In an area known for its abundance of apple farms, it only makes sense that there are a fair few cideries in the Hudson Valley, too. Yet up until recently, local cider production stuck primarily to upper- and mid-Valley territory, with cider makers like Angry Orchard and Graft Cider dominating the scene.
That all changed when Rockland Cider Works poured its first glass in Pearl River.
Technically in business since February 2019, when it established its LLC, Rockland Cider Works made its grand debut in August 2019 a week after obtaining its liquor license. Since then, it’s quickly worked its way into the hearts of cider lovers across the Hudson Valley. Owned by husband-and-wife team Darin and Elisabeth Van Houten, the farm cidery headquarters at Pearl River’s Van Houten Farms, which has a long history in New York State.
Darin’s family, the Blauvelts, arrived in the Hudson Valley in the early 1600s, and his grandfather started the farm in Pearl River (although its current address is in Orangeburg) in 1946 after returning from service in the army during WWII. Although the farm began with a focus on dairy, it soon transitioned to a farm market, garden center, and nursery and even added a large production farm in Pennsylvania to increase business in the ‘70s.
Darin, who grew up on the Pennsylvania farm, returned to work with his uncle in Pearl River after earning his degree in horticulture from Cornell University. After taking over the old Cropsey Farm in New City for 10 years and running a garden center in Maryland, he moved to Pearl River with his wife in 2018 to take the reins at the original family farm.
Upon returning to the Hudson Valley from Maryland, the Van Houtens brought with them an idea that had first come to mind while still in Maryland.
“One summer evening, Elisabeth and I were getting ready to leave the garden center for the day and were trying to think of a good place to stop and have a drink on our way home,” Darin recalls. When nothing came to mind, they took it upon themselves to launch a “Music in the Garden” event to celebrate local beer, food, and wine. They loved the convivial atmosphere they created, and they knew the hard cider they had been experimenting with for the past 10 years would be the perfect drink to pair with it in the Hudson Valley.
Working with Dr. Davies Farm in Congers, the Van Houtens purchased their first tank and pressed what would later be known as their signature Dry Run cider in fall 2018. They began with temporary alcohol permits to host festivals and sell their cider, but they knew it was only a matter of time before their business expanded. So, they took the plunge and established Rockland Cider Works, LLC in February 2019. With their very own fermentation facility set up on the farm, they were ready to become serious cider makers in the Hudson Valley.
Today, Rockland Cider Works is a true farm cidery. It uses 100-percent New York State apples, with a majority sourced from Dr. Davies Farm in Rockland County. All ciders are naturally gluten-free and sugar-free to emphasize the natural essence of the local produce. The brand’s flagship cider is the Dry Run, a highly drinkable dry cider, although its Dry Patch strawberry cider is a regular on tap as well. In addition to its core collection of ciders, Rockland Cider Works loves to experiment with unconventional flavors that range from fruity to savory and spicy. Rob Rod’s Snack Time cider, which boasts strong notes of peanut butter, for instance, is a best seller. On the rotating tap menu, everything from lemon and watermelon ciders to jalapeño, blood orange, pumpkin, and s’mores sips make appearances, too.
To craft the cider, the Van Houtens begin by filling their 275-gallon tanks, as many as four at a time, for pressing. They currently have about 2,500 gallons fermenting at a time, and they also do five-gallon batches of wild fermentation ciders to learn more about production for the future. Once the cider is set, it pours from taps at the farm’s cider and bier garden. The Van Houten slogan is “growing good times,” and the phrase certainly applies. Visitors can grab a drink, bring a picnic, or enjoy a bite from a visiting food truck while listening to live music on the weekends. Tables are spaced more than six feet apart, so customers feel safe no matter where they are.
For now, Rockland Cider Works is exclusive to Van Houten Farms and local restaurants like Bailey’s Smokehouse in Blauvelt, Nanuet Restaurant in Nanuet, Louie’s on the Avenue in Pearl River, and Growler & Gill in Nanuet. Looking ahead, it hopes to establish a satellite location and maybe even a bed and brewery upstate or a farm market in Westchester County to make Rockland’s signature cider more readily available in the Hudson Valley.
“The future is looking bright for Rockland Cider Works!” Darin and Elisabeth enthuse.
Rockland Cider Works
Van Houten Farms, Orangeburg