Finger Lakes Cider - A Slow Motion Explosion!
Welcome to apple country! Many visitors come to the Finger Lakes for the fruit of the grapevine, but the hottest trend these days has more to do with our native apples. Local cideries have been developing slowly over the past few years – ripening if you will – and are now ready to satisfy even the most discerning cider lovers! This “slow motion explosion,” as one cider maker recently explained to me, is due to the fact that it takes time to establish a well-producing orchard. Unlike hops and grape vines, an apple tree can take seven or eight years to produce usable fruit.
If you’ve tasted the sweet beverage sold in six-packs at the grocery store and concluded that cider was not for you, I would encourage you to taste ciders made using more traditional methods. Similar to wines, these ciders come in many varieties ranging from sweet to dry and even sparkling!
Check out a few of my favorite places to sample local artisan cider, all located in or just a short drive from Ithaca:
Finger Lakes Cider House
The Finger Lakes Cider House, overlooking Cayuga Lake in Interlaken, is a wonderful place not only for cider tasting but also for a delicious lunch! The sign over the pocket kitchen reads “All of the meat, dairy, fruit, vegetables and most grain is raised on FLX farms, including our own. We’re Serious. (Seriously).” I think that they are serious about this locally sourced thing, and the food is seriously fantastic (try the cast iron cornbread with jalapeno butter)! Featuring their own Kite & String ciders, as well as a guest cidery which rotates monthly, you can get tastings or flights to sample several varieties. For vinegar lovers (or those avoiding alcohol), there are also shrub flights in flavors such as blueberry lavender, strawberry peppercorn and peach ginger.
Ithaca Farmers Market
The Ithaca Farmers Market is a must-see for visitors for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is the opportunity to choose from a smorgasbord of food and drink—including cider! On a recent visit there were four different cideries represented, including two of the oldest in the area (Bellwether and Eve’s Cidery), and the most recent (NY Cider Company), each with tastings of three to five varieties. At the Market, it is likely that the cider maker or owner is doing the pouring and they love to talk about their product! Without much prompting, you’ll learn a lot about the apples and methods used to make the different varieties. I learned, for example, that Pommeau is a fortified cider aged for months or even years and similar in taste to an apple brandy (yum!). While the server suggested pouring it over a dish of vanilla ice cream, I think I’ll enjoy sipping mine around an evening campfire!
Black Diamond Cider
If you want to visit the orchard and see the fruit on the trees, you can’t do better than Black Diamond Farm in nearby Trumansburg, NY. One of the few cideries in NY making 100% homegrown cider, Black Diamond has been growing apples commercially since 1994. The orchard contains over 100 varieties of apples and pears, many selected specifically for their cider-making qualities. The most sought after fruit is dual purpose, good for both eating and cider. Groups of 4-12 can make an appointment for a private tasting in their brand-new tasting room (I only found out about it because I asked!) by emailing Erica@blackdiamondcider.com.
The Cellar d'Or
Located on the Commons in downtown Ithaca, the Cellar d’Or is a wine, cider and spirits boutique which offers cider tastings when filling your growler. You may purchase an empty growler for $5 or bring your own and try before you buy. The staff is super knowledgeable and can’t wait to share their passion for cider with you! The ciders on tap change frequently and include several Finger Lakes favorites as well as some from farther afield. All of the staff pride themselves in tailoring their recommendations to your palate – whether you are looking for cider, wine, or spirits.
South Hill Cider
South Hill Cider is perched on a hillside with beautiful views just four miles from the Ithaca Commons. Their new tasting room recently opened in September and is a unique and relaxing space. Steve Selin, self-described cider maker, apple picker and community orchardist, has been wild harvesting and tending abandoned orchards for years while developing his own. South Hill ciders have the” individuality, quality and elegance that reflect the terroir of our Finger Lakes region.” The orchard and cidery border the Thayer wildlife preserve which is traversed by portions of the Finger Lakes Trail. I can’t think of a better way to spend a fall day than hiking through the woods to the hidden gem of Lick Brook waterfall, followed by a glass of crisp golden cider!
Finger Lakes Cider Week
For more on Finger Lakes cider, don’t miss Cider Week September 27-October 6, 2019 (CiderWeekFLX.com) for tastings, dinners, markets, orchard tours and more!