Monthly Archives: January 2015

Old World Methods, New World Ciders

Al & Denise Snape have big ideas. And whether they’re starting an alternative cider company in an already niche market or brewing out-there pumpkin sours, they don’t hesitate to act on these ideas.

The founders of Salem, MA’s Far From The Tree Cider set out on a lark about four years ago—the two quit their day jobs to move to Europe so that Al could study viticulture and oenology—and they’ve been following their guts ever since.

DiptychbarrelsillouhetteBefore the move, Denise was a project manager for a pharmaceutical company (and living in Southie)  while Al was in charge of radioactive waste management and disposal for MIT and then GE. “There were barrels, half lives, some similarities between that and all this,” Al said, gesturing towards his chilly cellar full of dozens of cider barrels at Far From The Tree’s headquarters. They operate out of the Ketchum Building on Jackson Street, just a few minutes from Salem’s spooky town center. Their space in the old brick building was previously unoccupied for several years, but before that housed a food packaging & distribution warehouse, a slaughterhouse, and a gym.vscocam1104 (1)

“It was a mess when we moved in,” Denise said, showing us around the unheated transitional space that is equal parts storage, cellar, tap room, and living room, “These lights were all falling off the ceiling.” The Snapes hand-scrubbed every concrete surface and wooden beam to reveal a beautiful industrial-antique space, and they’ve had the cooperation of the building owner (who runs a marine construction company) every step of the way.

“Everything we’ve wanted to do, he’s said sure,” Al remarked, sliding open a door between their space and the landlord’s to reveal a fairly huge boat undergoing repairs. “Can we knock that wall down, sure, can we build the first tasting room in Salem, sure.”

tastingroomBut before any of this was a reality, Al & Denise just knew that they both loved wine & beer. And one day, they decided a change of pace could be nice. “We thought, why not get a different perspective for a couple years,” Denise said about their move. So Al sought out the only European wine program taught in English and enrolled, while Denise worked for Novartis and eventually started her own clinical project management company. During the three year program, Al spent school breaks helping out at several wineries across the continent. After stints in Germany’s Mosel Valley and in Bordeaux (where he made a type of sparkling rosé wine with Bordeaux grapes), Al stayed with a family in Champagne who helped plant the seed for Far From The Tree.

“I did a vintage in Champagne where I stayed with a family, where the kids would help and taste the juice,” Al said, “it left a real impression on me. I wanted to go back to where I came from and create something.”

ciderslineupAl & Denise returned from Europe eager to create their own taste of place, though at first they weren’t sure where that place would be. The booming cider culture of Oregon & Washington tempted them toward the west coast, but after spending their first winter back at a beach rental on Plum Island, they became certain that theirs would be an east coast cider company.

The couple chose cider because Al knew he could make a better cider in Massachusetts than he could a wine—in fact, he wrote his dissertation on the uncertainty of growing Reisling grapes in New England. But they didn’t want to make just any cider. In an homage to the ciders they drank in England, the couple decided on a dry cider, fermented entirely in barrels, using 100% juice (apparently, “hard cider” on an ingredient label can mean as little as 49% juice, and it often does).

IMG_1554“We wanted to be different by doing what everyone thinks cider is,” Al said. “We wanted to do it really traditional, the way they would’ve done it 250 years ago.” This mentality is right in keeping with the terroir of Far From The Tree—sitting at the wooden bar in their dusky taproom-in-progress, you can just imagine residents of a much older Salem, sipping a cider a lot like the one Denise & Al are making today.

They also wanted to add something new and interesting to the increasingly crowded cider canon, which they felt was missing a really dry product. Their most basic cider, Roots, is made up of 100% local ingredients, from the Meadowbrook Orchard Cortland & McIntosh apples to the hint of maple syrup, which they source from a couple who do all of their own maple extracting.

“We met them at a Boston Expo,” Al said of this family, who tap every tree on their property in Shelburne Falls, MA themselves. “We buy about a quarter of the syrup they produce.”

DiptychciderAl (1) copyAl & Denise had support from the local cider community while putting these pieces of their business in place—Downeast Cider was a huge help, setting Far From The Tree up with Tom, their apple presser. Tom has been pressing apples in Stow, MA for years, and his father pressed apples on the same land before him. To hear Al tell it, their property is impeccably picturesque, like stepping onto a charming rural New England film set.

And on top of their support from the cider community, Al & Denise had very fruitful Craigslist searches—it’s where they found their logo designer, and their super-important barrel sourcer, Bob the Barrel Man. Bob sells used bourbon barrels in Maine, and keeps Far From The Tree’s cellar stocked full of beautiful, flavorful bourbon barrels from Kentucky.

diptychEricbarrels

Al envisions using wine barrels for a later batch, but for now he has his hands full with experiments that use the barrels already in the cellar. At the top of the list is a sour cider, though what kind of sour really remains to be seen—he has mapped out the possibilities involving beer-friendly inoculators such as lactobacillus and brettanomyces, has considered using Flemish ale yeast, and even spoke of creating a solera system to facilitate the blending of different ages.

And that’s just the one project. Al also had an ice-cider experiment in the works when we dropped by, inconspicuously disguised as a pile of old pallets outside. Apparently, freezing the juice just until ice crystals start to form will remove some of the water content, giving the finished product a slightly darker color and higher sugar, alcohol, and acidity. They’re also working on something a little more off-dry, with more maple syrup and champagne-like characteristics.

diptychTastings

A few of the things we got to taste in the cellar—the beginnings of a pumpkin cider on the left (with real threads of pumpkin in it) and a pectin substance on the right that’s leftover when Al lets the juice settle out of unfermented cider.

“We want to keep doing crazy new stuff with cider,” Al said. “People have done a lot of cool stuff with beer and I want to take that approach to cider, do some things that haven’t been done before.”

A common beer trend they’re cider-fying soon? Pumpkin, only they’re leaving out all the pumpkin pie spice flavors we typically associate with such brews. This summer, Al & Denise bought 150 organic pumpkins at a nearby farm and roasted them for a cider recipe that is pure squash. It’s fermenting in barrels now, and Al was kind enough to pour us a taste during our visit. Refreshingly original and unlike any fall pumpkin beer on the market, this stuff has more flavors of melon, peach, & apricot than nutmeg, clove, & cinnamon. It tasted, in a word, revolutionary.

glassesWith all this innovation within just the world of dry cider, it’s easy to see why Al & Denise are pushing for a more diversified cider portfolio at local craft bars. They’re not looking to be competitive and kick other draft lines out of bars, but rather to add to the selection.

“These places have four or more IPAs on tap, why can’t we have two ciders,” Denise posited, “one sweet, and one dry.”

Growing the Boston cider scene is but one dream of Al & Denise, who seem to be coming up with new ideas every minute. Owning their own orchard some day is a definite goal, or at least using part of an existing orchard to experiment with growing different heirloom apples. While we were standing there talking, Al hatched a plan to create a lower-alcohol cider using coconut water, a cider stout using the pectin drained out of their apple juice before fermentation, and a mock “Chinese” cider full of sake, cherry blossoms, and Szechuan peppercorns (a joke on Big Cider companies, who import most of their apple juice from China).

But all experimental ideas aside, at the core of Al & Denise’s dream is a true terroir of the lush New England landscape—from its forests full of maple sap and orchards flush with apples trees, to the community of small family businesses leaning on each other to succeed. With Far From The Tree, these two have let the land speak for itself. Standing in their chilly taproom, clutching Dunkin Donuts coffees to keep their hands warm and getting starry-eyed about changing the craft cider world, they embody that taste of place completely.

You can pick up any of their four ciders at AP, and stay tuned for new releases coming soon! 

January Beer & Wine of the Month Club

Everyone’s resolving to be nicer, drink more water, read more books, call their mothers more. We can get behind these pledges, but we have trouble with the new food rules so often adopted in January. Yes, we’re all for healthy eating, but we are not in support of bland eating. And bland eating is what often happens now, when everyone is cleansing, or juicing, or dieting in some capacity.

We believe veggies can be badass if you do it right. We encourage the crafty use of spice, salt, and heat to make this period of austerity actually taste good. Here, we’ve assembled a box full of flavor—one Indian-themed beer features curry, cayenne, and kaffir lime leaf, while another combines lavender, lemon balm, juniper berries for a hefty dose of healthful herbs. It is a box full of lean yet flavor-rich wines, notably rooted in earthy, vegetal elements and ripe fruits. And for food pairings, we’ve included a refreshing goat wheel, a summery peach jam, and a versatile medium hot sauce, safe for wimps and ready to add oomph to anything you cook. We hope this will serve as an inspiration to you during these temperate times!vscocam1097

The Libations

Mystic Brewery Melissa: This botanic-infused beer satisfies so much of what we need in January—healing herbs, good-for-you plants, and big bold flavors. This bottle contains lemon balm, juniper berries, and lavender flowers to alleviate whatever physical or spiritual hangover you suffer post-holidays, and it tastes damn good on top of that. Just released last week by Chelsea, MA’s Mystic Brewery, this herbed beer is brewed in the traditional Gruit style. You see, we didn’t preserve beer with hops until about 600 years ago. Before that, herb blends were used to sustain the life of beer, and you had to procure your gruit from a Gruit House. Mystic makes gruits often to serve in their taproom, as the style allows for much experimentation and variation. This one must have struck a chord, since it’s the first they’ve ever bottled! Pair with your cheese and jam.  ABV {7%}

 AleSmith Brewing Company Decadence 2014 Anniversary Ale: This San Diego brewery started their tradition of brewing anniversary ales in 2005, their brewery’s 10th anniversary. They’ve been doing it ever since, and this one commemorates their 19th year. To celebrate, they created a wheat wine that smells like fresh baked bread and tastes like spicy honey. Medium-bodied with a palate full of ripe fruits, interesting grains, and malty sweetness, all balanced by a hop bitterness that is more pronounced than in your average wheat wine. Burnt orange with a thin head, this beer looks and tastes celebratory, and has the flavor to jazz up even the most dull weeknight meal. Can’t wait to see what these guys come up with for their big 2-0 next year!  ABV {10%}                       photo (27)

 Ballast Point Indra Kunindra: An aggressively spiced imperial stout from the evil masterminds at Ballast Point (also in San Diego, can we just go hang out with these guys and drink beer on the beach, please?), the Indra Kunindra was brewed in collaboration with award-winning homebrewer Alex Tweet. Released in very limited quantities, the “India-Style Export Stout” is flavored with Madras curry, cumin, cayenne, coconut, and kaffir lime leaf. This is the beer that inspired us to model your January box around big flavor and master use of spice. This is the beer that is going to get us through winter, and cleanses, and diets. We bow down to this bizarre octopus god. Invite this beer and your jalapeno tequila lime sauce to the same dinner, if you dare. ABV {7%}      Teutonic Wine Company Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut: We loved the Teutonic Wine Company’s hippie vintners Olga & Barnaby before we even knew their names—though those certainly helped. These two back-to-the-landers craft their Willamette Valley wines in the style of Germany & Alsace, where cold weather allows the grapes to ripen on the vine longer and pull up richer depth of flavor from the soil. 2011 was a great year for their sparkling wine crop—the fruit was leaner, perfect for a dry, mineral sparkler. Rock, chalk, & bubbles pop in your mouth with every swill of this Pinot Noir, grown at Laurel Vineyard. Olga & Barnaby only work with dry-farmed zero-irrigation farms, allowing for the roots to grow deep into the soil strata and soak up every element of terroir.

Franco Pasetti Trebbiano D’Abruzzo Zarache 2008: The Zarache is a dry white wine made with Trebbiano D’Abruzzo and Cococciola grapes, grown in clay-rich pebbly soil and hand-harvested in the small Abruzzo town of Capestrano, at the feet of the Gran Sasso mountain.   Bright gold tones welcome you into this soft & tart bottle, full of ripe fruit aroma, mild sparkle, and a delicate almond aftertaste. Made with care under the watchful eye of Franco Pasetti, an oft-awarded vintner who has been crafting wines in the beautiful valleys and hills of the Adriatic coast for over 30 years.vscocam1101

Thunevin-Calvet Cuvée Constance 2009: This Grenache-Carignan blend hails from bad boy winemaker Jean-Luc Thunevin, who started the “garage wine” movement in 1989 when he bought a small parcel of land in St. Emilion and began crafting world-class wines essentially out of his garage. This wine comes from the Cotes du Roussilon Villages AOC, a sub-appellation in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The grapes are planted in schist soils and managed under biodynamic principles, with low yields. The resulting wine is full of vivid fruit—blueberries and raspberries at the forefront—and infused with cool, crushed stone flavor like a splash of water from a mountain spring. A refreshing partner to the austere, veggie-rich meals we all insist on eating post-holidays.

The Snacks

Russell Street Deli Red Haven Peach Jam: Summer feels like a very distant, nearly impossible memory right now, so we think it’s the perfect time to crack open a jar of this Midwest-made New Haven Peach jam from Detroit’s Russell Street Deli. These guys spend the summer scouring their local community for unique heirloom fruit varietals and interesting produce to preserve for the long, cold season–they’re a deli and these ingredients come in handy for sandwich specials in the deep winter. This jam is great with the cheese in your box, on a grilled cheese, or just on buttered toast.vscocam1099

Queen Majesty Jalapeno Tequila Lime Hot Sauce: This gorgeous chartreuse hot sauce is made by New York City chef & DJ Erica Diehl (stage name Queen Majesty), who crafts this Caribbean-inspired recipe in Red Hook, Brooklyn using fresh, organic jalapenos, limes, ginger, and green apple. With that medley of veggies, you could even pass it off as healthy! It won the silver medal at NYC’s Hot Sauce Expo in 2014, and it isn’t hard to taste why—even the biggest wimps on our staff love this stuff. Try it on the usual suspects like eggs, tacos, or mac ‘n’ cheese, but we also strongly encourage you to think outside the box with this sauce. We wouldn’t kick it off a cheese plate…

Lazy Lady Farm Marbarella: From our favorite off-the-grid die-hard Laini Fondilier, comes this beautifully named and beautifully shaped goat wheel. Striated throughout with layer upon layer of vegetable ash and fluffy curd, the Marbarella is light, lemony and fresh, yet has a lactic undertone of earth and salt that reminds us of the natural grasses Lani’s goats munch all year. Started in 1987, Lazy Lady Farm has been 100% solar and wind powered since their early days of candles, gas lamps, hand water pumps, and a small car battery for running a radio. They now have a herd of over 40 Alpine goats and several aging cellars on their land. Big fans of keeping things simple, their passion and dedication shows in this uncomplicated yet stunning disc of cheese.