From the apple on the tree to the cider in the glass,
We try to get in the way as little as possible. Whaleback Cider starts with fresh picked local Maine apples. And by local we mean around the corner or down the road. Sourced from small orchards and found growing wild along old roads and field edges, the fruit is pressed here on the farm and the juice is cold fermented in small batches over the winter then aged in oak barrels. Occasionally , yeast is selected to reduce acidity in some of the more tart New England varieties but, for the most part, the apples and the yeast are allowed to do their wonderful dance without interference - sulfites and sorbates strictly prohibited! As late winter gives way to early spring the yeasts tire out and quit the party but the fun finally begins for us. Blending the various batches that were fermented separately because of the long period between ripening times of different apple varieties is the reward for all the painstaking hours, days, weeks and months of picking, sorting, scrating and pressing in the fall. We taste and taste again, sampling various combinations until the balance between sugar, acid and tannin is just right. Tanks and casks are pumped over and combined for various bottling runs and, after a little lag during bottle conditioning, the cider is finally ready to drink. It doesn't end there though, because the absence of sulfites and sorbates means that each bottle is full of living liquid. Much like wine, these ciders will evolve over time.
A bit about cider apples and other fruit
Cider making is all about balance. Blending sugars, acids and tannins is essential to making a pleasant beverage from apples and other fruit. For that reason, the apples that go into Whaleback Cider aren't just your run of the mill Red Delicious and Macintosh, although some orchard standards like Macoun, Golden Delicious, Northern Spy, Cortland, Empire and Liberty do form a base for the time being. Beyond these fresh eating varieties which are usually high in acid for that tart apple crunch, it is essential to blend in fruit with tannic bitterness for structure and mouthfeel, aromatics for a fragrant nose and sugars for strength and finish. Fortunately, neglected barrens, old farmstead orchards and wild trees abound in this corner of Maine and there is no shortage of exciting fruit to hunt out of overgrown fields, hidden rock walls and old cellar holes. Wild berries high in tannins like Elder, Aronia and Blueberry, as well as heirloom apple varieties rich with aromatics and sugars like Winter Banana, Cole's Quince, Lincolnville Russet, Beefsteak, Porter, Tolman Sweet, Hudson's Golden Gem, Baldwin, Ben Davis and countless wild, as-yet-unnamed varieties pepper the hills and islands of Knox and Waldo counties. Over the past few decades there has been a great effort to find and propagate these old varieties. Cider makers and cider drinkers alike owe the intrepid fruit explorers who tirelessly sought these ancient trees and clipped some last sticks of scionwood from their gnarled limbs a deep debt of gratitude.
Farm and orchard
Cider making is serious labor but most of our time these days is going into establishing an orchard. Small sapling apples and pears, as well as eldeberries, grapes and aronia, from many different countries and breeding periods are being painstakingly fledged into fruit bearing trees and shrubs here on the farm. Old cider and perry varieties from England, France and Spain, as well as early American bred fruit lost long ago to Prohibition number in the hundreds, if not thousands and we aim to establish a broad variety, hopefully finding and propagating some unique wild trees that are already thriving in the local micro-climate as well. As this profusion of fruiting trees and shrubs comes into bearing, our ciders' depth and complexity will continue to grow.
What is a Whaleback anyway?
If you haven't had the chance to read the label-back amateur geology that inspired our farm name, here you go - not long ago, as far as geological time goes, much of coastal Maine was under water. When the Laurentide ice sheet retreated in 10000BC, it took the compressed earth many years to shake off the weight of the glacier, leaving the coastal area about 450 ft below where it is today. As the sea receded, the starkly carved granite landscape of Maine’s coast was slowly revealed. One of the most striking features hewn by the ice is known as a ‘whaleback,’ massive formations of granite polished as smooth as the flanks of a whale gliding out of the depths. These stone leviathans emerge from Maine’s fields and forests, swimming in mineral rich soils where fruit trees thrive. Apples grown in coastal Maine benefit from this marriage of land and sea in past and present; from primeval soil strata to ephemeral sea fogs. And perhaps the trees, with their ancient sight, can still occasionally glimpse a whale swimming by.