The mere mention of Salem, Massachusetts, calls to mind an array of related images: Pointy hats, black cats, the hocus pocus we’ve seen in movies and television, and the etchings in history books chronicling the witch trials of 1692.
From its world-famous Halloween celebrations to the museums and magic shops lining the historic downtown, it can be a challenge to escape the witchcraft that brought a majority of visitors to Salem in the first place. There is some respite, however, for cider lovers who still haven’t quite had their fill of the weird, and want to live deliciously while in Salem.
Sitting just outside of the city’s downtown, Far From The Tree has a team of three cidermakers who revel in the opportunity to experiment with their product throughout the month of October, using ingredients ranging from green bell pepper and jalapeno to cochineal and even cuttlefish ink. In the spirit of the month, they name these small batch ciders Ectoplasm, Beetlejuice or Black Lagoon. Customers are “usually up for something weird or different anyway, which goes so well with us,” says co-founder Al Snape, who grew up just a couple hours down the road in Hopkinton. “Because it allows us to do weird ciders and fun Halloween-themed stuff. It pairs well, I think.”
While the All Hallows’ Eve festivities are a quirky bit of fun, Far From The Tree takes pride in pressing local apples to make their quality, homegrown cider. Snape, and his wife Denise, founded Far From The Tree in September 2013, but before they discovered their passion for cider, they first fell in love with wine. Back in 2007, before they were married, the two used to share a bottle of wine every Wednesday. It became a tradition for them, and they found themselves researching and making wine of their own. It wasn’t long before the tradition grew into a discussion of quitting their jobs and moving to Europe to pursue winemaking.
“This is what happens when you drink and talk every week, right? Crazy ideas,” Snape says.
Unlike most idle chitchat inspired by drink, the two actually pursued their dream and found themselves in England, where Snape enrolled in an enology course and earned a degree in winemaking. While he was there, he noticed that cider was deeply ingrained in the culture, and unlike the United States at the time, it wasn’t uncommon to see a group of friends in a pub enjoying pints of cider.
The couple traveled around Europe, making wine and cider in cities like Mosel, Germany, and Champagne in France, absorbing new skills, techniques and traditions from generations of wine and cidermakers, as they lived with various families along the way whose lives were deeply rooted in the craft. The goal was to return to Massachusetts and start a winery, but Snape says he had an epiphany while finishing his dissertation. “I shouldn’t force grapes that don’t want to be there,” he recalls. “I should take what grows [there] naturally well, and make the best kind of product I can make.”
Snape reflected on his youth, having grown up next to an apple orchard, and the many similarities between making wine and cider, and it all clicked. As soon as Al and Denise were married, they started their cider business the very next day in lieu of a honeymoon.
Starting small, Snape was making the cider while his new wife was making sales calls, distributing the product and doing all the paperwork.
A call out on Facebook brought in some helping hands, however, and in only a few years Far From The Tree went from a workforce of two to about 20, including a new head cidermaker and two assistant cidermakers. The cidery opened the tasting room in 2015, which has not only opened up new doors for the company financially, but also helps bring the community together. People can come visit the cozy, rustic space, try the cider and give their feedback.
“Every time we talk we think about something fun to try,” says Snape of brainstorming with the cidermakers. “Sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s awful, but we like to just be as creative as [we] can. I think it’s the heart and soul of being in this industry, to have a lot of fun.”
For those who aren’t necessarily enthused about the idea of cuttlefish ink in their beverage, Far From The Tree has year-round ciders such as Nova, an off-dry hopped cider built on local apples, or Ember, which is aged on toasted chai spices and smoked vanilla beans, among other varieties.
“It’s so great to be able to go out and have a cider next door with my cidermakers, and see people enjoying our product and talk to people about it,” Snape says.
While he has some plans for Far From The Tree’s growth that he’s not quite willing to divulge yet, a recently installed canning line has brought that process in house and will also enable the team to do smaller canned batches of some “fun stuff,” as Snape puts it, to purchase in the tasting room.