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2013 Beverage Artisan Local Hero: Bellwether Hard Cider

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Every year, we hold our own version of the Oscars: the Local Hero Awards, wherein readers vote for their favorite local chefs/restaurants, farm/farmers, non-profits, culinary artisans, beverage producers and food or wine retailers, and the winners are awarded with a feature in our March/April print issue. Every weekday till the polling booths close on December 31st* we’ll be looking back at last year’s winners.

Today we’re highlighting Bellwether Hard Cider! The below story originally appeared as part of our Local Heroes feature in the 2013 Spring issue.

*There’s still time to make sure your voice is heard! Vote here for your 2019 local hero chefs, farmers, non-profits and artisans.

BELLWETHER HARD CIDER

BY MARTHA GIOUMOUSIS
PHOTO BY ROBYN WISHNA

BELLWETHER HARD CIDER IS THE CAYUGA WINE Trail’s answer to the exploding demand for hard cider. While nationally hard cider sales have increased dramatically in the last five years, Bellwether’s founders Bill and Cheryl Barton have been quietly experimenting, adding ciders, planting apple trees and brewing and selling hard cider in a variety of styles.

Hard cider is the fermented juice of apples and can be made still or sparkling and dry or sweet. Current law restricts hard cider to under 7% alcohol, but recently introduced legislation may make the definition less restrictive.

Cider has a strong American tradition and was popular with early settlers, who planted cider orchards on many homesteads. Cider’s popularity fell as beer gained, and all but vanished following Prohibition.

The resurgence of cider is recent, but it’s strong. Some analysts say it is the most exciting beverage category in the market. The Bartons jumped in after enjoying many ciders in Europe— and not finding many back at home. They opened Bellwether Hard Cider in 1999 with little more than home cider making experience and haven’t looked back.

Their first hard ciders were packaged in 6-packs of 12oz bottles. That all changed when a customer commented “If you put that in a wine bottle, my wife would love it.”

Now Bellwether Hard Ciders are bottled like wines in 750ml bottles. Their best sellers are the ones with some sweetness, including Original—the first cider they ever made and still a big favorite, and Cherry Street, semi-sweet, 5.5% alcohol with the crisp and refreshing taste of tart cherries.

The most debated subject in cider making today is apple varieties. Traditionalists favor European varieties known as bittersharps and bittersweets that contribute a lot of tannins to the cider.

“There is no such thing as cider apples, there are only apples,” says Bill. He favors the modern North American varieties, such as Liberty and Northern Spy, the duo he uses to make Liberty Spy, a 6.8% alcohol cider he describes as having a wide appeal. “This is the cider I would bring to your house for dinner if you had never had cider before. It has a nice sweet front end, but finishes like a dry wine.”

Other ciders include King Baldwin, made from the very local Tompkins King variety and Baldwin, a juice apple from Massachusetts.

Two of Bellwether’s ciders are bottle conditioned; meaning a second fermentation in the bottle naturally carbonates the cider. Lord Scudamore is a blend of North American apples including Northern Spy, while Legacy is made from traditional European cider varieties, including some bittersharps and bittersweets. Both of these ciders are Brut or very dry and include the yeast sediment in the bottle.

Bill sees an exciting trend as younger drinkers discover cider. “This is a very receptive demographic—these drinkers are familiar with micro-brewed beer and are looking to branch out into cider. And, these younger drinkers are looking for the dry ciders. These are sophisticated and knowledgeable consumers.”

The Bartons are now joined in the business by their daughter and son-in-law Caitlin and Kris Matthewson. With Bellwether’s Farm Winery license already in place and a son-in-law who already was a winemaker, it is no surprise that Bellwether will release its first wines this year. Watch for a small lot of barrel-aged 2011 Pinot Noir and one or more Rieslings from 2012. Says Bill, “I would not have done this if my daughter hadn’t married Kris. I look at it as an opportunity that I wouldn’t have had without his skill set on board. We’ve agreed—I will make the cider and Kris will make the wine.”

9070 Route 89, Trumansburg, 607.387.9464, cidery.com

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