The Adventures of Cider Man

Cold Spring Ciderworks part of growing trend

Geography played a big part in Bill Sussman’s switch from wine to hard apple cider — not just as a beverage, but for what he hopes will be a thriving business.

“I wanted to make really good wine,” the Cold Spring resident says, recalling how in his 20s he made wine in his parents’ basement on Long Island. The problem, he realized, is that New York’s climate is not ideal for fine wines. “Riesling can be good, but overall the wine will never be great.”

Bill Sussman

Bill Sussman with the raw ingredients and final bottling of his Cold Spring Cider (Photo by M. Turton)

On the other hand, Sussman, who studied agricultural economics at Cornell University, believes alcoholic cider produced in New York has tremendous potential.

In 2017, he produced 40 gallons at the Slyboro cidery in Granville with apples from Fishkill Farms. But the 163-mile drive north proved impractical and last year Sussman moved his Cold Spring Ciderworks label to Orchard Hill Cider Mill in New Hampton, 37 miles west of Philipstown.

Using 13 apple varieties from three sources, Sussman upped production in 2018 to 300 gallons, enough to fill 2,400 16-ounce bottles. Most will be sold at Orchard Hill’s tap room. “It’s the easiest way to get started,” Sussman says. He and Orchard Hill will also share a booth in August at the Putnam County Food & Wine Fest at Mayor’s Park in Cold Spring.

Cold Spring Ciderworks is dry — which Sussman prefers — and 6.7 percent alcohol. Sussman says he is learning as he goes. At a cider production course at Cornell last year he was surprised how nascent and diverse the industry is. “It is still defining itself,” he says. “People are trying all kinds of things.” He has experimented with combining grapes and apples to produce a wine-cider mix.

Cider is anything but new to New York. It was the preferred drink in colonial times, when water was often suspect. Sussman says his Cold Spring Ciderworks logo was inspired by William Henry Harrison, who ran for president in 1840 as the “log  cabin and hard cider” candidate. If Harrison enjoyed a cider a day, it apparently wasn’t enough as he died 31 days into his term.

Cider was displaced in the 19th century when German immigrants began producing beer that was cheaper and easier to make. During Prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s, many heirloom varieties of apple trees were ripped out of the ground. “We’re kind of starting all over,” Sussman says.

Cider is still playing catch-up to wine and beer but has its advantages, he says. It’s popular with women (“Beer drinkers are about 65 percent men, but cider is 50-50,” he notes), gluten-free and contains less alcohol.

Cold Spring Cider

The cider’s label was inspired by President William Henry Harrison’s 1840 presidential campaign. (Photo by M. Turton)

The potential for pairing cider with food appeals to Sussman. “Mine is a bit on the lighter side, so I’d pair it with foods that are not too heavy, like lighter cheeses,” he says, adding that dry ciders tend to complement food more readily than sweet.

Cider is usually best served chilled and fresh. “You want to consume it pretty quickly,” he says, although more complex ciders might continue to improve in the bottle.

Sussman recently attended CiderCon, the annual conference of the U.S. Association of Cider Makers, where he says he received some practical advice. “They said, ‘Don’t quit your day job!’ ”

Working with Orchard Hill is a good strategy because you’re using someone else’s equipment and buying the apples rather than growing them, he says. “Ultimately though, it would be a lot of fun to put it all together.”

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