We all know the story of Johnny Appleseed. He was a pioneer that was born in Massachusetts and traveled west, planting apple trees wherever he went. Most of the apples that came from those trees weren't edible, so many settlers decided to use them to make hard cider. A lot has changed for cider since the days of the frontier. Craft cideries have sprung up across the country, and they're using much more than just apples in their cider.
One such cidery is Bantam Cider in Somerville, Massachusetts. Dana Masterpolo and Michelle da Silva founded Bantam back in 2012 with a mission of crafting unique and memorable ciders using the best ingredients they could find. A few months ago they opened a new tap room in their Somerville space. In order to explore the world of craft cider, I traveled out to the Bantam tap room to speak with one of the founders and sample some of Bantam's ciders.
Michelle da Silva (left) and Dana Masterpolo (right) standing in the barrel room of the Bantam cidery.
(All photos courtesy of David Salafia)
When I arrived at the tap room I decided to take a look around. The industrial space was simple yet elegant. Of course, the first thing I noticed was the beautiful wooden bar and the eight taps featuring Bantam's ciders in the middle of the room. I soon realized that I could see everything that was going on at the cidery, from the tanks where the cider's fermentation takes place to the bright tank where cider is carbonated and stored after it has fermented. I even saw the barrels that some of the cider, such as one called La Grande, is aged in.
Dana Masterpolo came soon after I arrived to greet me. I had plenty of questions for her, but my first was on what prompted them to open up a tap room of their own. "When we first started, we didn't really have a way to connect with the people that were drinking our products," Masterpolo says. "That was really important to us. We wanted to get feedback. We wanted people to get to know us. We wanted people to see our process." She told me about how they are now able to engage in more trial and error with their products. "Sometimes we'll only have a really short run of something we only have for a couple of weeks. Maybe that's all it deserves. But sometimes it's the surprising thing where we put something on and people respond very positively."
Bantam has never had a retail space before. "That's got its own challenges and learning curve," Masterpolo says. "But people have been so patient and so excited that it's made it really easy for us." I asked her what she thought the key was to how Bantam got where it is today. "The support of the community and also our perseverance," Masterpolo says. "It's all evolved. When we started our business we didn't know we were going to have a tap room in Union Square. We just knew that we wanted to make great cider."
I followed up by asking her more about the support Bantam has received. "We've had really great support from the local community, from the neighborhood, from our direct neighbors, and from the craft community. It's just been overwhelming."
Dana and Michelle next to Bantam's fermentation tanks.
The more we talked, the more I realized just how authentic Bantam is. Though it's a business, a lot of what goes on in the tap room is about having fun. It also gives them the chance to receive direct feedback on all of their ciders, both classic and experimental. "We're pretty open to getting feedback that may not be positive," Masterpolo says. "We just try to make it so that people will appreciate the range of what cider can be." Masterpolo is confident that when people visit the tap room they will leave having seen something that they weren't expecting and realize the craft cider, like craft beer, is definitely not one-dimensional.
She then walked me through the ciders that they had available in the tap room. We started with Wunderkind, Bantam's flagship cider. Made with sparkling wine yeast and a hint of flower blossom honey, it was light and crisp with a subtle sweetness. Next was Rojo, made with ale yeast and finished with sour cherries as well as black peppercorns. It had a delightful fruit flavor and tartness to it. La Grande, a cider aged for 4 months in bourbon barrels, came afterwards. The hint of wood and bourbon gave this cider a nice complexity. I then tried A Little Something. Uncarbonated, this cider is made with wild yeast that is fermented in a neutral barrel with a few cherries thrown in. It had a slightly sour flavor that made it delightful to drink. After that there was The Americain, which will be the next of Bantam's ciders showing up in bottles. With a variety of spices added along with some rose petals, it had a great aroma and a rich flavor. Next I tasted Wild One, a cider made with wild yeast and left open to the elements during fermentation, giving it a nice sourness. Finally there was Bantam's Smoked Saison, made with Belgian Saison yeast and fermented with smoked apples. Smooth with a pleasant smokiness, it was just as memorable of the rest of the ciders that I tasted.
A bottle of Bantam's Wunderkind being poured into one of their signature glasses.
The tasting gave me a new appreciation for Bantam and their cider. Everything I tried was so different and distinct. There is definitely a lot going on at the cidery, so much so that I had to ask about Bantam's plans for the future. "We're actually going into four-packs for Wunderkind and Rojo, which should be out in July," Masterpolo says. "Beyond that, we're going to launch The Americain. We're exploring different packaging, too. We haven't ruled anything out in terms of cans or bottles."
I then asked her why she thought people should come out an experience the tap room. "I don't think there's anything like it," she says. "We just want people to have a good time. We think our products are interesting enough that if you come in with an open mind you're going to have a good time."
We wrapped things up by chatting about the upcoming Drink Craft Beer Summerfest, at which Bantam has regularly poured their cider. "I think the great thing is that the people that go to the Drink Craft Beer fests, I think more than most of the festivals, are very respectful and sensitive people. They go there to try to find really great stuff, so you have this opportunity to be in front of super interested and engaged people. We always try and bring something good and fun to get some feedback." Masterpolo says they have all sorts of ideas for this Summerfest. If there's one thing you can be sure of, it's that they will raise the bar on craft cider yet again.
Bantam Cider Company is located at 40 Merriam Street in Somerville, Massachusetts. Their tap room hours are on Thursdays and Fridays from 4-7 PM and on Saturdays from 1-7 PM. For more information, visit www.bantamcider.com. In addition to visiting them at their tap room, check them out at Drink Craft Beer Summerfest 2014 on July 18th & 19th to talk to them about their cider and taste it for yourself!