By Ty Hillis
Photo courtesy of Embark Craft Ciderworks
One hundred years is a long time for something to be passed down from generation to generation. It is surprising when a watch or a ring lasts for that long, but when an entire orchard survives a century under the same family of owners; it is a rare sight to be seen. Rochester, New York-based Lagoner Farms did just that and has very recently began producing ciders from their ancestral apples.
Jake Lagoner, a fifth-generation apple farmer, decided that with access to the apples grown on his farm, he should make a great cider from them. His alcohol-producing tendencies began with a simple wine during college, but soon evolved into both beer brewing and cider making. After dabbling in home fermentation for nearly nine years, Lagoner decided it was time to move commercial and set out to create Embark Craft Ciderworks.
Embark is very new to the cider scene, so new in fact, that the grand opening took place on July 11. It was a huge success, Lagoner recalls, with nearly 500 people in attendance to enjoy live music, local food and most importantly, great cider. It can be a challenge trying to break into a scene that has become so popular as of late, but Lagoner says he has faith that Embark will be a success. “We are just farmers trying to grow great apples to make great cider,” he says.
The process of making an Embark cider is simple, but effective—from 100 percent apple juice, with no artificial ingredients added to the mix. The result is a pure cider that can be judged by the apples contained within, of which all come from the family farm.
The flagship ciders for Embark are the American Heirloom, the Dryhouse Jonagold and the Old Marauder. The American Heirloom is a blend of seven different varieties of American heirloom apples, which produce a complex cider containing a mix of fruity, spicy and sweet tones. The Dryhouse Jonagold is a single varietal cider that features one strain of Jonagold apple. It is labeled a dry cider, but Lagoner says many have commented on how pleasantly sweet it is for a dry style. Finally, the Old Marauder is an homage to the surrounding area by featuring apples that have been a source of pride for many in Wayne County.
Aside from the flagships, Embark has had two limited release ciders so far. The Crab Series Vol. 1 was a cider, which Lagoner admits has been his favorite so far, which is a mix of three different crab apple varieties that produces an incredibly unique dry cider. The other, the Pippin, mixed three Pippin-style apples and one traditional cider apple to make a semi-dry cider that was fruity and fresh on the palate. There is also a wild fermentation cider in the works that has 30 different apples and wild yeasts, which Lagoner hopes to be ready in about six months time.
If you should find yourself in western New York state, you can stop by the recently opened taproom, which is located on the farm, and enjoy food made with local ingredients to pair with your cider. The menu features greens, soups, cheese boards, burgers, and sandwiches, all made using supplies from farms in the area.
So far, it seems like the Lagoner family is off to a successful start. Lagoner says that the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and he hopes that he can continue to grow and improve upon the already sturdy foundation. It seems as though the adventure that the Lagoner’s have Embark(ed) on will lead them to happiness grown on trees, as far as the eye can see.