NC CIDER WEEK: Generations of cider making pays off for blueberry farm

Photo c/o Botanist and Barrel

Photo c/o Botanist and Barrel

Cedar Grove's Botanist and Barrel excited about its new foraged series of ciders. North Carolina Cider Week runs November 12 - 16 – and is a perfect time to showcase all the great ciders being produced by the Tar Heel State. The kickoff to this week begins at Fercott Fermentables in Lenoir, where Botanist and Barrel will be on hand to sample some of their latest releases. During the week, look for places in Asheville, Durham, Chapel Hill and Carrboro to host cider-related events.

See a list of upcoming events here!

In honor of NC Cider Week, we decided to reach out to some of our friends in the world of cider and asked them pretty much the same questions to see how apples and hard cider became a part of their life.

In our first interview we reached out to co-owner Lyndon Smith of Cedar Grove's Botanist and Barrel. Along with his sister Kether, the cidermaker, the two in just a little over a year have put their names on the hard cider map with some unique creations such as rum-, whiskey- and tequila-aged ciders and some new ones like the paw paw cider. Below are excerpts from our interview with Lyndon.

How did you get into cider making?

Our family has a tradition of foraging and making adult beverages with the harvest, that goes back a few generations, so as kids the seeds for fermentation were planted. As adults, when we started farming full time on Cedar Grove Blueberry Farm, the next natural step was to start fermenting ciders and wines. 

There are so many different types and ingredients one can put into cider – from other fruits, hops, barrel-aging, etc. Tell us a little bit about your favorite ingredients you’ve put in ciders. And where do you get your inspiration in creating these ciders? 

We are a blueberry farm and we are in love with the fruit because it’s organically dry-farmed, which creates low yield and high quality. When we take those whole berries and co-ferment them with apple juice and age them in gin barrels it’s magical. It’s round and creamy and Rosé like, with balanced acidity and lovely botanical notes. We also love to forage, so we are really excited about our paw paw cider, which is our first release in our foraged series.  

I’m personally inspired by the natural wines from the region of Jura in France, where you can find intentionally oxidized wines. We recently released a peach wine aged in a rum barrel that we borrowed from their tradition and it turned out great. It’s nutty and creamy and perfect with some Comte cheese. 

RELATED STORY: Brother and Sister team up for latest N.C. fruit wine/cider endeavor.

There are a variety of apples to work with in making cider. What’s your favorite to use and why? 

We are big on blends and having as many apple varieties as possible in our pressings, especially bitter and high acid apples. But, if I had to pick, I’d say I love Zabergäu Reinette for its subtle nuttiness. Harrison, for its richness and Gold Rush, for its balance and subtle spice and sweetness. 

Botanist & Barrel's brother and sister team of Lyndon and Kether Smith.

Botanist & Barrel's brother and sister team of Lyndon and Kether Smith.

Some people will say cider is similar to wine because it doesn’t contain malt like beer. But cider is served in tulips or pint glasses and poured on tap just like beer. What is your take on this subject? 

American-style cider is much more beer-like, while Old-World-style ciders are much more wine-like. At Botanist we make old-world style ciders with modern twists. I enjoy both styles. American-style tend to be sweeter and more carbonated, while old-world ciders are still or naturally effervescent and dryer. We also make heavily fruited cider which is a newer style of cider that tends to drink more like a dry wine or what you see many variations of in the market, rosé cider!    

Hard cider has been gaining a lot of traction here in the U.S. lately. Can you explain why so many people are reaching for a cider today who might not have picked up a cider years ago? 

Cider can be playful or serious. It can be dry or sweet, still or sparking, so there is something for everyone. I think in large part the growth comes from the amazing ciders being produced in the U.S. that just weren’t around 10 years ago. I also think people are realizing that dry cider, in particular, is a healthier adult beverage. 

What do you love most about cidermaking? 

The creativity and spontaneity! We make natural cider with no additives, no sulfites or sorbates, so each pressing and batch is different. We taste the juice and let it guide us. I love the moment when you first taste and it immediately shows you how it should be gently nudged in the right direction. 

What can we expect from Botanist & Barrel as the new year approaches? Any new releases you can share with us? Upcoming events? 

We are releasing our foraged series in a few weeks. This includes foragers delight, which is all foraged and abandoned tree apples, a paw paw cider and a mulberry cider. We are also releasing “pink is a feeling” which is a grape cider aged on the skins of a blend of four grapes, that is naturally a bright pink beautiful color. 

We have also starting planning the biggest festival to date on our farm for April 13th, 2019, called, Funk Down. It will feature wild fermented beverages and foods, including cider, beer, kimchi, kombucha and more. You can expect to see a few dozen of the best craft producers from near and far. For example we’ll have Kent Falls Brewery from Connecticut, Amor Artis Brewery from South Carolina, Micheal’s English Muffins from Raleigh and Vimala’s Curryblossom from Chapel Hill. The blueberry flowers will be in full bloom so it will be beautiful setting for a wild festival.