Craft alcoholic beverage makers aren’t only looking to America’s hop fields for ingredients. They’re turning their eyes to its orchards as well.
You’ve probably noticed more and more of your favorite bars, restaurants, stadiums and theaters offering hard ciders alongside beer. Americans are rediscovering cider, a tradition brought over from Europe became the working class drink of choice until the Eighteenth Amendment made domestically produced cider an endangered species.
To reignite American hard cider production, producers had to overcome environmental damage wrought by the temperance movement. During prohibition, trees growing fruit used for cider-making were burned to the ground, triggering the loss of many heirloom varieties vital for making proper hard cider.
Fast-forward to a few years ago, when wine buyer Peter Yi fell in love with the interactions he had drinking and eating in Basque sagardotegi cider houses.
“As a wine buyer I was tasting thousands of vintages a year, and I was always looking for one thing: natural, integrated flavor,” Yi says. “That’s what I found in the ciders in the sagardotegi that I hadn’t been able to get from American ciders.” Desperate to keep this quality, flavorful cider in his life without uprooting to Spain, the New Yorker purchased Twin Star Orchards in New Paltz, New York in 2014 to bring cider back to America.
He planted 8,000 apple trees—including many of the varieties first brought by those tippling, traveling Europeans and destroyed by Prohibition.
“I didn’t think I was going to be in the orchard business, but I realized I had to be,” Yi chuckles.
After over three years on the orchard, Brooklyn Cider House launched in Bushwick in December 2017. The arduous process proved to be a learning experience for everyone involved. The legal certification process for the multi-use space required them to address a whopping 82 objections. They were the first cider farm to open in New York City’s recent history. “They didn’t really know what to do with us,” Yi said.
Modeled after those sagardotegi Yi adores, it’s one massive house with a pressing room adjacent to a room storing six enormous oak barrels. Imported from Spain, the barrels age the brand’s four ciders—Bone Dry, Half Sour, Kida Dry and Raw.
In the expansive bar area and outdoor patio, guests can drink the house ciders or cocktails, local beers and even other hard ciders that pass Yi’s rigorous screening process. “All the ciders we stock are the ones I drink,” he says with a smile.
Brooklyn Cider House offer bar bites drawing in flavors from Spanish tapas and Yi’s Korean heritage like crispy fried cod skin with gochujang aioli and lime, three different types of pajeon (Korean savory pancakes) and an open-faced Serrano ham and tomato-garlic puree sandwich served on a toasted baguette. But if you come hungry as well as thirsty, they also have rooms dedicated to full-service dining—again, just like the Basque sagardotegi.
And here’s where the interactive part of the experience comes in. Make a reservation for the four-course cider-catching prix-fixe dinner and in between plates of grilled vegetables with chorizo and traditional Spanish omelettes you’ll be led out to the casks where the staff teaches you how to catch the cider in your glass as it falls from the spout when they open it just for you as is done in traditional sagardotegi. It might be in Brooklyn, but you’ll swear you’re in Basque country.