Thursday, October 6, 2011

Out in the Field: Farnum Hill Ciders


Farnum Hill Ciders at Poverty Lane Orchards

Our team hit the road to New Hampshire one late-summer Friday. Our destination was Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon, home to Farnum Hill Ciders. The setting there is classic New England: large white farmhouse, a series of clapboard barns, and fruit laden trees in mowed orchards. The picturesque setting was the perfect backdrop for meeting the team behind Farnum Hill, tasting their critically acclaimed products, and absorbing the history and techniques of cider making.

In the orchard

Farnum Hill Cider fulfills the true meaning of the word "cider:" an alcoholic beverage fermented from apples, exactly as "wine" is fermented from grapes.  So don't expect these ciders to taste like apples, just as you don't pour a glass of wine with the expectation that it will taste like grapes. With 6.5-7.5% alcohol, Farnum Hill Ciders tend toward the dry, sharp, fruity, and bountifully aromatic. These are not the sweet, artificially-flavored, mass-produced ciders of supermarket infamy. They represent a return to the craft and horticulture of distinctive American orchard-based cidermaking.

Proprietor Steve Wood has been at Poverty Lane Orchards since 1968. He has passionately studied the history and techniques of cider making while experimenting with his orchards and processing line. His dream is to see cider consumed with the thoughtfulness and enthusiasm dedicated to wine and craft beers. As he and other members of the Farnum Hill team mentioned throughout our visit, they strive to overcome the preconceived notions of cider as a sweet and appely autumn beverage and work hard to present Farnum Hill cider as a seasonless beverage with complexity, acidity, and palette appeal.

An apple not for eating, but for pressing, fermenting, and drinking

The influences of terroir are embraced by the Farnum team. They strive to make ciders that take on the character of the 80 acres of Poverty Lane orchards. In the words of Farnum Hill: A four-month growing season, heavy glacial soils, extreme temperature swings in Fall between day and night all, along with October frosts, contribute to intensification of flavors here. In general we find most concentrated, nuanced flavors come from the later-picked varieties, harvested late October. We believe that frost injury to the spur leaves of the fruit causes a sudden rush of photosynthates into the apple flesh, just before harvest. Meanwhile, a few earlier-ripening varieties seem to enjoy our compressed growing season, and produce juice with consistently admirable character.

Apple varietals with the occassional Odd Ball

Apple varietals such as Kingston Blacks, Foxwhelp, Medaille d'Or, and other heirlooms are carefully cultivated. In fact, during our tour through the orchards, Steve whipped out his clippers and began pruning the tree that we were discussing.

Our tasting that afternoon took us through many of these varietal ciders. While feasting on hearty cheese sandwiches in the barn, we tasted from glass beakers to breakdown the ciders' various elements before taking the opportunity to blend the different beakers into our glasses. We also tasted from barrel and bottle. As Farnum Hill explains, Very few cider apples will make a satisfying finished cider on their own. Diversified orchards and expert blending are critical to doing cider right.

Howard Mahady, Farnum Hill's Steve Wood, Nick Zeiser,
Bob Goulet & Don Murphy

We enjoyed a very full afternoon at Farnum Hill. Please visit their website for more information or talk to one of us. We hope that you will pick up a bottle or two of Farnum Hill Cider on your next trip to your favored wine/beer/spirits shop!

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