Though consumed far less than beer and wine, hard cider has a long history in the United States. According to Smithsonian Magazine, Johnny Appleseed (a.k.a. American pioneer John Chapman) originally planted apple trees in order to make cider. And although Chapman didn’t grown them in New York, today the Empire State has the most hard cider producers in the country. We’ve rounded up a handful of places to sample some of the best.
Upstate New York
Embark Craft Ciderworks
Mitzy Lagoner and her husband, Jake, opened their cidery in June 2015. Jake’s family has been growing apples for a hundred years and, to the couple, making cider seemed like a natural fit. Their co-owner is Chris Gowan and he, along with Nick Wilson, makes the cider. “This is our passion,” says Mitzy. “We grow it. We harvest it. We’re nurturing it, from tree to glass.”
Embark has five standard ciders (like the acidic and fruity American Heirloom, made with seven varieties of American heirloom apples) and two limited edition brews — Crab Series Volume 1, made from three varieties of crabapples, and the semi-dry Pippin, made from three types of Pippin apples (Cox Orange, Newtown and Green Winter) and Rome Beauty apples. Tasting flights and café fare are served in the taproom, which also hosts occasional events like a chocolate and cider pairing.
Finger Lakes Cider House
An organic farm-cum-cidery, this is the place to go in the Finger Lakes to taste a variety of local ciders. Melissa Madden and her husband, Garrett Miller, started Good Life Farm in 2008, had their first apples in 2013 and, in May 2015, opened Finger Lakes Cider House. The handsome cider house was built by Garrett and his brother, James (who is also the co-cider maker).
FLCH has done swift business so far; by the end of 2015, 8,000 people had come through its doors. Madden and Miller teamed up with local cideries Black Diamond Cider, Eve’s Cidery, Redbyrd Orchard Cider and South Hill Cider — and here you can try them all. With a tasting flight of five ciders, you can sip sparkling, still, dry and sweet. FLCH has a small, 100 percent local food menu that includes organic charcuterie and cheese boards.
Graft Wine + Cider Bar
This homey wine-and-cider bar, which opened its door in October 2015, serves only New York State wines and ciders, with a focus on those produced in the Finger Lakes region. Sip ciders from Blackduck Cidery, Bellwhether Hard Cider and Black Bird Cider Works, as well as those also on tap at Finger Lakes Cider House, among others. The kitchen, helmed by Christina McKeough, serves seasonal dishes like ricotta and roasted beet tartine.
Harvest Moon Cidery
Part of Critz Farms, owned by Matthew and Juanita Critz, Harvest Moon Cidery is the most family-friendly spot on our list. The tasting room and patio are safe for kids, the farm has two fenced-in playgrounds, and there are goats, llamas and ponies a plenty. The Critzes have been making hard cider since 2007 and now produce nine varieties, most of which are award winning. Glinda’s Gold, a sweet variety, was so named because The Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum was born nearby. Among the company’s unique flavors is the sweet, smooth Maple Moon, made with Critz Farms’ own maple syrup. The tasting room serves flights as well as local beer and wine.
Where to stay
Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel
Just around the corner from Graft, this hotel sits right on Seneca Lake. While the hotel is family-friendly enough (big, ultra-plush beds, spacious rooms and a heated indoor pool), Watkins Glen Harbor is most popular with travelers on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail or in town to taste cider.
Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery
Sixty miles from New York City, Warwick Valley Winery is busy producing its own wine, gin and, under the name Doc’s Draft Ciders, hard cider. Doc’s comes in seven varieties, from the classic, semi-dry apple to a delightfully crisp, dry pear. The seasonal pumpkin cider is beloved.
Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery has a warm, wood-filled tasting room built in a former apple-packing house. It overlooks the orchards and a goose pond and is a tranquil place to sit down for a tasting flight. Call (1-845-258-4858) or email ahead (firstname.lastname@example.org) and you can also take a quick tour of the cider distilling facilities, granting you a behind-the-scenes look at how apples go from the tree to your bottle.
Orchard Hill Cider Mill
This cider mill is part of Soons Orchard, just an hour outside New York City. Come for a tasting flight and stay to chat with owners Andrew Emig (a musician), Carolyn and Karl duHoffmann (former actors) and Jeff Soon, whose family has been farming since the turn of the 20th century. Orchard Hill makes French-style, extra-dry hard ciders that may just woo you away from beer and champagne.
The Ten66 Red Label is aged in French oak wine barrels and blended with fresh, sweet non-alcoholic cider for a taste that has hints of spice and vanilla. Stop in to Orchard Hill for a flight, a bite courtesy of Culinary Institute of America-trained chef Shawn Hubbell and a chat with the owners, who can talk shop and also theater.
Where to stay
The former home of industrialist Robert Goelet, this Tuscan-style villa was built in 1911 but, today, houses an ultra-luxurious, 18-room boutique hotel. Glenmere Mansion overlooks Glenmere Lake and acts as a country getaway for urbanites who delight in a weekend of genteel pastimes — garden-strolling, bocce, tennis, croquet and languid dips in the outdoor pool.
Castle Hotel and Spa
Dating to the late 1800s, this castle-turned-hotel is seemingly fit for royalty. The Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star property was built for newspaperman General Howard Carroll, and originally had 45 rooms. Today, the handsome Tarrytown hotel has 31 guest rooms (most are in the new wing), and is regularly booked out for weddings. After you work up an appetite swimming and playing tennis, sit down at French restaurant Equus, whose seasonal menus utilize local ingredients.