By Christopher Matthews
Both good things and bad come in threes. For my hard cider entries in the 30th Annual Hudson Valley Homebrew Competition last month, however, it was a rare and perfectly positive trifecta: not only did I take 1st place in the Standard Cider category with my 2019 “Hudson Valley Antiques #3”, but I also garnered 2nd and 3rd place, too, running the table for the ribbons.
While I have won my share of cider awards in recent years at the Hudson Valley Competition, and have set myself a very high bar (especially last year), sweeping an entire category had never entered my thinking. It’s obviously gratifying, showing that my process, from apple selection and blending decisions, to the fermentation and cellar work, is yielding consistently excellent — and drinkable — results. It also makes me thankful……that I live near Montgomery Place Orchards (MPO)! Without them, none of these awards would have been possible, as every ribbon winner I’ve crafted has had at least some MPO apples in them! Through MPO, I have easy access to cider-friendly, antique apple varieties (they grow some 70 different ones) that have shown their quality consistently (and winningly!). And the farmers responsible for the orchards, Talea and Doug Finck and family, always give me a heads-up on the harvest schedule and the quality of my preferred apples. Priceless!
In fact, MPO has been the inspiration for my “Hudson Valley Antiques” (HVA) series of ciders, which focuses on heirloom apple varieties grown in the Hudson Valley that excel in cider production. For two years running, HVA has scored the first place winners (and a Best-in-Show!) at the HV Homebrew Competition. This year’s blue ribbon winner, 2019 HVA#3, a still, dry cider, featured 100% MPO fruit, including a majority of Black Twig (which I consider a cider superstar), along with Ida Red, Empire, Golden Russet and Newtown Pippen (which I’ll definitely use more of in the future). Pressed on a cold late November morning, this was a late harvest cider (as Black Twig is a late harvest apple), with a long, slow and cool fermentation. A comment from one of the judges: “Very well-executed, a nice balance of cider and dessert apples”. This one had it all, including a nice tannic bite.
HVA also garnered a 2nd place ribbon this year, with the 2019 HVA#2, sporting a plurality of Baldwin, a good dose of Black Twig, as well as some Golden Russet and my own Empires. Slightly sparkling, nicely sessionable and off-dry, this one is a crowd-pleaser.
The 3rd place winner, “Golden Empire”, represents my now traditional 50/50-ish blend of my own Empire apples with MPO’s Golden Russets. This sterling combination has stood the test of time — and has scored a number of awards. Snappy, citrusy, petillant and off-dry, this version had a dollop of Jonathan as well.
So, 2019 was a successful vintage, which then racked up big time in 2020 — in threes! It will be hard to top this…