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Your guide to the full cider experience in WNY

As the temperatures drop and divisive pumpkin spice-everything floods storefronts, from actual pumpkins to pumpkin-flavored drinks to pumpkin-flavored oddities like Pringles and gum, another, less aggressive, more universally loved flavor subtly enters the market: apple.

Long before Starbucks popularized pumpkin spice lattes, apple cider dominated the market – as in a couple of thousand years long. Smithsonian magazine said apple cider has roots dating to 55 B.C. (so a bit older than Starbucks).

If only the old cider-drinking Romans could take a drive to the Mayer Bros. Cider Mill for an ice-blended beverage now.

Being prime apple country, our area's grassy plains are rife with u-pick apple farms and locally owned-and-operated cideries. Sure, you could just run to the store for some local cider, but a long, foliage-filled drive down back roads will take you to the heart of the cider-making territory and turn a simple drink into an all-day activity.

Like craft beer, cider has been having its moment in the spotlight including the inaugural "Cider Week" in August. A former maintenance garage in the Town of Lancaster will be the new home of the Clarksburg Cider, as soon as early 2019.

Visit an apple farm, pick some fruit and grab a gallon of fresh-made cider or visit a brewery for a pint of cider on tap and, if you're lucky, some live music. Or, if your mind is on baked goods, indulge in a homemade apple pie or cinnamon sugar-coated cider doughnuts.

Here are some spots to visit:

Nonalcoholic

Mayer Bros. Cider Mill

1540 Seneca Creek Road, West Seneca

When you make an afternoon out of a simple activity like apple-cider-drinking, you want it to feel special. You want the atmosphere to be decidedly fall-like.

There should be mums outside -- preferably of different autumn colors -- and a red-painted barn. There should be old-style, wooden barrels and fresh cider.

Welcome to Mayer Bros. Cider Mill.

Walk through its country-style store, where you'll find honey sticks, mulling spices, fresh-baked pies, fancy cheese, maple syrup, cider doughnuts and even an ice-cold cider slushie. It opened for the season Aug. 8.

What to do here: Shop in the small market. Buy fresh cider doughnuts, hot cider, a cider slushie or grab apple cider to go. There isn't much of an eating area, so you'll want to eat it in the car or drive to a nearby park.

[Read more: Interview with president Garrett Mayer | A Closer Look gallery on Mayer Bros.]

Mayer Bros. Cider Mill and Bakery buzzes with activity in the fall. (Sharon Cantillon/News file photo)

Cherry Bank Farm Cider Mill

5140 Townline Road, Sanborn

Gallon jugs of the farm's "sweet apple cider" are simple. No fancy designs or clever copy on the labels, just a black and white sticker that tells it like it is. The small, family owned farm, which has been around since 1944, also makes fresh-baked apple pies. News Food Editor Andrew Galarneau said Cherry Bank has "the best" cider.

Out of 34 Facebook reviews, not one rated them below five stars. That's a rare feat.

What to do here: Stock up on cider and pies.

Smiths Orchard Cider Mill

4960 Mapleton Road, Lockport

Strolling down rows and rows at the apple orchard with a woven basket in one hand and a hot cider doughnut in the other, you'll stop and think, "This is the epitome of fall." Ask someone to snap your photo while you pretend to reach for an apple, or sitting atop your friend's shoulders while you pretend to reach for a higher apple. In the basket, you'll find apples and maybe a box of doughnuts because one is never enough.

What to do here: It's a u-pick farm, so pick apples from the orchards or buy your own. Buy or consume fresh, homemade cider doughnuts.

Roberts Farm Market

11170 Maple Ridge Road, Medina

You'll find Roberts Farm Market on the side of a busy road in Medina. It's not where to go to taste cider -- there's no tasting room -- but if you're in the area (perhaps getting mead at 810 Meadworks or stopping by Mile 303 for a cocktail) and you need cider, here it is. Plus, there is a u-pick farm.

What to do here: Buy apple cider. Pick apples. If you want to drink it right away, grab some cups and drive five minutes to the Erie Canal, where you can set up a picnic and drink it by the water.

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Alcoholic

Part of BlackBird Cider Works' facilities in Barker. (Matt Kresconko/Special to The News)

Blackbird Cider Works 

8503 Lower Lake Road, Barker

The first hard cidery in the area, Blackbird makes several, creative, award-winning hard ciders.

Lakeside Loganberry is a medium dry cider with that familiar, Crystal Beach flavor. Buffalo Bluegrass is a semi-dry cider with hints of vanilla and clove, aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels. Dabinet English Style is grown from its collection of English apples and aged in stainless steel, giving it smoky notes.

The tasting room is tucked back from the road in a fire-engine-red barn in rural Barker.

Soon, Buffalonians won't need to make the trek out to Barker as Blackbird plans to open another tasting room on Chandler Street in Black Rock.

What to do here: Try unique flavors of hard cider.

Leonard Oakes Estate Winery

10609 Ridge Road, Medina

Established in 2003, the picturesque winery has brewed its steampunk cider for years. The tasting room, which is part of the Niagara Wine Trail, offers guests cider tastings (and wines). Steampunk, made with Fuji apples, is sweet and tangy.

What to do here: Drink wine and cider on the quaint country grounds.

A portrait of the Debtbarn family, ancestors of the founder, hangs above the taps at Becker Brewing Company. (Sharon Cantillon/News file photo)

Becker Farms

3724 Quaker Road, Gasport

Becker Farms has turned into a one-stop shop for quintessentially fall activities. There aren't many stereotypical fall things you can't do here.

Most weekends in September and October, the farm hosts the Pumpkin Fiesta, which includes a petting zoo, bounce house, live music, apple picking, hayrides, pumpkins and playgrounds. We haven't even gotten to the cider yet.

Aside from regular nonalcoholic cider, Becker Brewing makes a black cherry hard cider along with a number of beers. The brewery also has a small kitchen and a Sunday brunch that boasts chicken and waffles.

What to do here: All the fall things.

[Related: An introduction to Becker Brewing, from 2016]

Blackman Cider Co. 

4472 Thrall Road, Lockport

Blackman Cider Co.'s cider has humble beginnings. Originally, the owners brewed a small batch of hard cider for friends and family to share around a kitchen table. But the six-generation farm opened the cider up to a larger market and now distributes it throughout the state and sells it at the farm. The cider is made from hand-picked heirloom and rare apples.

What to do here: Pick apples and buy cider.

Chateau Buffalo Winery

1500 Clinton St.

This urban winery is located in the Niagara Frontier Food Terminal. You may have seen it at the Broadway Market or other vendor fairs, which they travel to often.

For ciders, they offer a creative selection. The Hardscrabble is dry, sparkling and crisp, made with real strawberries. Dancing Buffalo Broadway Boogaloo is sweet, brewed with hibiscus, rose petals, juniper berries and vanilla beans. The winery has an industrial vibe, with exposed cement walls painted red and gray.

What to do here: Drink.

Email: fbond@buffnews.com

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