New England Cider Company
A sliding garage door opens to a warehouse containing New England Cider Company’s entire operation: large vats of cider, stacked and fermenting; a walk-in refrigerator, full of kegs ready to be shipped; at the door, an assortment of stacked whiskey, wine, and tequila barrels for aging; long wooden tables for guests; a tasting room with a 10-stool bar and six taps, ready to pour. Also inside – and hard at work – are the company's owners and founders, Miguel Galarraga and Seth Hart.
Wrenches to Apples
Longtime friends and homebrewers, Seth and Miguel both worked as car mechanics before starting the cidery in 2013. Their shared passion for brewing gave way to experimenting with cider in 2009, after Seth took a trip to his native Vermont, where he was introduced to the range of flavors and fusion possible in cider making. Upon returning to Connecticut, Miguel and Seth started to produce hard cider themselves. It was a hit.
“We'd take it to parties, holiday parties and stuff like that, friends and family. And most people didn't know what it was. They're like, ‘Oh, this is different. I've never had this. What is it? It tastes like wine. It tastes like champagne. It's great.’ People were really receptive to it,” Miguel says.
They gradually started to produce more cider, going from 20 to 60 gallons a year. Seeing an opportunity to inject something different into the state's thriving craft brewery scene, the two decided to start a business in 2013, moving into the warehouse space in Wallingford.
The pair were able to parlay the skills they learned as car mechanics into their new roles at the cidery. “We made our own equipment, our first press and choppers. We made everything ourselves,” Seth says. “The biggest thing was we wanted to be self-employed. We didn't want to be one of those grumpy old guys working for someone else.” As with any startup, this meant long hours and dedication to the work, especially since they were both still employed as mechanics and spending their off hours on the cidery. “I was leaving work to go to work!” says Seth, and that work has paid off in the cidery’s steady growth and popularity.
A New England Community
A theme central to NECC is the use of New England ingredients – the closer to home, the better. Consequent to this is the forging of close relationships with farms and orchards in the area. The cidery sources apples from local orchards, such as Blue Hills, Drazen, High Hills, Hickory Hill, and Bussa. High Hills and Bussa Orchards have even started growing cider variety apples expressly for the cidery.
These relationships have yielded a diverse array of remarkable ciders, offerings such as Black Currant Cider (a customer favorite), known for its deep crimson color and tartness; Pumpkin Cider, a fall offering; a Spiced Cider, prepared with mulling spices and perfect for winter; Mint Cider, delightfully dry, utilizing Kentucky and Citrus mint grown at DeFrancesco Farm in Northford; Strawberry Cider, showcasing the flavor of North Haven’s Christoforo Farm’s strawberries; and even a Dry Hopped Cider, made with Cascade hops from DeFrancesco Farm, that blurs the line between cider and beer.
The partners have also been experimenting with aging cider and the unique flavors the aging process provides. They procure empty barrels for the process from sources such as Whistlepig Distillery in Vermont and Thomas Tew Rum in Rhode Island.
In addition to the company’s tap room in Wallingford (where guests can fill glasses and to-go growlers fresh from the tap), the cidery also currently has guest taps at 14 local breweries (a welcome option for brewery visitors who are averse to beer but still want to enjoy a locally produced product) and are on tap at over 50 restaurants and bars in Connecticut.
Miguel and Seth are encouraged by the support from local breweries and restaurants. “It’s a really good community. Somebody hears what we're doing, and everyone’s real supportive of it. They want to get the local stuff on, which is great. It helps us out. It helps them out,” Miguel remarks.
But it’s more than a simple desire to support local food production that keeps customers returning to New England Cider Company. The craft that goes into their great variety of exceptional cider flavors is honed by their dedication to producing hard cider and nothing else. In fact, they are the only hard cider producers in Connecticut that aren’t associated with an orchard of their own, affording them the opportunity to source apples and other fruit from in-state growers and spend all their time working on their ciders, rather than splitting time between the cidery and the field. The end result is a diversified selection of hard ciders that range from sweet to deliciously dry, all rich, flavorful, and demanding of any craft drinker’s attention.
New England Cider Company: 110 North Plains Industrial Rd., Suite A, Wallingford; 203-464-7294