|Producer of the Month: Whetstone CiderWorks|
by Jon Megas-Russel
My tour at Whetstone Ciderworks started by viewing their beautiful Depression-era Mt. Gilead hydraulic cider press. Each September, October, and November this amazing machine presses around 1500 gallons of cider from massive tractor bins filled with a variety of local apples. What makes Whetstone CiderWorks’ cider distinctive is the high quality fruit they carefully source: fruit varieties selected over centuries for bringing complexity and character to cider. If you have never tried their cider, now is the time. It could be the best artisanal cider we have seen in years: inspired by family, loaded with local apples, fermented in small batches, and blended with care and experience.
Jason MacArthur’s passion for cider developed when he took a year off from college in 1997 to work on a friend’s vineyard in Corbieres, France. He stayed for the grape harvest, pressing of the grapes and the entire life cycle of the wine making process. He fell in love and knew that he wanted to begin fermenting his own delicious beverage. Upon his return to Vermont he decided to make cider, since apples have a deep-rooted history in our region. His first batch of cider was a mere 10 gallons and over time it grew into a 15 carboy setup. Dry cider has always been Jason’s preference as it allows the complexity, flavor and nuances of the apples to shine. Cider, dessert, and eating apples are all used to bring forth delicious blends. He loves the process of tasting the ferments to determine which apples blend best together. As Jason stated, “blending is the cider maker’s art.” Intentionally balancing acidity, sweetness and tannins allows Jason and Lauren to deliver dry and delicious ciders that truly speak for the beauty and flavor of the apples.
Jason and Lauren met in 2007. Lauren stated that she loved the cider right away, noting that it pairs well with food. In 2008 they took a trip together to British Columbia and over dinner one night they began mulling over whether they wanted to file paperwork to produce the cider on a commercial scale. The bill then came to the table and was accompanied by a candy labeled “hard cider.” This was the signthey filed their paper work soon after their return and their first commercial batches were pressed in 2010. They named the ciderie after the Whetstone Brook that runs through their family land (and along the Coop parking lot!). The wonderful guy pictured on their label is John Whitney, who lived in Jason’s grandparent’s house 100 years ago. They believe he is raising jugs of cider and standing in front of a barn that has since burned down on the property.
Jason and Lauren have sourced their apples by literally following farmers around in orchards, learning about their farm and their crops. They state that most of the apples come from within 10 miles of their ciderie, from orchards including Scott Farm, Ames Hill Orchard, Connecticut Valley Orchard, as well as a small amount from their own orchard and Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon, NH. They take pride in knowing everything that goes into their cider and feel very lucky to be able to source these apples. In his own orchard Jason has slowly grown a healthy and diverse patch of apples. Lauren stated that the orchard is his mistress, as she is constantly having to drag him out at the end of the day. The varieties in their orchard include Hewe’s Virginia Crab, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Russets, and their collective favorite, Kingston Black.
Whetsone Ciderworks is a moonlighting family business, where the hard work happens after the hours Jason and Lauren put in playing other roles in life. Lauren is a full-time mom, as well as a farmer who grows food for her family and two other families, and works at her mother-in-law’s farm stand, Whetstone Ledges. Orchard King Appetizers, soft and earthy cheeses. (We recommend Twig Farm Tomme). Orchard Queen Pork, chicken, seafood, spicy food (Indian and Thai foods!) and salads. Some Pairings...... Barnyard Blend Think Spain! Tapas, cured and smoked meats, Sicilian mixed olives or tapenade from the Co-op deli, hard cheeses. Moonlighter A nice cider to drink on its own or pair with grilled meats and vegetables. Champenoise Grafton Village Cheese Company's Aged Cheddar, Tavernier Chocolates (especially their "Chocolate Salami"). Hewe's Virginia Crab Fondue, meat roasts, Thanksgiving dinner. She also helps with the pressing, fermenting, blending and bottling and works on much of the sales and marketing for Whestone Ciderworks. Jason is a carpenter four days a week, and an involved dad, in addition to his duties with the ciderie: sourcing, pressing, fermenting, blending, bottling, and maintaining the orchard. They both wear many other hats, but love their ability to make cider for regional consumers. In fact, most of their business comes from food cooperatives in Vermont, some small stores across Vermont and Western Massachussets, and the Brattleboro Farmers’ Market. We were excited to hear that the Brattleboro Food Co-op is their biggest account! As we talked about their future plans and growth, they spoke of their original vision to serve the community and stated that the Brattleboro Food Co-op is a huge player in closing that loop. Their goal is not to take over the cider world, but to continue to make small batches, which utilize the apples they want to use so they can control the varieties and blends. Instead of growing into a much larger company, they would prefer to focus on quality and continuing to serve the community.
Remaining local seems to be their number one priority!
We welcome you to taste Whetstone Ciderworks at our Cider Social on Monday, October 10th from 4-6 pm and again on October 20th from 4-6pm!