Dry, crisp, fruity and clean. The words usually used when talking about a North Fork white wine can also describe another popular East End beverage — hard cider.
Time Magazine has already called it America’s fastest growing alcoholic beverage. And in just two years the industry’s growth nearly tripled, from 9.4 million gallons in 2011 to 32 million gallons in 2013, according to figures provided by The Beer Institute to The Oregonian.
In that time, Woodside Orchards in Aquebogue has made a name for itself as the only North Fork venue focused on hard cider.
“The reception has really exceeded our expectations,” said Woodside co-owner Bob Gammon. “We’re selling all that we can produce right now. The drawback to the business is that apples are only available seven months out of the year. It takes four-to-six weeks to make a tank, so if everything goes right, you’re emptying a tank when the next run is ready to go. If you do the math on a seven-month calendar, you can only turn the tank five times and your production is capped.”
With about half a dozen fermentation tanks at the Aquebogue location — each container holds between 500 to 1500 gallons — Woodside is busy these days. Despite having two apple orchards on the North Fork (one in Aquebogue and another in Jamesport) and nearly 4,500 apple trees at their disposal, it still may not be enough to meet demand.
“Legally we’re able to buy apples from anywhere in New York State,” Gammon explained. “While we haven’t gotten to that point yet, that point in time is coming where we may have to augment what we have and buy some from upstate.”
Artfully decorated to look like the inside of a barn, the tasting room is relatively quiet during the week. A flight is $6 and includes a sampling size of five flavors. On a recent visit traditional, traditional sweet, apple-rasberry, apple-lemon and ginger-apple were available.
Apple-lemon is the latest permanent addition. Ginger-apple is a rotating flavor, that will be replaced come September with cinnamon-apple. Apple-pumpkin is due out in October.
“Everybody’s palate is a little different, but they sell pretty evenly across the board,” Gammon said. “Around the holidays we will put an apple-cranberry out.”
The traditional cider goes down smoothly. Light and refreshing, it tastes like a semi-dry champagne, but without the sharpness. The traditional sweet is a little more sugary, but not by too much.
“We start with a lower sugar value and put a champagne yeast in it, that’s why it ferments so dry, crisp and clean,” explained Gammon. “All the ciders are about 6.8 percent alcohol by volume.”
The apple-rasberry cider is a good deal sweeter, almost like drinking a raspberry fizz soda.
The apple-lemon cider has a cleaner taste. The softer, fruitier apple flavor is diluted by the lemon, but with no sourness. Lighter even than the traditional, it is a refreshing addition to the collection.
Finally the ginger-apple is an explosion to the palate. Less sharp than a ginger ale, the ginger and apple complement each other perfectly. The taste is soft, subtle and goes down real easy.
Jim Abrousso of Bay Shore stopped in for a tasting and a growler on his way home from Greenport.
“This is my second time here,” he explained. “This place is awesome, I’m up to the apple-lemon and that’s my favorite so far.”
When asked why he thinks hard ciders are so popular now, he said, “It’s good for when you don’t want to drink beer all the time, especially with the gluten free option. I just like the sweetness sometimes, it’s refreshing. On a hot day I’d rather drink this then sit outside and drink beer all day, it’s a great alternative.”
North Fork winemakers are now also getting on the hard cider bandwagon..
In 2013 Lieb Cellars’ released its first dry sparkling cider, Rumor Mill.
Wolffer Estate Vineyards is also riding the cider wave with two varieties of sparkling cider, “Wölffer No. 139 Dry White Cider” and “Wölffer No. 139 Dry Rosé Cider.” Both are made from apples grown by the Halsey family of White Cap Farm, in Bridgehampton.
Woodside Orchards is located at 729 Main Road in Aquebogue. Tasting Room hours are 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. six days a week. It is closed on Wednesdays.