Fast forward to the present. Cider is having a moment, and Vermont makers are creating what Food & Wine magazine deemed “some of the best out there right now.” These ciders tend to be dry, not sweet. “Craft makers are staying away from added sugar for health reasons,” Trivelpiece says. “Our ciders get their sweetness from apples.” But there’s a wide variety in the category — some Vermont ciders are produced like fine wine, some are made with foraged apples, and some are all about the fun — gummy bear cider, anyone?
When the time is right, sample the apple-y deliciousness on a do-it-yourself Vermont cider tour. (Currently, most tasting rooms are closed because of COVID, but plan to reopen as restrictions ease. See websites or Facebook pages for up-to-date information.) Not ready for travel? Check the cideries to see where they sell or ship their products, and create your own cider tasting. When you do go IRL, consider an overnight at the Hotel Vermont in Burlington (www.hotelvt.com), home to all things Vermont, and a great beverage program (see below).
Stowe Cider, Stowe
“You’ve got to try this!” said the guy sitting next to the firepit, brandishing a glass of Sidra Margarita (tequila barrel aged cider with sea salt and lime.) And so, we did. This is how Stowe parties in the winter — outdoors, with pod buddies, a “fireside flight” of ciders ($15), and maybe a cheese or charcuterie board. They also serve indoors, in this art gallery-turned-cidery, but we suspect outside is the place to be, especially in summer, when they host food trucks and offer live music (livestreaming now).
“We offer a little something for everyone,” says general manager Dan Snyder of the company founded in 2013, and that includes Fresh Press, an alcohol-free sparkling cider, and unique blends like Black Is Beautiful, a stout-inspired cider. (They even make a gummy bear cider.) All their apples — dessert apples like Macintosh, Gala, Fuji, and Honeycrisp — are sourced from within 150 miles of their cider house. During our visit, they offered nine options, but with a 24-tap wall, there’s plenty of room for more.
“Cider is really taking off across all demographics, particularly the younger crowd,” Snyder notes. “It’s a fun, playful, gluten-free alternative to beer.”
Sip this: High & Dry is as dry as they come. For something different, try dry-hopped Safety Meeting, made with Citra and Galaxy hops for notes of tropical and citrus fruits. www.stowecider.com.
Cold Hollow Cider Mill, Waterbury
Like its neighbor, Ben & Jerry’s, this mammoth cider mill-slash-general store is one of Vermont’s major attractions. An adjacent barn building, heated by a wood stove, is home to a small restaurant and cider-tasting room. Grab a table and order a flight of four of their hard ciders ($9.85) or a single pour ($3.30), pressed from their own Macintosh and Honeycrisp apples.
Sip this: Barn Dance, the hard cider that put them on the map five years ago, or Trust Fun (super dry.) www.coldhollow.com.
Citizen Cider, Burlington
A wine salesman, a chemist, and a farmer walked into a bar — or, actually, a barn. They started pressing cider and voila! Ten years later, they’re Citizen Cider, one of the biggies, available in 14 states. Still, they use 100 percent locally sourced apples (Vermont and New York State), and operate their own press house in Burlington. In their tasting room, they offer a selection of products (nine ciders in cans and eight types in bottles during our visit) along with cider doughnuts and decent pub grub. Cider crops up in here, too, in cider-brined wings and a “Dirty Burger” sauced with Dirty Mayor aioli.
Sip this: You can find their flagship products, like Unified Press (made with a blend of 10 apple varieties) and The Dirty Mayor (sweet ginger cider) back home, so go for something different, like For Shore, a gose-inspired cider finished with coriander seeds and sea salt. www.citizencider.com.
Shacksbury Cider, Vergennes
With luck, their tasting room will be open by the time you read this (check for updates at @shacksbury) but even if you buy it from the packy, try this canned cider (hailed as “complex and engaging” by Food & Wine). They make some interesting things, like a rose’ cider, aged on Syrah and Zinfandel grape skins. Shacksbury’s Lost Apple Project brings feral, wild, or otherwise forgotten fruit to ferment into full-bodied dry cider. Some of these apple trees are centuries old, from overgrown orchards, and they bring unique tannins and flavors to the mix, for Shacksbury’s limited release ciders.
Sip this: Shacksbury’s Dry is considered one of the best dry ciders on the market — refreshing and complex. Alas, its limited edition, yuzu and passionfruit-infused cider, Yuzu Lo-Ball (a collaboration with Momofuku restaurants) is nearly sold out, but its classic Lo-Ball, a highball cider with notes of citrus and whiskey, is available, yay. www.shacksbury.com.
Champlain Orchards Cidery, Shoreham
The drive alone is worth the trip, with views of Lake Champlain and New York’s Adirondacks in the distance (and orchards, orchards, orchards) along Vermont’s Route 74. This century-old, family-owned, ecologically-managed orchard couldn’t be more inviting. Besides acres of orchard with 100-plus varieties of apples, a small farm store sells apple pie, cider, and other apple-y items. Next door to that is a small tasting room (currently closed.)
“We began turning apples into hard cider in 2011, and produced just 246 gallons that first year. Now, we average around 50,000 gallons per year, and are growing,” says Sara Trivelpiece. “We’re really proud of our product, and the fact that we’re one of the oldest continuously operating orchards in the state.”
Sip this: Love honeycrisp apples? Try Honeycrisp, made with 100 percent you-know-what. It’s dry, delicate, and crisp, like an apple champagne. www.champlainorchardscidery.com.
Eden Specialty Ciders, Newport
Not gonna lie — this one is way off the beaten path. Newport borders Quebec (between them: Lake Memphremagog) so it’s a long side trip off our cider circuit. Plus, its tasting bar is currently closed, although the retail bottle shop is open. But when this pandemic is over, and you’re considering a road trip to the Northeast Kingdom, add Eden to your itinerary. Founder Eleanor Leger has been called the godmother of Vermont cider. She’s been in the cider business for 14 years.
“Apples have more genetic variety than humans,” she notes, and Eden creates a wide variety of ciders that showcase the fruit. The steps of picking the fruit, fermenting, and aging are like making wine, and “a great cider, like a great wine, will have a great complexity to it,” she says. Leger partners with small growers, like Windfall Orchard in Cornwall, to get cider into people’s glasses.
Sip this: They produce everything from canned cider to pet nats (‘pétillant naturel’, meaning ‘natural sparkling’) to award-winning dessert ciders. Try Puck, a sweet ice cider that’s aged in oak barrels for eight years. Tasting notes include chocolate, tart cherry, and hazelnut. www.edenciders.com.
And a cider-friendly overnight: Hotel Vermont, Burlington
If you’re looking for an introduction to cider-as-wine, and advice on pairing cider with food, the Hotel Vermont is the place to go. Not only is this independent hotel a great base for a cider tour (Waterbury and Stowe are about 45 minutes away, as is the Champlain Valley), but these folks know their Vermont cider. And why wouldn’t they: The lodge-style hotel, overlooking the lake, sources many of its products locally, from soap to bathrobes to beverages.
Beverage manager Matt Canning is happy to turn you on to cider from partners Eden and Fable Farm Fermentory in Barnard, including hard-to-find labels. Most of the ciders they pour at their restaurant, Juniper, are from their wine list, and include naturally fermented cider made with native yeast, and ciders that are co-fermented with hybrid grapes and other fruits. They use draft ciders in cocktails with ginger and bourbon, and know what’s trending. “When the weather warms up, we’ll bring in a cider that had contact with red fruits,” Canning says — cider that’s been rested on red grape skins or red currants.
We sampled a few, including one that reminded us of pickle juice, and one that tasted like an apple-scented spring rain. Our favorite: Fable Farm’s Little Ruby from 2016, “a naturally sparkling wine, slowly fermented and steeped with dandelion and foraged rhubarb,” according to Canning. “Only 42 cases were made.” So Vermont! www.hotelvt.com; room rates from $179.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org