October is a great time for a drive in Western New York. Autumn colors dotting the roadside, as the reality of another snowy winter begins to settle in our minds. A trip to the far northeastern corner of Niagara County will lead you to BlackBird Cider Works in the town of Barker.
Located on a commercial orchard estate, with apples growing a stone’s throw away from Lake Ontario, all of the apples used in BlackBird cider are grown on the 37-acre property. Twenty-five different varieties of apples are harvested, including some certified organic varieties. BlackBird Cider Works uses these apples to make a wide variety of hard ciders, from dry to sweet, with many different flavors.
A large red barn welcomes visitors seven days a week, with a small tasting bar to the left, bottles and merchandise for sale to the right, and the entire cider making operation located in the back of the barn. Tastings are available for either $3 to sample four hard ciders, or $5 to sample three hard ciders and take home the tasting glass.
If you’re thinking, “I don’t like cider,” because you’ve tasted one or two commercially available options, don’t let that blanket statement steer you away from what good craft cider is. It’s like the all-too-common declaration, “I don’t like dark beer.” You can’t dislike what you haven’t tasted. Many large scale, commercial hard ciders can be cloyingly sweet, which is an automatic turn off to many.
The depth and complexities that a cider maker like BlackBird can offer, will help to change the way you think about cider. On a recent visit to their tasting room, I sampled four different hard ciders, and was so pleased, I went home with three bottles.
Orchardist’s Reserve ($11.95, 750 ml) is a lower alcohol, 5.4% ABV, semi-dry cider that smells and tastes like fresh apples. Lightly sweet and very refreshing, this is a sessionable cider that straddles the line between sweet and dry.
The New England Style ($15.95) is a mix of nine different apple varieties, and is double fermented in French oak barrels along with local honey. The addition of honey makes this almost a cross between cider and mead, and also leads to a higher alcohol content at 9.9%. The resulting cider smells of honey and apples, which come through in the flavor as well, along with some of the oak barrel notes. This full bodied cider is a nice option to sip and share.
The Classic Wood Aged cider ($14.95) was the driest of the bunch. Using three apple varieties and then aged 9 months in French oak barrels, this is the chardonnay of ciders. This is a drink that’s able to convert wine drinkers to the cider world.
Buffalo Bluegrass ($17.95) is a bourbon barrel aged wild cider. It’s called wild because there is no actual yeast added to this cider. It undergoes an open air fermentation process, where all of the bacteria that converts sugars to alcohol are pulled right from the air, and also from the bourbon barrels that the cider is aged in. The barrels come fresh from Heaven Hill Distilleries in Kentucky, and lend flavors of vanilla and a light, refined bourbon taste to this dry cider.
Fall is the season for apples, so take a drive up north to BlackBird Cider Works to sample the age-old apple beverage. The complexities and nuances that are available in craft ciders will surprise beer and wine drinkers alike. If you’re like me, you’ll probably come home with a few bottles too.
$11.95-$17.95 (750 ml), BlackBird Cider Works, 8503 Lower Lake Road, Barker, 795-3580, www.blackbirdciders.com
Matt Kresconko also writes about beer as Buffalo Brewhound at wnycraftbeer.com. Follow him on Twitter @BfloBrewHound.