Rogers’ Cideryard

At Rogers Family Orchard in Johnstown, the groves stretch in beautiful rows and gently fade into the edge of the woods colors especially bright against a gray fall sky. The sight of the gnarly apple trees illustrates a great upstate New York tradition for visitors and passersby.

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Some of the trees here have been around for more than 100 years. Mitch Rogers has been here as long as he can remember.

As the third generation to occupy the property, the late 20-something wanted to stay in a meaningful way. So, he tapped into tradition to try something new.

Well-known to locals and agritourists as a place to purchase and pick premium fruit, Rogers’ family farm recently expanded into an emerging market based on a very old-school trade.

Rogers’ Cideryard is dedicated to the drink of the hard variety, a popular beverage in Colonial times, a large part of the pioneer-era upstate economy and a growing interest among craft brew connoisseurs today.

Despite its newness to the craft beverage scene, hard cider making is a big part of brew history here in Central New York. The majority of Rogers’ customers are curious beer drinkers, but some reminisce about grandpa’s barrels in the basement or dad’s stash in the shed.

Rogers was introduced at the age of 9 or 10 by a family friend. At that time, he was a helper, not a drinker. But, the time spent hauling barrels and bottles around and witnessing the process grew a fascination you can taste in Rogers’ beverages today.

He brews with apples you’d ignore at the store – his ingredients are small, tart and occasionally feature fungus. Rogers explains that each has a uniqueness that produces even more remarkable flavors when blended.

It’s the science, nature and tradition that keeps him combining. He’s grown a greater appreciation for planting, growing and brewing as he continuously learns and occasionally experiments.

Despite the youth of his body and enterprise, he has already added his own legacy to the farm as 130 trees producing eight cider-specific varietals are just taking root. Likewise, Rogers is just getting started.

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1911 Spirits

Peter Fleckenstein does the work his father, grandfather and great-grandfather did before him at Beak & Skiff Orchards, home to 1911 Spirits. The hundred-year legacy of cultivating the apples here ensures the family ownership maintains complete control of hard cider and spirit production from “tree to bottle.”

One of only a few in the country distilling gin and vodka from apples, Beak & Skiff debuted its cider and spirits in the early 2000s, allowing a new family legacy to grow.

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Peter: Beak & Skiff Apple Farms was founded in 1911, the first trees went in the ground that year, by two families that got together. One had been a potato farmer. One owned some land here on the hillside. They met down at the market in Syracuse and said geez, we could grow apples and make some money at it. That was the start of what is now a 103 year old business.

Every generation has put something into the business that’s added some value. The first generations put in the apple trees. The second generation put in the packing line and the trucking and the shipping and the distribution. A third and fourth generation worked on the cider mill. Now that we’re the fifth generation here, we’re doing the spirits business. Every generation has built on what was left before them.

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The initial thought of the spirits business was that it was a good diversification. It was another value-added product that we could sell and have complete control over. The intent was just to sell it at our own retail store. We had no intention of selling it through distributors or even regionally at the time when it was developed.

Tree to bottle really is our way of saying we own the entire process. We own the trees. We own the land. We make the cider out of our apples. We ferment it into hard cider and then we put it through the still using our own recipe from top to bottom. We’re one of the few, if the only, people that grow the apples, press the cider, ferment the cider, and then distill it into either vodka or gin. I don’t know if anybody else out there, especially not in the Northeast, that has control of the entire process. The fact that we have that control plus we’re family-owned and operated makes us pretty unique.

 

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Critz Farms Brewing & Cider Co.

In many ways, Harvest Moon hard cider took more than a century to get here. Matthew and Juanita Critz use an antique apple press, name the ciders in tribute to their farm’s 200-year history and use hops with roots in the 1800s.

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It’s all about taking time at Critz Farms Brewing & Cider Co. Matthew spent five years perfecting his award-winning ciders made from carefully selected and locally sourced apples – many from their own orchard at Critz Farms.

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The evolution of Critz Farms in Cazenovia began 30 years ago, when Matthew and Juanita purchased the 325-acre former dairy operation and became farmers for the first time. For Matthew and Juanita, it’s about taste, tradition and the farm-to-table philosophy that drives their business.

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Matthew Critz: We started with Christmas trees and then people started wondering, “Well, what are you doing to do in the Fall?” And so we started picking pumpkins, and once we started picking pumpkins then we started adding rides and a petting zoo and all this other stuff, and then everybody said, “Well, why don’t you have apples?” We said, “OK, we’ll have apples.” We planted the orchard and bought the cider press at the same time and we started pressing cider when we first started picking apples. It couldn’t have been the first week we were pressing cider and everybody started saying, “When are you doing to make hard cider?”

I start thinking about that and say, “Well, that’s not a bad idea. People are asking for it”, so we actually started trialing. We trialed for three or four years, different yeast, different apples plans and stuff, before Nita and I were confident that we had a quality product and one that we could duplicate. Then we took the big plunge and built a winery and here we are in the hard cider business.

Juanita Critz: We make nine ciders besides the seasonal ciders that we make, and the first one that we came up with is called Rippleton Original. This is a champagne style cider that does its secondary fermentation in the bottle. We do something sort of different; we use maple syrup as the charge in the cider to cause that secondary fermentation. Because we’re maple syrup producers and we make the syrup right here on the farm, we thought that was a nice touch, and we think it adds a complexity so the cider.

Next in the line is Blissful Moon, and Blissful Moon is named after Solomon Bliss, who was the original owner of the farm. He purchased the farm in 1793 for $1.50 an acre, or something amazing like that, so we wanted to salute Solomon. The next cider is what I guess we would consider our flag ship cider. It’s called Four Screw. We named this one after our four screw cider press, which is a 120 year old antique press that we press all the apples on, it’s a rack and cloth style press. Four Screw is real popular, it’s a crisp cider that has a lot of depth of character, I would say. It’s probably one of our most popular and widely distributed ciders.

Matthew Critz:  Standing behind the counter and having a bunch of smiling people in front of you that are actually drinking a product that you’ve created is very, incredibly satisfying. Everybody’s on the patio and there are bands playing and everybody’s having a great time, it’s great. I have to tell you there’s a little more feedback. The feedback loop is much better than in the Christmas tree business.

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Black Bear Winery

Black Bear Winery produces some of the finest fruit wines and hard ciders available. The wines are made from New York-grown fruit picked at the peak of ripeness and handcrafted into flavors that are enjoyed by all wine enthusiasts.  Try an extremely aromatic, fruity, light, dry strawberry; a semi-sweet, tongue-tingling hard cider; or a nice round, sweet blueberry.

Visit the winery for tastings, tours and an unbelievable view.


Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard

The unique characteristics of Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard stretch well beyond the 125-year-old, water-powered apple press it uses today. In addition to its beginnings brewing hard ciders, the mill also fueled the growing local beer market through the second half of the 19th century.

The Fly Creek Cider Mill inspired development of other brewing-related industries during Central New York’s legendary hop boom that peaked around the turn of the 20th century. Manufacturers made everything from the rakes and buckets used to harvest the hops to the stoves needed to dry them.

The last of eight of those structures to stand, Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard produces lines of hard cider and apple wines today in homage to its prestigious past as a brew producer and integral role in the Central New York hop movement.

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Bill: My dad was a carpenter, my mom was a high school art teacher, and they needed a home so they bought the whole facility for just the home up on the corner. The gentleman who sold them the mill still lived next door, so he would come over and get in my dad’s ear on how big the place used to be, and tell him about the big lines of people waiting to have their apples pressed. Well, that started my dad’s entrepreneurial bug and they started fixing it up. It just grew, slow, slow incremental growth, until eventually it became their full-time business. We’re a 32-inch press made in 1889 from the Boomer Mosher company in Syracuse, New York. It’s the traditional rack and cloth method. That means we lay your ground apples in cloths between plastic racks that used to be oak, but now they’re plastic. Our grinder is powered by a 1924 Waterloo Boy tractor engine. We’re almost completely off the grid when we’re making our product.

Making cider on the original equipment, showing people how things were done in the late 1800’s is what touches me in my heart. What we wanted to do with the farm winery license is reconnect with our roots, use our traditional equipment to make sweet cider and then ferment it. We really wanted to bring the process back, I guess you would say, to what it was historically, but with a new twist with our apple wines, our black currant apple wine. We have apple cherry, we have apple cranberry, also an apple and strawberry. It’s a realm of apple-based products that we can sell and serve here and expose customers to products that are new to them, but were common in the past.

Dave: We make the apple frost, and we make some experimental type small volume wines to see what direction we may want to go. The apple frost is what we spend most of our time on because that’s a very labor-intensive process. We start out with pressing the apples in the fall, and we through what’s referred to as a process of cryo-extraction. We freeze the juice, then thaw the juice, then freeze it, and thaw it for a couple months well into winter. It concentrates the flavors and the sugars. The yield on that is probably about 15 or 20%. It’s a very flavorful juice. It takes at least 6 months, if not closer to a year sometimes to be ready to bottle it.

Bill: We welcome about 150,000 visitors here annually. Coming in, they think of us as a historic attraction. Once they pass through the door, they actually see our other side which is a gourmet specialty foods, baked goods, dips, marinades. We offer more than 40 samples. They get a full flavor profile of all the products that we offer, and having a great family fun experience right in the heart of central New York.