Though microbreweries spring up often in Vermont, new cider houses are more unusual, even in a state that produces hundreds of thousands of bushels of apples every year and where cider was once sipped as often as water.
So this past Saturday, when three friends threw open the doors of Citizen Cider — the cider house they’ve been quietly building inside an old railroad depot on Laurette Drive in Essex Junction — it was like a glimpse into the past, and possibly the future.
About 18 months ago, the trio — a farmer, a chemist and a wine expert — purchased a 1950s cider press, which they reconditioned and used to press local apples and experiment with blends. “We wanted to make something to appeal to the beer crowd and the Champagne crowd, and also for people who are into wine,” says Kris Nelson, who also sells wine for Vermont Wine Merchants.
Along with Justin Heilenbach and Bryan Holmes, he helped finesse those test batches into a signature cider called Unified Press. The three like prosecco and vinho verde, and it shows: Unified Press is zesty and slightly off-dry, with pear and citrus notes alongside its obvious apple flavors. At 6 percent alcohol, it’s a touch more bracing than the average hard cider, and entirely made from local varieties such as McIntosh and Northern Spy.
Right now, the friends are sourcing their apples from Happy Valley Orchard in Middlebury; they may eventually work with other producers, as well. “We want to give farmers a fair price for their excess,” says Nelson.
They have a few blends in the works — including barrel-aged ciders and a blueberry cider sourced from Charlotte Berry Farm — but Unified Press, which should be bottled by mid-February, will remain their signature blend. Right now, they’re preselling cases and offering shares on a CSA model. A “proletariat share,” for instance, includes a bimonthly pickup of six cases.
Citizen Cider may just be the first “CSC” (community-supported cidery) in the country. Those who missed the open house can catch a second launch party at the Farmhouse Tap & Grill on February 3.
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