Hard Cider Alchemy in Albany

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Photograph: Joe Klockowski, Nine Pin Cider

On a recent summer evening, the funky, colorful Nine Pin Cider tasting room in downtown Albany was mobbed, delivering tasting flights of four or seven ciders to eager customers.

There are seven taps; four are devoted to Nine Pin’s standard lineup (Signature, Belgium, Ginger and Blueberry), and the other three taps feature the rotating small-batch, and unique, experimental ciders.

Slight of build, intense and focused, Alejandro del Peral, founder and cider maker, is unrelentingly passionate about cider and New York apples. All the apples (and the few pears) Nine Pin uses in its ciders are grown in the Hudson Valley and the Capital Region, del Peral assured, with most coming from Samascott Orchards, a producer partner based in Kinderhook. For the majority of the ciders, including most of the experimentals, the blend is a combination of McIntosh-crossed apples—e.g., McIntosh, Macoun, Cortland, Empire, Jersey Black and others—along with a few heirloom varieties for what del Peral refers to as “seasoning.” This McIntosh family imbues a bright, tart and refreshing character into the must (aka apple juice) which del Peral considers essential for good cider.

Beyond the choice of apple(s), del Peral and his team play with the following variables: the commercial yeast strain for fermentation (wild yeasts being too unpredictable for their purposes); the duration of aging, and in what vessel (neutral plastic, glass or wood); and other ingredients, added either during fermentation (“co-fermentation”), like blueberries, or afterward (“infusion”), such as flowers, spices, wood chips and teas. All of these varying elements can greatly influence what would be the final character of the cider—sometimes bringing the fruit forward and often yielding an earthy and appealing result.

The experimentation program is where brewing becomes truly formative and imaginative, but experimentation on a much smaller scale with one five-gallon carboy, or container, at a time. Initially, this experimentation was more about keeping things fun and interesting in the cellar, as working with the same few ciders day after day can become a bit routine. In any case, the one carboy per experiment rule limited any serious financial loss at Nine Pin if a batch yielded less than great results. But when the Nine Pin tasting room opened to the public in 2014 (courtesy the Farm Cidery Act of 2013; Nine Pin became its first licensee), an economic outlet for the cider creativity presented itself, giving impulse to the exercise. Happily, the rotating taps have become a big draw for the tasting room, especially via flights of cider. As long as there are no obvious faults, all the experimental ciders go on draft for their brief 40 pints of fame.

Crowd reactions to these in-house experimentals are unpredictable, but nearly every version has some fans, noted del Peral. And the tasting room transmits immediate and valuable feedback on these small consignments to the brewery. Those that are wildly successful can be (and have been) scaled up to a Limited Reserve (like the “Hunny Pear” perry). In fact, the Ginger started out as an experimental, and graduated to the standard tier, based on customer enthusiasm.

On the night I visited the tasting room, the three on rotation were: “The Styx,” a co-fermentation with cinnamon sticks; “Broadway Rose,” an infusion with rose petals, hibiscus and yarrow; and “Maté,” an infusion with yerba maté tea.

All of the experimental ciders were quite drinkable, but the Styx and Broadway Rose were outstanding. With a nose redolent of a yeasty apple turnover, the Styx was dry apple pie on the palate, slightly spicy, finishing clean—a perfect holiday tipple. The Broadway Rose had, unsurprisingly, a floral, rose petal character, similar to a gewürztraminer wine, including a hint of lychee fruit, with a full mouthfeel.

Up next on the roster: Rooibos, Peach and Rum & Oak, among many others in development. Viva experimentation!

—Chris Matthews

Nine Pin Cider Works
929 Broadway, Albany
518.449.9999 ninepincider.com

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