Angry Orchard Cidermaker Joe Gaynor Keeps It Local in Walden

After stepping into the head cidermaker role in 2021, Joe Gaynor is excited to innovate with cider in the Hudson Valley.

The first time Angry Orchard’s head cidermaker Joe Gaynor started working at the Walden cidery, it was for a weekend gig. Gaynor, who was born and raised in the Hudson Valley, was already familiar with the brand, so working there on the weekends seemed like the perfect side gig to his day job with a surveying firm.

“I went to high school 10 minutes up the road from the orchard,” he explains. “When I saw the opportunity to work here, I jumped on it.”

Of course, a proximity to work wasn’t the only thing that drew Gaynor to the position. He was homebrewing at the time and had played around with cidermaking in the past, so there was more than a little personal interest that drove him to the job in 2016.

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He couldn’t have known then that a part-time position at Angry Orchard would develop in an assistant cidermaker, then a cidermaker, and now the head cidermaker position in Walden. Yet that’s precisely what happened over the years. As Gaynor became more involved at the orchard and joined the team full-time, he fell in love with the world of cider both in the Hudson Valley and across the globe.

“I had a college background that was in lab work, which really helped,” notes the environmental science major. “I was coming at it wide-eyed and excited to learn. It was the right place at the right time.”

Joe Gaynor on a truck at Angry Orchard
Head cidermaker Joe Gaynor at the orchard in Walden. Photo courtesy of Angry Orchard

In the early days, Gaynor cut his teeth cleaning floors and filling kegs in the cellar. As he progressed in the role and expressed an interest in cider, he was able to take on more responsibilities.

“I was able to learn a lot from Ryan [Burk, Angry Orchard’s former head cidermaker], who was a huge mentor for me,” he reveals. “Through the help of Angry Orchard, I was able to attend classes at the Cider Institute of North America. I was blending every day and had a chemistry understanding of it, too.”

When Burk stepped away from Angry Orchard in 2021 to pursue other projects, Gaynor was a natural fit to replace him. He took over the role in November 2021 and has been 100-percent immersed in all things Angry Orchard since then.

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Related: 6 Angry Orchard Cocktails to Sip All Autumn Long in the Hudson Valley

“It’s been busy and a lot of fun,” he enthuses. “It’s exciting and humbling and I look forward to doing it more and making dope cider.”

Speaking of making that cider, Gaynor explains that it’s a continuous learning process.

“With any kind of fermenting or developing taste, there’s a ton of exposure, and you need to be eating and drinking everything you possibly can,” he says, adding, “for me, that was a little accelerated here.”

Joe Gaynor in front of Angry Orchard
Photo courtesy of Angry Orchard

He cites the opportunity to work with talented cidermakers and chefs as a valuable part of the learning experience, since it offers him new perspectives and techniques. In addition, the hands-on nature of the job provides him with new chances to learn and evolve as a cidermaker.

“There is no average workweek,” he says. “That’s my favorite part about it.”

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“It’s really a different version of myself that I’ve grown up with here,” he observes. Just as he’s grown with Angry Orchard, so too is the orchard growing up with him. He recalls how, when he started, there were only a few graftings onsite. Now, the orchard has been replanted to feature cider-specific bittersweet fruit. During harvest, that amounts to approximately 200,000 lbs of fruit that will go toward cider production.

These days, Gaynor has his hands full with managing the ins and outs of making Angry Orchard cider. No two days are the same, which means he often finds himself jumping from being out in the orchard planting trees, checking on fruit quality, or harvesting to retreating to the cellar for packaging and conditioning. On other days, he could be releasing a cider, talking with consumers, or pouring at a festival.

“There is no average workweek,” he says. “That’s my favorite part about it.”

Angry Orchard exterior
Photo by Sabrina Sucato

In August 2022, he and Angry Orchard announced the release of Tall Tails, a new cocktail-style cider collection inspired by Hudson Valley folklore. He’s also been busy with a number of partnerships, from an Angry Orchard sponsorship of Barrel & Flow Fest in Pittsburgh, PA, to collaborations with Dale View Biscuits & Beer in Brooklyn and Dope Cider in Youngstown, OH. He enjoys collaborating with other cidermakers, since it offers yet another way to innovate and learn.

@hudsonvalleymag @angryorchardofficial has a new Tall Tails cider collection based on #HudsonValley folklore! #angryorchard #waldenny #hudsonvalleyny @sabrina.sucato ♬ Lo-fi hip hop – NAO-K

“[Collaboration] looks different for everybody,” he notes. “[With] some people, you walk in the room and vibe right away. You want to learn from one another. You respect what each other does, and that’s the first big part for me.”

Looking ahead, Gaynor is excited to do more with single varietals and explore different uses for the tannic fruits. Thanks to the thriving cider scene in the Hudson Valley, he doesn’t expect that his career field will be slowing down anytime soon.

“There’s a lot of opportunity being in the orchard every day lately,” he says. “I’m beyond excited to show off what we’re going to make next year.”

Tall Tails

Courtesy of Angry Orchard

Every cocktail tells a story: Angry Orchard just launched Tall Tails, a line of hard ciders named after Hudson Valley fables. The sips include Old Growth (based on the Balmville Tree legend), Ichabod Spritzer (the Legend of Sleepy Hollow), Long Nap (Rip Van Winkle), and Mountain Lights (Legend of Storm King). You can taste test these cocktales all autumn long at their Cider House in Walden.

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