Inherently American, hard cider is a tradition deeply rooted in New England, tracing back to the 17th century when some of the earliest introduced crops in the English-speaking settlements were apples. Putting a twist on colonial America’s quintessential drink is Miguel Galarraga, owner and founder of New England Cider Co. in Wallingford, Connecticut, who, with each batch of cider, instills new life into an old tradition.
Cider “is a tradition here in New England,” Galarraga says. “It’s not any different or better or worse, [but] I think the history just runs a little bit deeper on the East Coast.”
The famously steadfast cider connoisseurs of early America may not have had the pleasure of trying New England Cider’s spruce-infused Spruce Willis, or the herbaceous Lemon Verbena, but each cider’s marriage of traditional and modern flavors impress new and old cider buffs alike.
THE REST IS HISTORY
Ten years ago, Galarraga and his friend Seth Hart – both avid cider drinkers – began an at-home fermentation hobby, unaware their leisurely pursuit would eventually take to brick in mortar in the form of New England Cider.
“The appeal of making cider was to diverge from the already-established beer presence around the area,” Galarraga says. “We didn’t know where it would lead, it was something fun and different to do.”
To supply their backyard batches, the pair would often head to Vermont, where Galarraga says abandoned apple orchards overflowed with unused apples, and with one shake of a tree the bounty would come plummeting down. Fermenting 20 to 30 gallons a year in a basement began as a casual interest, but the turning point was the response they received from friends and family.
“When we brought our home brews to parties, get-togethers and holidays, we saw how well people responded,” Galarraga says.
Around the same time, he recalls the influence his first visit to the annual Cider Conference (aka CiderCon) had on the trajectory towards owning a cider company. “It wasn’t until I attended when I really started getting into the complexity and different styles of cider,” Galarraga says. “It left a lasting impact as to what I could do with cider.”
Around 2012, after an outpouring of positive response to their cider, the duo decided to take the jump from being home cider makers to pursuing a professional status.
NOD TO THE CLASSICS
Now the sole owner of New England Cider, Galarraga says each frosty can or ice-cold pint of the cider is brewed with East Coast flavors. The juice that goes into each batch is sourced locally from Connecticut and the neighboring state of Massachusetts.
The cidery’s flagship draft comes in the form of Fresh Blend, sweetened with fresh juice, it’s marked by an unmistakable, classic fresh apple flavor and reminiscent of a timeless American cider.
Apart from the company’s flagship cider, Galarraga says he and his team like to get creative when trying out new flavors for seasonal taps. With each new visit to the taproom, customers are guaranteed a unique flavor on tap. The usual suspects are produced all year, but may not necessarily be available, so taking advantage of flavors, like the dry and tart Black Currant, or the hop-forward Hopped Cider, while they’re available is part of the fun.
The seasonal taps are even rarer – corresponding with the produce of that particular time of year – you may be able to catch a special batch of cider made from Dabinett, Pink Lady or Golden Russet apples garnered from Connecticut’s expansive apple orchards.
“Our seasonal taps are very much customer-driven,” Galarraga says. “We’re always trying something new with our cider.”
Just in time for fall, next up is a unique pumpkin cider made with real pumpkin purée and finished with a mix of autumnal spices, which will be on tap in the next few weeks. Another seasonal favorite is the ice cider, a product Galarraga says piqued his interest in the cider industry in the first place.
Galarraga says his future plans for New England Cider involve a complete re-branding of the company. Don’t worry, the quality New England ciders aren’t going anywhere, but new logos and can artwork, in addition to an increase in production, and an expansion to the manufacturing facility and tasting room is set to take place.