baxter Brewery, an all can craft brewery in Lewiston, Maine, they decided to sell the cider in cans.
“Wine is wine and beer is beer but when I go and get a drink I don’t want to get a 25-ounce bottle and a champagne glass. I like a 12-ounce can in my hand or a pint glass,” says Brockman.
Their next release is a cranberry apple cider. The real cranberry juice “gives it that tart mouthwatering after bite in the cider,” says Manter, w ho develops and creates the recipes (and did his senior thesis on hard cider).
Cider makes for an excellent mixer too (see sidebar for recipes), and the Cran-Apple cider, Brockman warns, makes for an especially tasty, if slightly dangerous, vodka mixer.
“You can add a disturbing amount of vodka before you know there’s vodka in it.”
Also in the works are Belgian-inspired ciders, like a White and one brewed with a Saison yeast (which will premiere at Drink Craft Beer’s Summerfest) and ciders with twists like mint and vanilla.
“A classic cider maker would probably have all sorts of issues with what we’re doing. It’s sort of the furthest thing from a classic cider, like a traditional European cider,” says Brockman.
That’s fine by us.
1/2 Downeast Cider
1/2 Allagash White
My Apple is on Fire
1 or 2 shots Fireball Whiskey
A pint of Downeast Cider
Pint of Downeast over ice
1 oz whipped vodka
1 oz peach schnapps
Splash of cranberry juice