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How to Make Hard Cider: Tips and Insights From Our Vermont Cidermaker

  • 9 min reading time
How to Make Hard Cider: Tips and Insights From Our Vermont Cidermaker

A glass of wine with dinner is nice and a pint of beer is festive, but there’s no drink as satisfying as a cold hard cider. And not just in the fall. We’re talking all year-round. 

The deliciousness of hard cider is limitless. And it all comes straight from fresh apples (which make hard cider naturally gluten-free -- a bonus). 

Hard cider is good for all occasions and preferences. Crisp, dry, sweet - we’ve got them all. 

Back in 2015, we started using our love of apples to make hard cider right here in Vermont. But we didn’t do it alone. 

Our Cidermaker, Mark, has been with us since the beginning. He’s played an important role in our three original taste profiles:  Barn Dance,  Soul Shifter, and  Good Altitude. Each cider showcases pure apple flavor in a range of sweetness.

We’ve grown a bit since then thanks to our partnership with Mark. Today, we’re proud to collaborate with him on  ten different Vermont hard ciders, available online and in  our tasting room

Mark is a valuable member of our team. We’re so grateful to work with him on our line of modern hard ciders inspired by the tastes of Vermont.  

We love talking with Mark about cider making - his enthusiasm is contagious! Here’s a taste of what goes into each can of Cold Hollow hard cider, straight from the expert. 

What is Hard Cider?

Hard cider is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented apples. It’s very different from the fresh cider you enjoy with a cider donut. Hard cider starts from similar apple roots, but the fermentation gives this alcoholic drink much more complex flavors.

Hard cider is like wine, which is also made from fermented fruit. But it's typically served and canned more like beer. 

It’s a one-of-a-kind drink. And one that’s been enjoyed for hundreds of years. 

Hard cider has been very popular throughout American history. Notable people like Benjamin Franklin and John Adams drank hard cider every day. 

Back then people grew bitter apples that were better for fermenting, not eating. A glass of refreshing alcoholic cider fueled people throughout their day.

But the American Prohibition slowed hard cider consumption. During this time, apple trees were cut down or shifted to grow apples for eating (because “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”). 

Now hard cider is making a comeback, particularly here in Vermont. Our climate is perfect for apple production. Vermont grows a lot of apples. And now, we also make a lot of hard cider. 

But not all apples are fit for hard cider. 

Mark makes our Cold Hollow hard cider with a blend of sweet table fruit such as McIntosh and Honeycrisp. He also loves to blend more tart heritage fruits (like Baldwin and Pippin varieties) into some of our taste profiles. 

These heritage fruits were traditionally used to make hard cider and tend to be more dry than eating apples. They also have different levels of acid and tannins in them. It’s this combination of acid, tannins, sugar, and alcohol that gives each glass of hard cider a unique flavor and mouth-feel. 

How Do You Make Hard Cider?

Our Cold Hollow cider-making process starts here at the cider mill. We press the locally-grown McIntosh and Honeycrisp apples into a sweet juice using our classic rack and cloth cider press. 

Then we deliver some to Mark. He only lives about an hour away in Groton, Vermont - so it’s an easy drive.

Once our fresh cider is in his hands, that’s when the work really begins. 

First, Mark adds yeast to get the fermentation process going. The yeast will ferment the natural sugar in the apples to turn the juice into alcohol. Each batch of cider will ferment in tanks for several months. 

You can’t rush flavor, says Mark. The cider needs time to mature and do what it’s going to do. It’s a delicate strategy based on time.

Nature takes over in this process. Mark just provides the right environment for the yeast and apples to get along. 

It may be easier to make “industrial” hard cider (the stuff that’s fermented quickly to help get it out the door). But we don’t think it’s worth it. 

We believe hard cider given the time to naturally ferment has more “soul” - that depth of apple character that makes every sip original.

So, it sits. 

And then, after a few months, Mark starts infusing other ingredients to create different flavors. 

One thing that makes our hard cider unique is that it’s sweetened with our own cider syrup (made at the mill from our cider jelly). Many other hard cider producers just add sugar. But cider syrup adds a burst of sweet apple flavor that can’t be reproduced elsewhere. 

Some of our taste profiles also have whole fruit or fruit purees added to them. Our summer cider,  City Slacker, is made with real raspberries and lemon. 

Mark only uses raw ingredients in our cider - never “natural” flavorings. If it’s not real fruit, it’s not going in our hard cider. 

Once the final batch of each flavor is ready, it’s filtered and canned for you to enjoy. We then get to pay Mark another visit and pick up the final delicious product. Next stop: the Cold Hollow Cider Mill tasting room! 

Why Vermont Hard Cider is Special

Mark’s job is about more than just making something to drink. 

Learning how to make hard cider is an exploratory process. He’s always finding new inspiration for flavors and enjoys trying new approaches. This curiosity is what led him to become a Cidermaker - and it’s one of the reasons we’re so lucky to have him on our team! 

Getting to work with local products is another reason why Mark loves his job. 

Mark says that making hard cider helps him feel connected to the agricultural landscape. Many of his ingredients are grown in the nearby countryside, right outside our doors. 

If you want to get the best taste of a place, try some local cider, says Mark. It’s the ultimate local product.

While beer is often made from imported grain, Vermont hard cider is made entirely with local ingredients. We’re lucky to source high quality fruit from right down the road. We wouldn’t want to make hard cider any other way. 

Having the ability to transform local apples into a product like Vermont hard cider makes us proud. We believe each batch of hard cider is a moment to showcase the flavors of Vermont agriculture.

There are plenty of options to eat local in Vermont. But if you want to drink local, there’s no better way to taste the Champlain Valley than with a cool glass of hard cider. 

How to Drink Hard Cider

Mark now makes ten different flavors of hard cider with us here at Cold Hollow. We still have our original classic flavors, plus seasonal varieties for winter and summer. 

But which flavor does the Cidermaker drink, you ask? 

We made Mark pick his favorite...and he couldn’t resist the dry, hoppy flavor of  Rural Recess. He loves how the classic cascade hops pair with the underlying goodness of the apples. 

You can now try all our Vermont hard ciders at home by  ordering cider online. They’ll arrive fresh on your doorstep as soon as the cider is canned.

If you’re in the area, you can also come and enjoy a flight in  our tasting room. It’s located right next to our Cider Mill in Waterbury, Vermont in a cozy old farmhouse. We serve daily from 11:00am - 5:00pm. When you visit, ask for Kayla - she’d be happy to answer any further questions you may have about hard cider making (she’s another amazing member of our team). 

If you visit our tasting room, post a photo on Instagram and mention us with @coldhollow or #vermonttothecore. When you show us the post you’ll receive a free coupon for a half dozen apple cider donuts. They’re pretty famous. And will pair nicely with your drink. 

Our tasting room also hosts events. We’d love to welcome your group for a memorable Vermont hard cider tasting experience.

Mark said some kind words about us that we appreciate. Supporting other Vermonters like him is important to us. It’s part of what we think it means to be “Vermont to the Core” - and it’s just a taste of what making hard cider in Vermont is all about. 

Cheers to good friends and fresh cider.

“Cold Hollow has been a great partner for me. Their ability and willingness to collaborate with other Vermonters helps folks like me gain exposure and truly embodies the spirit of Vermont.” - Mark Simakaski, Cold Hollow Cidermaker

Still Hungry? Check out some of our other articles!

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