Small-batch producers are leading the cider boom. They’re developing new styles, new techniques and are upping quality. To find out what it’s like to be at the arrow point of the fastest-growing booze beverage on the planet, we sat down with Andy Brennan of Aaron Burr Cidery in New York’s Hudson Valley to talk apple-tree terroir, his “cult” status and how it’s only a matter of time before folks discover the apple elixir goes amazingly well with food.
So, you must really love apples, huh?
Living among apple trees has been a dream of mine ever since I was a child. In fact, my first utterance as a baby was “apple.”
Did you work at a winery or brewery before making cider?
I came to the area nine years ago—not as a farmer or landowner—but after 25 years as a painter living in Brooklyn. Initially, I didn’t have the money to buy land, so I sacrificed that freedom for a full-time job as an architect. Eventually, my wife and I saved enough to buy an old homestead farm overlooking the Shawangunk Mountains on the western rim of the Hudson Valley.
What apples do you use?
The fruit I use is from wild, uncultivated trees, which have been growing and self-spawning in the Northeast for centuries. They’re suited to their own specific microclimates and provide true expression of terroir. In my Homestead line of ciders, I try to focus on this sense of place. The trees have done the apple selection—all I have to do is give them a voice.
Why do you choose to limit production?
Cider, for me, is more about the place than anything. If you take the place, or terroir, out of the equation by mixing apples from various regions, then you’ve drowned a soloist in a cacophony of noise. There is no way to take a single microclimate and scale it up. I would even struggle to supply my own town with a year’s worth of cider.
But don’t you want to grow your business?
When I try to produce more than a couple thousand gallons a year, I end up cutting corners. I might make more money that way, but what did I really accomplish?
How do you feel about your product being called a “cult” cider?
For years I was penniless, but living in the art world and enjoying its freedom. So, when I started to make cider, I decided I was going to do what I want to do whether people appreciate it or not. When our cider took on some notoriety at Cider Week NYC of 2012, I was, of course, excited, but I know the attention can be dangerous.
Now that your ciders are poured at some of the world’s best restaurants, like NYC’s Eleven Madison Park, will it finally convince people cider is great with food?
It’s definitely encouraging.