Several twists of fate led Will Loughlin to his job as cidermaster at Riverhead Ciderhouse.
The 33-year-old was working as an electrician when one day, before the Calverton tasting room had opened, he was sent there to work on the electricity.
Already a cidermaker as a hobbyist, Loughlin thought how fun it would be to do it for a living. By chance, Sinead King, co-owner of the ciderhouse, had once worked for Loughlin’s dad at M&P Deli in Hauppauge.
And so Loughlin, who was already doing a number of odd jobs — including driving a bread route — to make ends meet, enquired about employment.
“When I saw the chance, I said, ‘I’ll do whatever I can to get in that back room and try to make that cider,’ ” he said in recalling that day more than two years ago.
Loughlin was brought on as an apprentice, learning the ropes from veteran winemaker Greg Gove, who after years producing bottles for wineries like Hargrave, Pindar, Laurel Lake and Peconic Bay, helped Riverhead Ciderhouse launch its brand.
Today, it’s Loughlin who’s responsible for making the craft beverage at the wildly popular Sound Avenue tasting spot.
The Hauppauge native’s journey into this profession actually began a decade ago. Soon after he double majored in mathematics and education at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, he was diagnosed with a gluten allergy. Under doctor’s orders, he was told to give up drinking beer.
Cider, however, was a craft beverage he could consume, so he began making it for himself in small batches. But nothing compares with the challenging experience of producing a commercial product.
Loughlin worked under Gove for about four months, learning the ins and outs of cider making: starting with a base apple juice, adding yeast to it and letting it ferment away.
“It was daunting, to say the least,” Loughlin said. “Those first couple weeks of basically like, ‘Here’s $20,000 worth of juice, hopefully you don’t mess it up,’ was very nerve-wracking.”
Now, in his role as cidermaster, Loughlin is in charge of the production and development of the approximately 12,000 gallons of cider made each year. A lot of the job, he said, is keeping things meticulously clean.
“Cider making, in general, is just a lot of cleaning,” he said. “People think — ‘Oh you’re making alcohol!’ It’s cleaning. Cleaning the tanks, cleaning the kegs, cleaning the floor.”
There’s no “normal day” for him. One day might consist of a lot of office work and another day he’s supervising others. He also has to serve as a liaison to distribution partners and works tasting events.
He also spends time sourcing and sampling ciders made locally and upstate.
“It changes a lot,” he said of his responsibilities. “I could be going to an orchard and picking up the juice to try out something new … I’m in a bunch of different places at one time. There’s a lot to it.”
Loughlin recently took a course from the Cider Institute of North America through Cornell University and is working toward becoming a Certified Cider Professional through The United States Association of Cider Makers. He also aims to become a certified cider judge.
“It was always interesting to make something and see it actually work,” said Loughlin. “Cider is kind of the same way. I get a raw product at the beginning, I work through it, make a mixture, I can see the actual product at the end. It tastes good if it’s right, and I also see people’s reactions, which is great.”
On tap at any one time, Riverhead Ciderhouse has 12 ciders, eight local beers and four local wines, and has been known for keeping it local since its opening in 2017.
“It’s super nice for me helping other people in our area, and I love pushing other New York cideries, like Woodside Orchards [in Aquebogue] and Po’Boy Brewery [in Port Jefferson],” Loughlin said.
There’s much to look forward to at Riverhead Ciderhouse for cider lovers. Upcoming flavors Loughlin has concocted are a strawberry mint — a play on a mojito — and a tea-infused cider, made in collaboration with The Spice & Tea Exchange of Port Jefferson.
“That one’s going to be our first still cider with no carbonation,” Loughlin said of the latter. “It’s good to drink cold, maybe with some ice. It’s going to be lighter — almost like an Arnold Palmer flavor to it, which is nice.”
The ciderhouse’s small orchard of about 200 trees is in its third year and should soon be able to be used for a select reserve series, Loughlin said. Bees have also just arrived as well, so guests can soon expect some honey.
Despite all the multi-tasking in his current role, Loughlin said it sure beats his days doing odd jobs. So don’t expect to see him delivering bread again anytime soon.
“I think everything I did before this was just doing a job,” he said. “Now I found something that I actually love doing.”
Riverhead Ciderhouse is located at 2711 Sound Ave, Calverton