“We grow really, really good apples in the Champlain Valley,” says Colin Davis, cofounder of Shacksbury Cider. According to Davis, Vermont is home to some of the greatest apples in the world. Apples are ingrained in the culture and history here; it’s the state fruit and the state pie is of the apple variety. Settlers brought apple seeds with them to plant in the hills of the state which, initially, were bitter to the taste. These apples were used in cider — at one time a beverage on par with beer in popularity. But eventually apples sweetened out and the popularity of cider dwindled, and Vermont’s apple yields were used almost exclusively for eating and baking. At one point, the only cider maker in the state was Woodchuck. But now, in the wake of increased interest in cider, cider makers have been coming back to Vermont.

Shacksbury is a cider mill dedicated to crafting cider that they say is “daring and complex”. It was founded by friends Colin Davis and David Dolginow, both with passions for agriculture and an interest in apples. “Starting a cider company was an idea that kind of snuck up on us,” Colin says. “We put together a tasting group and started tasting on a weekly basis. There were a few domestic ciders…and some imports from France, England and Spain that really opened our eyes to what the apple could do.”

This lead Colin on a trip to Europe to visit some of the world’s best cider-making spots in Spain, France and England — “to find inspiration.” While he found cider inspiration, he also found something just as valuable: business partners. On the first and last stops of his European tour, Colin met apple-growing and cider-making pros Ainara Otaño of Petritegi Sargardoa in Gipuzkoa, Spain and Simon Day of Dragon Orchard in Herefordshire, England, respectively. “I was sitting at Petritegi Sargardoa…thinking, ‘How can I make something like this? Would these people be willing to teach me?’ And I just got the feeling they would.”

“There are no rules with cider; you can put hops in it if you want, you can use wild apples and no one will judge you.”

Colin gained a lot of knowledge from establishing these connections. They ultimately helped him and David create Shacksbury — but that partnership also led to shipments of apples that Colin and David use in addition to their own Vermont-grown varieties. The apples from Otaño’s orchards in Spain are used in their Basque-style cider, while Day’s English apples are mixed with apples grown in Vermont orchards in Shacksbury’s Classic and Farmhouse ciders. In addition to those apple sources, Shacksbury also experiments in using “lost apples” — apples that, many years ago, were part of the orchards in Vermont, were left unattended and have become wild.

Colin says the cider industry is an exciting place to be because it is ripe with innovation. “[Cider making] doesn’t have the baggage that wine has. There are no rules with cider; you can put hops in it if you want, you can use wild apples and no one will judge you.” That creativity manifests itself in cider that really is daring and complex. It’s unlike the overly sweet, almost juice-like mass-market ciders most people are acquainted with, and they go a long way at dispelling the misconception that ciders are an alternative for people who can’t or won’t drink beer. Cider is now a new frontier for those who want to drink something different. “I think people like the sense of newness and creativity that cider represents,” says Collin, “and the sense of discovery that comes along with exploring just how diverse ciders can be.”

The Ciders

Three of Shacksbury’s Finest

Classic

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Shacksbury’s Classic cider is crafted from Brown, Ellis Bitter, Dabinett, Michelin, Jonagold, Spartan and Somerset Redstreak apples.

Tasting Notes: It has a light and sparkly mouthfeel, and a taste somewhat resembling Riesling. There’s a subtle sweetness to it, reminiscent of dessert apples. One tester referred to as being “reminiscent of cream soda” and another called it “Martinelli’s for grown-ups”. At any rate, Shacksbury’s Classic is very refreshing and drinkable — a great cider that stands on its own.

Farmhouse

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The Farmhouse is made from Jonagold, Spartan and a small amount of English bittersweet apples, then is lightly aged in bourbon and rye barrels.

Tasting Notes: It is somewhat similar to the Classic, but it’s certainly lighter, more crisp and champagne-like. It’s dry, and doesn’t have the same sweetness the Classic has. It’s light on the nose, and the flavors are not as obvious — you have to work for notes of tart apples and citrus, but they’re worth it.

Basque

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This is made from apples grown in the Basque region in Spain. Basque-style cider is unfiltered, unsulfated and contains dissolved CO2, so you’ll have to “throw” it (essentially pouring it from height) which knocks some CO2 out of the solution, giving it a light carbonation.

Tasting Notes: It isn’t as bubbly as the Classic or Farmhouse — we would go almost as far as to say it’s flat. It has a tart flavor, reminiscent of green apples, and is neither dry nor sweet and has — as one tester puts it — a “farmhouse funk” to it. It’s certainly interesting, but perhaps more suited to hardcore hard cider connoisseurs.