Hard Apple Cider

JOHNSTOWN – Growing up on his family’s apple orchard Mitch Rogers learned how to make apple wine, also known as hard cider.

Rogers, who’s family owns Rogers Family Orchards, never believed hard cider, which was once a staple of the early American diet, would ever become popular enough to be a profitable business.

He learned the process from a family friend who used Rogers Orchards apples to make the beverage. When the friend died, he left his equipment to Mitch, and planted a seed that would later grow into a business plan.

“He just did it as a hobby, making 10 or 15 gallons a year, just to take to their hunting camp,” he said. “I hadn’t really thought about it as a business venture because hard cider wasn’t really that popular [when I was growing up]. There were only really two hard cideries that I could count in the Northeast area.”

From 2008 to 2013 the volume of hard cider sold in the United States grew more than fourfold, according to a report published in conjunction with New York state’s 2015 Wine, Beer, Spirits & Cider Summit held in Albany last week.

Hard apple cider made in New York state has also grown in popularity. There are 19 licensed cidery operations throughout the state, with 14 of them added since Gov. Cuomo took office, according to the state report.

The 2014 passage of the New York Farm Cidery Law also promises to increase the ranks of small hard cider producers. Since the law went into affect in January 2014, 16 farm cideries have been licensed.

Rogers, a 2009 graduate of Johnstown High School, went on to earn a bachelors in Agricultural Business Management from SUNY Cobleskill in 2014. While he was at school, Rogers interned at Nine Pin Ciderworks in Albany, a growing hard cider manufacturer. He said working for Nine Pin he learned the ins and outs of operating a cidery.

“I learned from them how to taste the cider to find faults in it,” he said. “I also learned how to do things more efficiently on a large scale. The first year I was [with Nine Pin] they produced 35,000 gallons of cider. Last year we fermented 65,000 gallons and this year we’re on track for 100,000 gallons.”

Rogers said he’s applied for a farm winery license, rather than a farm cidery process because the apples his family grows, which are wild apples grown through a natural process rather than branch grafting typically used at larger apple orchards, have a high sugar content, which means his apple wine will have a higher alcohol content. He said the farm winery license allows for alcohol percentages as high as 12 percent, which should accommodate his production.

“One of the big things that differs from cider and grape wine making is that grape producers use a single type of grape, but in cider making most good cider makers will agree that the best ciders are make with a blend of a bunch of different apples,” he said.

Rogers Family Orchard’s recently received approval from the town of Johnstown to build a new building on their property, which will house a bakery and Mitch Rogers’ apple winery.

Mitch said he expects to receive his farm winery license within about nine months. When he gets the license he plans to start small with about 1,000 gallons sold in 750 milliliter bottles for between $14 and $18. His plan is to eventually produce as many as 10,000 gallons a year.

“I’m going to use the cider I sell next year to see where the market is. I want to establish my brand and study who my market is, nail that down and see what they’re going to pay. I imagine it’s going to be somewhere between $14 and $18,” he said.