Cider Days a sweet success
Meghan Minior, and Will Killingsworth, of Leverett, enjoyed some Clarkdale Fruit Farms fresh cider on Saturday during Cider Days activities. Clarckdale offered samples of many varieties of apples to taste, as well as sweet cider, and a cider press demonstration was given by OESCO of Conway.
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Nathan Beauregard slices the different apple varieties for people to sample at Clarkdale Fruit Farms in West Deerfield on Saturday for Cider Days, he has worked year round at Clarkdale for 12 years part time. Clarkdale is a popular site in the annual Cider Days event.
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Will Killingsworth, of Leverett, samples different apple varieties at Clarkdale Fruits Farms in West Deerfield on Saturday during the Cider Days weekend activities where a long table featured apples many have not tried before. Owner Tom Clark is at right.
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Some say a few bad apples spoil the bunch. Others, perhaps wiser, throw those bruised, fallen fruits into the cider press.
“It’s almost impossible to make bad cider in New England,” said Paul Correnty. “It’s like being a winemaker and living in the Napa Valley.”
Correnty was part of a panel discussion on homemade hard cider at the 18th annual Cider Days, a popular part of the multi-town event. The standing-room-only crowd was about 150 strong.
The auditorium of the Buckland Shelburne Community Center was packed with cider lovers, making it no small task for volunteers to traverse the aisles, handing out samples of the fermented fruit drink as cider-makers in the audience and on the panel talked shop Saturday.
There were stories of sweet success, as well as tales of terror. One woman’s cider made on a whim from a neighbor’s peculiar-looking pears came out better than she’d hoped. Another’s cider exploded after she bottled it with a bit too much priming sugar for carbonation. She ended up picking shards of glass from her drywall.
Her story was met with knowing laughs from other cider-makers in the crowd.
“We’ve all blown up a bottle or popped a cork,” one added.
The discussion ranged from the basics, “How long should it ferment?” to the merits of a certain strain of yeast, and queries on the chemistry of fermentation. There was even a debate about artificial sweeteners like Splenda, sometimes used to sweeten cider at bottling because it won’t ferment. The questions and comments were almost as varied as the crowd that posed them.
“This lecture is always packed,” said panel member Steve Patt of Pepperell, who’s made cider for 16 years. “It’s nice to see so many people interested in cider. Some of the people in the audience are more accomplished cider-makers than I.”
Charles Olchowski, a panelist and judge of the new amateur hard cider competition, said each year’s samples get better and better.
“People are definitely learning,” he said. The annual sampling lets people give each-other honest feedback, and Olchowski said it shows in the next year’s samples.
He said there were 45 ciders submitted.
Al Sax of Amherst won second place in the American cider category.
“I used a cider blend from Pine Hill Orchard (in Colrain), and added crab-apples for bitterness,” he said.
“It’s my first competition. I’m really happy,” said Sax, who made his first batch four years ago. He’s been coming to the annual panel for years.
“I always learn something new in the discussion, and I enjoy the debates that come up, too,” he said.
Before the panel, Sax made a stop at Pine Hill to get some more of his main ingredient. He wasn’t alone.
“People come from all over to get their special Cider Days blends,” he said. Though he’s making cider on a smaller scale, Sax said people from as far away as New Jersey will come up with trailers to haul away the cider.
Some come from even farther to celebrate Cider Days.
Claude Jolicouer of Quebec City, Canada has made the almost 400-mile trip for the last eight years.
“I first came because I’d been in correspondence with a famous English cider-maker, Andrew Lee, and he was going to be here,” said Jolicouer, who’d never been to the area before.
He said there is a large cider-making community on the Internet and Cider Days is their chance to get together, put a face to the screen name and share their cider.
Jolicouer has made hard cider since 1988, and said he’s learned a lot from the interaction at the annual event. Now, he gives a talk on the “ice cider” method of fermentation.
He said he’s made a lot of friends in town and from afar at Cider Days.
“People come from all over. I’ve met people from Nova Scotia, the Great Lakes, Pennsylvania and Virginia,” he said, as we spoke near a parked car with Ohio plates.
There were advanced discussions, a beginners’ cider making workshop, and classes on apple butter, cider vinegar, and nearly all things apple. There were tastings of hard and soft ciders, as well as apple-based liquors, and the popular Cider Days supper.
Held in locations in Deerfield, Greenfield, Colrain and Shelburne Falls, the event is put on by the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce.
Jolicouer said he doesn’t know of another event quite like Cider Days, at least not one closer to home.
David Rainville can be reached at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279