Locally sourced apples fuel the Berkshire Cider Project
By Mike Walsh
NORTH ADAMS, Mass.
It starts with an apple.
Or, more specifically, an apple cider doughnut. A girl named Kat was enjoying one at Hilltop Orchards in Richmond when someone snapped a photo that later would become a profile picture on a dating site.
A boy named Matt, who possessed a deeply rooted history with apples himself, saw that photo and thought she looked pretty cool. He reached out.
About eight years later, Katherine Hand and Matt Brogan have teamed up to launch the Berkshire Cider Project out of the Greylock Works building in North Adams.
Brogan hails from central New York, a region humming with an apple, cider and wine economy. Hand grew up coming to the Berkshires, where apple picking was a staple every fall.
The Berkshires have become part of their story, and it’s a story they are telling through hard cider.
Kat introduced Matt to her Berkshires, and ultimately thought a cider-making kit would make a unique gift.
The next thing she knew, their tiny New York City apartment had a closet stuffed with glass fermentation carboys bubbling away.
When the two started planning their wedding, they knew two things: One, it had to be in the Berkshires — the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art was the site in early October; and two, they were going to need more room to make cider for the rehearsal celebration at Cricket Creek Farm.
The operation moved to the chilly, unfinished basement of Hand’s family home in Lenox.
“We were lucky we had a closet in the first place in Brooklyn. That got taken over by a bunch of 5-gallon jugs. We bought a mini fridge and it kind of got out of control,” Hand says. “We’re coming up on our third wedding anniversary now. This place has a very special place in our hearts, and the fall is a very special time to be here.”
While various mini-batches still dot the shelves of the basement, the cidery at Greylock Works now has a pair of 600-gallon tanks, and things are getting ready to get humming when the apple hauls come in for pressing in September.
Opening a business in the midst of a pandemic has been no picnic, but Brogan says it has only added to their story. The creativity and teamwork upon which they have relied to get up and running on July 3 came about because of an almost forced-soft opening this season.
It’s a story you can hear on Fridays and Saturdays out of a brick window off the back end of their operation at Greylock Works, but also at a variety of other places.
They released a new rosé at Mezze Bistro and Bar in Williamstown, and have a program going with Hancock Shaker Village that has them rehabbing an old orchard and creating a special small-batch cider in partnership. They also have partnered with fellow newbie neighbors The Break Room restaurant for some outdoor dinners.
Whenever Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan rolls around, Berkshire Cider Project plans to open a full tasting room inside the cidery and become an even bigger part of the Greylock Works revolution. Until then, a sort of cider garden might be implemented this fall to augment the masked tastings and retail spot.
Much of the work in cider-making happens behind the scenes, whether it’s the long months fermenting or in the sourcing of apples.
“It starts with the source,” Brogan says. “We deliberately don’t own an orchard or have any arrangement with an orchard. The best-case scenario is, we’ll be taking from as many orchards across Berkshire County as possible. We want to tell their stories. If we work with Hilltop as a main supplier, I get my Golden Russets from him. And then next year, I want my Northern Spies from Jaeschke’s, and such-and-such from Bartlett’s, or wherever.”
Particularly in a year of such uncertainty for small businesses, they hope to create an additional revenue stream for local farms.
“Everybody in Berkshire County has been so welcoming, and so open to new ideas,” says Brogan, who noted that cider is growing as a national trend. “Berkshire County has this story. It’s a farm-to-table story, but it’s more than that. People love knowing where their blueberries come from, or someone will come up to the window and tell me to make sure I buy my tomatoes ‘here.’ People know their agriculture around here.”
The Berkshire Cider Project opened with a flagship dry cider, upon which it plans to base an arsenal of beverages, including a heavily aged, Champagne-style cider that will become a premium product for wedding season.
“The whole line is going to be fairly dry. This fall, we’ll release a barrel-aged program. It’s a bittersweet, more robust, hazy cider, some may call scrumpy,” Brogan says. “And then as we go into Thanksgiving, Christmas, we’ll do maybe a spiced; we’re interested in tea, or hopped ciders, but not too many flavors. We want to focus on the apple varieties.”
The next chapter of their story is one of sustainability. Hand has a background in corporate sustainability, and has found joy in working with a small, startup business.
They are encouraging suppliers to limit use of pesticides, while also looking at their own waste and using highly recyclable glass bottling. BCP also has plans to donate a portion of revenue to local nonprofits and organizations that work on sustainability.
“We realize that we are one small part of this bigger ecosystem that makes our business successful and that makes the community successful,” she says. “When I talk about sustainability, I think about environmental and social aspects. We want to live in a strong community with opportunity for everyone.”
Plans are formulating for a community press this fall, where locals can bring in bushels from their backyard trees and see them turned into cider. Come back in eight months and get your own bottle.
“There are all sorts of wild apples out there,” says Brogan, “and those are actually the ones that have the most flavor, because they’ve had to fight to live.”
Possibly a metaphor, because with Berkshire Cider Project, it all comes back to the apple, and that is where Brogan and Hand want to help this community thrive.
IF YOU GO …
The Berkshire Cider Project
Greylock WORKS, 508 State Road, North Adams, Mass.
Open noon to 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday.
Bring ID. Credit and debit only. Please follow distancing signs and wear a mask.
More information: 413-409-6058, berkshire-cider.com
Mike Walsh is a sports writer with The Berkshire Eagle, where he authors the bi-weekly Powder Report column. He’s a bordering-on-30 snowboarder with a degree from Marist College and a natural curiosity for the finer things in life.