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The Fame of Hard Cider Making in Western Massachusetts

An array of West County Ciders

The brilliant colors we have enjoyed this fall have been glorious, but with all the rain and wind, snow and frost, the landscape is quieter. Field Maloney was out in the orchard on October 30, picking the last of the apples for West County Cider.  Maloney is of the school that requires cider be made from fully ripe apples.

Field Maloney is the son of Terry and Judith Maloney who arrived in Franklin County from California back in 1972. They cleared land on their Colrain property for apple trees. As Californians they drank different California wines, and sometimes made their own wine. There were no grapes that made good wine here in this corner of Massachusetts, but they knew about the tradition of making apple cider. People made cider for themselves, and “some old timers made hard cider,” Field said.

Field said this area is perfect for making cider. Unlike the apple trees on the west coast that need lots of irrigation “the apple trees that grow on the hillsides here do more work, which makes them more flavorful. It builds character.” The Maloneys saw that they could resurrect old traditions, and use some of the techniques of making wine apply to the techniques of making cider. They made cider for themselves and their friends for a number of years.

Field said that the family was always trying to make the land sustainable. He remembered the years when his mother sold Catamount Carrots. They continued looking for a way to make the land self-supporting. In 1984 they decided to make a cidery at their home on Catamount hill. They planted more land into apples; they were going into business.

Field said “When we were making wine in our cellar my father had a big microscope that he could use to watch and monitor the process of fermentation. Add yeast to fresh juice and the yeast gets a sugar feeding frenzy, reproducing until a critical mass reached, sugars are transformed into alcohol, CO2. The alcohol is a preservative and prevents other biological competitors. Father was always learning about fermentation. Smell will tell he’d say. A happy yeast is what you want.

“We don’t add sugars into our fermentations, only the sugars in the apple. My father was punching above his weight.  He said we were a niche market without a niche. Liquor stores were not selling ciders in those early days.

“When we started trying to sell cider my mother went around Boston’s liquor stores getting them to try the ciders.” And the cider business did begin to change. Field said they were making cider in the cellar; his father said “Cider grew up and left the house.”

Field has been involved with cider making right from the start. There were school vacations, and he took a year off from college to clear a field and plant an orchard. After his father died in 2010, Field returned to Catamount Hill to help his mother run the business. “Before my father died he saw the cider boom. He could see that his dream was coming true.”

In 2014 Judith and Field bought more land for planting apples and an old apple storage building on Peckville Road with space for a tasting room. Their ciders can be bought there seasonally, but they can also be found at many local liquor stores. The array of different varieties gives a hint of the different apples used. Judith explained, “Redfield is a special apple. It has a red flesh and lots of tannins. About 20 years ago we gave 1000 Redfield whips to Pine Hill and Apex so we could use those apples for cider.”

Now Judith has retired although she often helps in the tasting room. In addition, Elijah Rottenberg, Field’s childhood friend and neighbor on Catamount Hill is now a partner. “He is a quiet backbone,” Field said.

In 1994 Paul Correnty had written a book entitled The Art of Cidermaking with Greenfield native Charlie Olchowski’s images. They wanted to give the book some splash so they turned to Terry and Judith Maloney. Judith said Olchowski was and is central to the group that they helped organize creating special events around cider. Each year there are many volunteers ready to help on the weekend. There is also a committee who plan out the classes and events such as the Cider Salon. That was the beginning of Cider Days which then involved other cider makers and orchards, offering cider and apple tastings, lectures, workshops and lots of time for cider makers to talk and share information. Nowadays cider makers come from all over the country to attend the talks, and talk to each other. There is always information, as well as stories to tell. Field said that there is a story that when George Washington was in Massachusetts he declared Massachusetts cider the best he had ever tasted.  Olchowski said these events are not only about how-to, they are about building community.

Franklin Cider Days events will be very different this year, but 16 cider venues will be open every weekend through November.

The Maloney tap room and bottle shop at 208 Peckville Road in Shelburne will be open every Thursday through Sunday in November. The Covid rules forbid cider tastings if food is not served, but on the traditional weekend of November 7-8 ciders, and pretzels from Rise Above will be ready for tasting. In addition, visitors can enjoy the new hiking trails and picnic grounds that provide a glorious three state view.

Greenfield Recorder  Saturday, November 7, 2020