So, I have a friend, Kelley Slagle, who owns Farm to Glass Tours, which takes people on personal tours of Hudson Valley wineries, breweries, and distillers, especially in Dutchess and Columbia Counties. Kelley is the real deal. She is a highly accomplished mixologist, and she has brought her prodigious talents to the Hudson Valley. She brought me a bottle of Orchard Hill Hard Cider, exclaiming I had to try it!
Orchard Hill Cider Mill is located at Soons Orchard, and expands their 103 year history of providing locally grown produce to include locally produced fermented and distilled beverages. Born of a collaboration between Jeffrey Soons, Andrew Emig, and Carolyn duHoffmann, Orchard Hill has a unique pedigree.
Jeffrey, after studying law, returned to the farm to continue his family’s multigenerational agricultural tradition on their 100+ acre farm. He also harbored dreams of reviving the great American tradition of making hard cider. That agricultural legacy practiced by our founding fathers had been widely destroyed by Prohibition and hampered from revival by post repeal legal restrictions. Indeed, Jeffrey's mother Sandy Soons had attempted to make hard cider years before only to be rejected by the regulatory authorities of the time.
Meanwhile, Andrew Emig, a freelance Trumpeter turned business consultant and Carolyn duHoffmann’s husband Karl, a Broadway dancer turned spirits and wine industry professional had been exploring the idea of opening a distillery specializing in apple distillates. While distilling brandy from Soons’ sweet cider at Tuthilltown distillery to test the viability of that idea, they approached Jeff with the idea of opening Orchard Hill to produce hard cider from Soons’ apples.
Their mission since the inception of the project has been to provide an alternative to the homogenized “big beer producer” style of cider that is most widely available today. Their ciders are made with a minimum of manipulation and intervention.
Orchard Hill is growing their line. And they are doing it well. I tried the Orchard Hill Red Label, and you can taste the Orchard Hill Gold Label (semi-sweet) at their tasting room. And soon the Tenn66 (Pommeau de Normandie styled barrel aged cider) and the Tenn66 Golden Barrel (oak aged single barrel mistelle) will be available soon. Click on their sell sheet to get more details on upcoming ciders.
Their Red Label cider is made from a field blend of Soons apples. The cider is made with Crispin, Idared, Empire, Spartan and McIntosh. The cider is fermented in stainless steel tanks. Giles Martin of the sparkling wine house, Sparkling Pointe on the North Fork of Long Island (a life long expert in effervescent wines) oversees the secondary fermentation for this cider, which telegraphs the seriousness Orchard Hill is approaching this product with.
The wine is bottle fermented and unfiltered, producing a bottle-conditioned cider. There is no disgorgement after secondary fermentation. It's like a Belgian ale in some respects. This unfiltered bottle fermented and bottle conditioned cider will be a little cloudy, aromatic and extra dry. The final product is more like apple-champagne if you will. Upon first smelling it, there is a strong sense of fresh, sweet apple and bread. But they are two distinct smells. It's not apple pie...it's something more delicate. The feel of the final product is wonderful. This is a sophisticated cider, dry, with notes of ripe apple and pear, a hint of citrus and ginger, with lots of fine, fine bubbles and a somewhat creamy finish.
Orchard Hill Hard Cider is a cider of high quality, and high aspirations, and it achieves both. For a long time Farnum Hill in New Hampshire has been the only one in the area making this style of cider. It is nice to see a company in the Hudson Valley making this elegant a product! It immediately joins the growing list of better ciders being made here in the Hudson Valley.