Join us as we take a trip up the Hudson River to visit Brooklyn Cider House. We’ll take a little tour of the orchard while learning about their journey and sipping some lovely cider from ugly apples, grown in the surrounding Twin Star Orchards!
“Brooklyn was known for growing apples,” cider maker Peter Yi opens the door to his fermentation room, “I’m from Brooklyn, my whole family is from Brooklyn, we couldn’t find an orchard there,” he gestures at the room, “but here we are 9 years into this in New Paltz.”
This is a nine tank, 50 plus acre operation boasting roughly 300 trees, growing 75 varieties of self-proclaimed “ugly apples.” From Manchurian crab to the heritage Roxbury Russet, Yi’s apples are being grown with one thing in mind: cider.
Cider Apples Are Different
“Our apples are smaller and we don’t care about the skin. They are naturally farmed, no pesticide, if you listen carefully to the trees,” he trails off looking at his cider tanks, “it’s a lot more work but we do it that way. We don’t give water to our trees: it’s dry farmed. That’s suicidal in farming because everyone wants big apples. I don’t want big apples, I want flavor. I am not conforming. You can’t market our apples; I will never sell to a supermarket. It’s just for cider—ugly apples taste better.”
From the way he talks about them, it is easy to assume that Yi has always grown apples. His background, however, has more to do with viticulture and grape varietals than Dabinetts and farm equipment. Yi spent 25 years immersed in the wine industry, founding PJ Wine in 1991. He traveled the world selecting the best of the best and curating an amazing wine collection. His father was also in the wine business (apple, tree—insert pun here), although these days he loves to golf and hang out at the orchard. Despite owning a vineyard in Argentina (he currently rents it out), Yi was not a farmer.
“We learn every year, we don’t have that generational knowledge to do things super efficiently yet. I’m a farming rookie!”
Learning By Doing
Through trial and error and the help of the farming and cider community in the Hudson Valley, the Yi family seems to have figured out a thing or two about growing apples.
Brooklyn Cider House is, at its core, a family business. Run by Peter and his sister Susan, a former English teacher, Peter’s daughter also lends a hand. Both of their parents were enjoying a glass of cider at a picnic table when I went to visit.
“I love that social element,” Yi sips his cider, “I wanted to bring the incredible cider culture and the incredible beverage here. Families, older generations and younger mingling and talking, that’s what cider does.”
Yi was on a wine-buying trip in Spain when a friend coerced him into visiting a sagardotegi, or Basque region cider house, for dinner.
“I took one sip and I knew that that incredible job and life I had built was all down the toilet; I found my new passion. It took me 25 years to develop the palate to really understand that this is what I want. It clicked in a second: one sip. This what I want to do the rest of my life, all in.”
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Yi returned from Spain and convinced his sister that they needed to open a cider house in Brooklyn. She quit her job. He sold his wine collection. All in. The Yi siblings bought Twin Star Orchards in New Paltz and later opened a Bushwick tasting room, which sadly closed due to the pandemic.
“People in Brooklyn are so willing to try a new beverage and this is an old, forgotten beverage,” he continues. “We are an apple growing region, apples thrive here. Cider is a natural beverage to have in certain regions.”
But with all the talk of heritage and tradition, Yi definitely thinks outside the bushel. “I think cider can be made like wine: skin contact, make it still, carbonate it, everything in between, barrel aging! I think it’s really exciting. We want to ferment in amphora—it’s just an open slate.”
It is impossible to chat cider with Yi and not get swept away with the potential of Brooklyn Cider House. Mid-way through tasting ciders straight from the tank and I’m spit-balling ideas for turning his favorite expression, their RAW, into a Pét Nat. We’re discussing single varietal expressions while waxing poetic about crab apples and wild yeast.
“I want to do a Manchurian Crab single varietal,” he takes a sip of his cider, “and age it for 10 to 20 years, we don’t know where it’s going to take the cider. Some of these wines, you age them and it transforms: fruity flavors turn to earthy, forest floor, leather. With cider—we don’t know where cider’s going to go and I would love to see.”
I don’t know about you Tippler Nation, but also we’re excited to see where Brooklyn Cider House goes with their inspiration and creative mindset! Head on over to their Instagram page @BrooklynCiderHouse and give them a follow, and don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of the page to stay on the forefront of all things craft alcohol.
Jena is an event host & contributing writer for The Crafty Cask, as well as an award-winning bartender, cocktail educator, Cicerone Certified Beer Server, and Executive American Whiskey Steward. Based in NYC, Jena has been working in the craft alcohol world for the last 15 years with recipes appearing in Manhattan restaurant/bars & multiple publications. She is the 2019 Nikka Perfect Serve Global Runner Up and a 2020 Cognac Connection winner.