By Christopher Matthews
In the ongoing craft (hard) cider renaissance in the Hudson Valley (HV), a structural impediment (and irony) exists: there aren’t enough cider apples to go around.
While culinary/dessert apples are widely available — New York is, after all, the second largest apple growing state in the US — many of these varieties, like Gala, Honey Crisp or Golden Delicious, just don’t make for compelling ciders, with their high sugar, low acidity, linear taste profiles and scant tannin. And even for American antique varieties that were good for cider back in the (pre-Prohibition) day, such as Baldwin or Golden Russet, they can fetch top dollar at farmers’ markets as eating or cooking apples. Combine this with a lean year for HV apples, e.g. in 2016 (due to a late frost), and a ever-more crowded cider field, and you get a scramble for the more suitable cider apples.
Enter Elizabeth Ryan, whom I ran into recently at The Corner, in Tivoli, NY. Elizabeth is a HV farming hero who, for over 30 years — way before it was cool — has pursued sustainable and organic agriculture in her various orchards and fields (primarily Breezy Hill Orchard and Stone Ridge Orchard), has been a founding member of numerous green markets across the region and a first mover in the craft cider comeback in the HV, with her Hudson Valley Farmhouse Cider operation.
I informed her of my own cider activity and interest, and asked her about the region’s shortage of cider apples. She acknowledged the situation, but asked me if I had tried her “God Speed the Plough”.
Though I’ve sampled a number of her quality ciders, I had not tasted the “God Speed”.
“I’m not sure the market is there for it yet, but it’s my bone dry homage to traditional ciders, made with all cider apples, some European, some New England antique varieties,” said Ryan. “You should try it.”
Naturally I took note, and happened to find the “God Speed” the very next day in Tivoli General (which, by the way, has an excellent craft beer and cider selection).
With a degree in Pomology from Cornell, and having studied cider making in Somerset and Hereford in England, Elizabeth knows apples and cider as very few do. And over time, she has cultivated cider varieties in her orchards, including English cultivars, like Dabinett and Ellis Bitter, and HV heirloom varieties, such as Winesap and Northern Spy. This is the basis — and mission — of the “God Speed”– a skilled cider maker’s take on traditional cider, using classic cider apples.
And it doesn’t disappoint. Nicely effervescent and a pretty straw gold, this unfiltered cider exudes fresh apple aroma in the nose, along with some complex yeasty and herbal notes. On the palate, it’s energetic and earthy, with clear apple character and attractive minerality, finishing bone dry. Entirely quaffable, but with complexity and versatility at the table. This is not just an homage, it’s a home run, setting a high bar of excellence for the HV cider scene.
Well done, Elizabeth!