Liquid Gold

Liquid Gold

W allingford’s New England Cider Company sits on a road lined with industrial buildings, but a few things help distinguish the cidery from its surroundings. One is a small seating area, where herbs and flowers grow in planters while a hops vine sends tendrils up the wall. Another is an old-fashioned cider press next to the entrance, filled with more flowers. And, at the time of my visit, there were the seven cubic vats newly delivered in the drive, each containing a jacuzzi’s worth of raw apple juice destined to become boozy cider.

“We started doing this as a hobby,” Miguel Galarraga, one of the founders, says. He and business partner Seth Hart had been mechanics moonlighting as homebrewers. Hart was from Vermont, where alcoholic cider had remained popular despite losing favor nationally until a late-aughts resurgence.

They had been making cider in small batches before, but, with increased interest, their mechanical skills came into play. “We made our own apple press. Then we made our own chopper,” Galarraga reminisces. For four years, they homebrewed batches ranging in size from five to 60 gallons.

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Then, “We got tired of being mechanics,” Galarraga says with a smile. “Connecticut’s craft beer market was changing quite a bit. It was expanding, and no one [in that market] was doing hard cider.”

In late 2012, they began to go cautiously commercial. Renting a space down the street from the current location, they bought professional equipment and began brewing, debuting at Hamden’s MiKro Beer Bar in late 2013, eventually selling into seemingly every bar in downtown New Haven. Following the move to the present, larger location, they opened a tasting room a year ago, where they pour their ciders for the curious and connoisseur alike.

New England Cider Company doesn’t bottle its beverages, instead providing kegs of standards and specials to bars around the northeast. Galarraga shows me the brewing area, where large plastic vats of cider ferment away. Against the walls are lines of wooden barrels, and when the tasting room is open, Thursday through Sunday, tables are set on the brewing floor itself.

The process from apple to glass takes about two months. Since New England Cider Company doesn’t have its own orchards, it purchases juice from New England Apple Products Company, a Massachusetts concern whose sole business is crushing apples. In Wallingford, sulfites are added to kill any bacteria that might interfere with the taste or with the yeast added to the brew, which is then left to ferment for two weeks.The cider-to-be is then transferred to another vessel, where the sediment can settle to the bottom, in a process called “racking.” After a few weeks, having continued to age, the cider is transferred to kegs and carbonated.

True to its name, all the apples the company uses are grown in New England, Galarraga says. “The number one thing is a good-quality apple,” he adds. Noting that places like Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford make alcoholic cider that’s more wine-like and sold alongside countless other apple products, he points out that New England Cider Company follows a craft-beer model and is focused entirely on hard cider.

I try a few sips each of what’s on tap. “Primarily, it’s dry ciders,” Galarraga says of New England’s lineup. But most popular is the cidery’s sweetest variety: the Fresh Blend ($5 for a 13-ounce glass, $9 for a 32-ounce bottle, $15 for a 64-ounce growler). Light and easy with a crisp edge, the cider is mixed with fresh juice to create its approachable apple-forward flavor. Drinking it is like biting into a fresh-picked apple.

The company ages many of its ciders in barrels, including ones that once housed some other libation. It might have been my imagination, but the Gin Barrel cider ($8 glass, $13 bottle) seemed to have a juniper-green tinge, with a tart and floral tang. There was no mistaking the pink-orange of the delicious Peach cider ($6 glass, $11 bottle), made with bushels of fresh peaches, though Galarraga warned me that it was almost gone for the season. The English ($5 glass, $9 bottle, $15 growler) had an earthy dryness, which Galarraga assured me was traditional, while the Dry ($5 glass, $9 bottle, $15 growler) had the crisp effervescence and flavor of sparkling wine.

Galarraga notes that due to its relative rarity, there are fewer set expectations when it comes to cider, making freewheeling flavors and fermentations more palatable. Though there’s still the sense of having to break ground with new cider drinkers, to Galarraga, cider’s appeal boils down to a few words: “It’s good, it’s fun, it’s different.”

New England Cider Company
110 North Plains Industrial Rd, Ste A, Wallingford (map)
Tasting Room Hours: Thurs 4-8pm, Fri 3-9pm, Sat noon-8pm, Sun noon-6pm
(203) 793-7646
www.newenglandcider.com

Written and photographed by Anne Ewbank.

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A California native and world traveler, Anne came to New Haven for graduate school and discovered that New England is as cold as everyone said it was. She loves reading books, playing guitar, exploring new towns and taking road trips but only as long as she gets to pick the music.

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