Wayside Cider presses wild and heirloom apples into service

Irene Hussey and Alex Wilson, the co-owners of Wayside Cider (waysidecider.com), a brand-new cidery based on a farm in the Delaware County town of Delhi, just delivered their first batch of hard apple cider to shops, bars, and restaurants in the Catskills, the Hudson Valley and New York City this week.

Hussey and Wilson, who are business partners, are an unlikely pair. Hussey, a Delhi native, is a stone mason, but she’s been homebrewing and making fermented apple cider since her early 20s. Her parents and her brother make cider as well — it’s something of a family tradition.

Wilson, on the other hand, is far from a native; born and raised in England, he ended up in New York City to study film, and stayed after meeting his wife, who is a media attorney in Manhattan. The pair bought a cabin in Hamden as an escape from urban life, and Alex quickly fell in love with the area.

“You can catch trout in the stream, you can hike in the mountains for miles, ride horseback every night,” he said. “It was like paradise to me.”

Wilson, too, had been making hard cider on the side, as an homage to what he called the classic “cider culture” of England that he was missing in the U.S. His world collided with Hussey’s at an amateur cider competition she organized at Table on Ten in Bloomville in December of 2013.

Above: Freshly bottled Wayside Cider. Photo via Wayside Cider's Facebook page. 

Wilson brought two ciders to pit against Hussey’s. Wilson won the Pourers’ Award, and Hussey the Judges’ Award — though, since Hussey organized the event and one of the judges was her cider-making partner, Wilson jokes that the contest was “rigged.”

But, recognizing each other’s passion for the product and the process, the two were able to put their rivalry aside for the sake of good cider, and they did a test batch together.

The result? “It was good!” they agreed. “You know intuitively when something’s going to work,” Wilson said.

So with a supportive advisory board of friends, and a bit of faith — “We tried to lie to ourselves that numbers made sense,” Wilson said — they went into business, forming Wayside Cider in 2014.

If 2014 were a normal year, they may have been able to press all their cider from the apples picked from Hussey's family land. However, thanks to a bitterly cold winter, 2014 was not a great season for apple crops, so Hussey and Wilson had to get creative.

The pair embarked on what they called an “apple-finding mission,” foraging apples from land across Delaware County, with permission from the property owners and the caveat that they “left enough for the deer.”

What they found changed the path of Wayside altogether. Within 30 miles of Delhi, they discovered “amazingly productive” apple trees growing on what were likely abandoned orchards. These apples were the definition of organic: “They were growing without human help or interference,” Wilson said.

Even better, some of the apples appeared to be heirloom varieties similar to those grown specifically for cider, Wilson said. Instead of the glossy skin of a “dessert” or “eating” apples, these older apple varieties have patchy “russet” skin and what aficionados say is a stronger, more pronounced flavor.

Above: Heirloom apples tend to be less glossy and perfect on the outside than "eating" varieties. (That's Millie, Wayside's canine mascot, sitting nearby.) 

Wilson and Hussey also found wild apples, likely spread by deer, prospering in the most unlikely places. “Even on rock ledges, they were thriving,” Wilson said.

Inspired by the vision that these wild trees evoked —”settlers coming to the mountains and making cider together” — Wilson and Hussey decided to focus on using wild apples in their cider, in combination with locally cultivated apples and other produce.

They’re starting with three varieties: the Half Wild, a 50 percent wild, 50 percent dessert apple mixture that’s the sweetest of Wayside’s ciders; the Catskill, a blend of wild and cultivated apples that’s aged in whiskey barrels borrowed from the neighboring Delaware Phoenix Distillery for a subtle oakiness; and the Skinny Dip, a light and summery blend to which they added local, organically grown quince for “a bit of zing.”

In the future, they plan to create unique, cider-specific “woodland orchards” like those they found while apple foraging. Since soil and climate affect the flavor of apples so dramatically, they hope to experiment with different growing conditions to produce different varieties of cider.

Above: Apples gathered by Wilson and Hussey.

For now, though, Wilson and Hussey focusing on staying small and making a great product.

“We want to grow as slowly and consciously as possible,” Wilson said. “We want to figure out, ‘Where do we fit in?’ and build on the culture that’s already here.”

Maintaining quality and taste is also a top priority — a value that has influenced their decisions throughout the development process. One example: Despite the fact that bottle conditioning, the process of achieving natural fermentation for sparkling cider, is much more time- and work-intensive than force carbonation, the taste difference is so significant that the choice to do it the hard way was obvious.

“If we can make a better product, but it takes longer, we will,” Wilson said, joking that it may not be great from a business standpoint, but it will allow them to always take pride in their product.

Above: The first batch of Wayside's juice was pressed in the fall of 2014. Photo via Wayside's Facebook page. 

This summer, Hussey and Wilson will be organizing pop-up “sunset cider sessions,” advertised via social media, and serving cider from a bar off the back of the Wayside Cider pick-up truck (which is featured in their logo).

They hope to collaborate with local producers, such as cheesemakers or other cideries, to bring events to the public. Although hand-made, small batch cider isn’t cheap to produce, they plan to keep the price reasonable by selling from barrels by the glass. Additionally, they’ll be selling bottles at the Pakatakan Farmers’ Market, and starting this week, their cider will be available in select local and New York metro area restaurants and wine stores, including Wassail, New York City’s first cider bar.

But even if their cider travels to the big city, Wayside plans to remain “hyperlocal” for the benefit of the cider and the community.

“We asked ourselves, ‘How do we take these opportunities and build something good for the area?’” Alex said. “We hope to make a tiny contribution to the world, and make a difference within our community.”

Where you can find Wayside Cider:

Ray’s Fine Wine and Spirits, Delhi
Kingston Wine Co., Kingston
Table on Ten, Bloomville
Brushland Eating House, Bovina
Spruceton Inn, West Kill
Wassail, New York City
Pakatakan Farmers’ Market, Halcottsville