A New England tradition brews in White Hills

Hard cider making, an old Yankee tradition, dating back to the 18th century, is alive and well in Shelton’s own farming community.

Hard cider, or alcoholic cider, has been growing in popularity the last couple of years as new brands and flavors emerge on package store shelves. Hard cider is made by allowing the natural yeast present in the fruit juice to ferment the sugars into alcohol.

The Underground Brewers of Connecticut, a home-brew club for people in New Haven, Fairfield and Litchfield counties, has been making its own personal concoctions using cider from Beardsley’s Cider Mill and Orchard. On Sunday, members of the club and other cider-makers came to the Leavenworth Road business for this year’s pressing, getting gallons of the latest blend and sharing samples of cider made using blends from previous years. The annual event, always held in early November, started about seven years ago.

“Our Heirloom Blend Hard Cider Day started when I was approached by a member of the Underground Brewers Club to see if we would sell untreated cider for their group to make into hard cider,” owner Dan Beardsley said. “I suggested that we use a blend of the antique variety apples we grow that were originally grown in New England by farmers specifically to make into hard cider.”

The 2012 blend includes a mix of apple varieties, including Winesap, Red Delicious, Winter Banana, Empire, and Northern Spy.

Making cider is a science, according to Brewers Club member Steve Victor of New Haven. Late-season apples are the best cider-making apples, and the blend is important.

“It’s a mix of apples, sweet and tart,” Victor said. He also adds a small amount of quince.

Some brewers carbonate the cider, or add other ingredients like honey.

The way the apples are pasteurized at Beardsley’s is also important, he said. The cider mill uses ultraviolet light rather than heat so the apples don’t lose flavor.

Victor agreed that hard ciders have grown by leaps and bounds in popularity.

“I was a beer brewer, but my wife likes wine and cider,” Victor said. “So I figured out if I wanted her to help me, I’d make cider.”

The ciders made using the Shelton blend have won awards, Beardsley said.

“In the spring this group enters their ciders, beers and ales in the New England Brewers Contest,” he said. “That first year, the group took eight of the top 10 awards for hard ciders in the contest. Since then, it has been an annual event and they have always taken at least seven of the top 10 hard cider awards at the New England Brewers Contest.”

The Beardsleys haven’t needed to advertise their annual pressing, as it has been growing through word of mouth every year, with Dan Beardsley sometimes running out of cider. Visitors sampling ciders filled the mill on Sunday.

While the business would need a special permit to sell its own hard cider, the cider mill does sell untreated cider for those who want to make it themselves. The untreated cider is available every weekend the business is open, except for the weekend before Thanksgiving. Customers may bring their own container, barrel or carboy to be filled. Those new to cider-making may buy a starter kit that includes a five-gallon carboy and a water seal.

For additional cider-making supplies, Beardsley directs people to Tess and Mark Szamatulski, owners of the homebrew store Maltose Express in Monroe, who were also picking up gallons of the blend on Sunday.

For more on the Underground Brewers of Connecticut, visit undergroundbrewers.org. More on Beardsley’s Cider Mill may be found at beardsleyscidermill.com.