There’s truth in the adage that the best things happen when you least expect them.
It certainly happened for Abandoned Hard Cider owners Eric Childs and Martin Bernstein back in 2015. After all, neither expected that a chance meeting would lead to a full-fledged wild hard cider business in the Hudson Valley.
At the time, both men were on seemingly independent paths in their careers. Childs, a professional kombucha maker, was a consultant and business owner behind Kombucha Brooklyn. Bernstein, meanwhile, was an outdoor educator and fundraiser by day and a hobby orchardist and cider maker on the side.
So, when Bernstein walked into Childs’ kombucha and fermentation supply shop in Kingston in search of as many carboys, or fermentation vessels, as he could find, he had no idea he’d be laying the foundation for a new business. He was making his own cider at the time and, when he told Childs about how he sourced his apples from wild and abandoned orchards around his Catskills farm, Childs was immediately intrigued.
“Eric suggested a barter,” Bernstein recalls. In it, Bernstein would trade his special apple juice, which he crafted from hard-to-find apple varieties like Esopus Spitzenburg, Golden Russet, King David, and Rhode Island Greening, in exchange for fermentation supplies. A few weeks after that agreement, Bernstein called Childs to say he “had just fermented and bottled some of the finest cider he’d ever tasted.”
As a few taste tests revealed, Bernstein’s wild apple cider was significantly more nuanced than any ciders the duo had tried before. With flavor intricacies that compared to elegant wines, the ciders intrigued the pair so much that they knew they needed to make more. So, in 2016, they made a pact to scour the old homestead orchards and wild groves of the Catskills and the Hudson Valley to produce their very own Abandoned Cider. While their main challenge was finding locations to source the apples, they soon fell into a regular, albeit unconventional routine.
“In some areas, you can’t drive on any road without noticing wild apple trees hovering over an old road or old homestead groves tucked inside new forest growth,” Bernstein notes. “Our challenge was to gain access to those trees, which we did simply by knocking on doors or finding the landowner contact info on tax maps and making phone calls.”
Their determination paid off, and they founded Abandoned Cider officially in 2017. After applying for a farm cidery license and converting Martin’s 800-square-foot barn into a makeshift cidery, they launched production. The operation was a very DIY one, and one that worked perfectly well until the pair finally outgrew the space and relocated to a larger setup in Germantown in 2019.
When it comes to making Abandoned Cider, the founders look to spotlight the uniqueness of the apples themselves.
“We try to describe our ciders in some detail on the labels because a lot of people have ideas about hard cider that are informed by their first exposure to it, which usually involves big national brands that use lots of sugar and are made from apple concentrate rather than whole apple juice,” Bernstein explains.
Not only are Abandoned’s ciders bone-dry, but they’re also hard to pinpoint when it comes to flavor. Because each batch relies upon a distinct set of apples, no two ciders are exactly the same. Depending on the types of apples used, one cider could taste as complex as a fine white wine while the next is tart and funky, another boast floral and fruity notes, and the following is surprisingly crisp and light.
Such variety of profiles is thanks to the wild and abandoned orchards from which Bernstein and Childs source. Although they mainly look to Sullivan and Ulster Counties for their bounty, they also crowdsource apples from locals with fruit to spare. Last year, they amassed 14 tons of apples through their website PickYourApples.com and offered homegrown hard cider in exchange. On top of that, they maintain relationships with two family orchards in Columbia and Dutchess Counties for a medley of cider apples.
During any given production cycle, Bernstein and Childs keep about 5,000 gallons of cider divided between the aging, fermentation, and bottling stages. Most batches run on the smaller side, with select nano-batches coming from single-tree sources. Those ones only fill 10 to 20 bottles and are standouts that encapsulate the essence of just one Hudson Valley tree’s fruit.
While cider styles largely depend on which apples are in production, Abandoned’s Classic, Hopped, and Barrel-Aged ciders are most widely available throughout New York, as well as in a number of other states. They come in 12 oz cans, while the small-batch ciders are locally available in a variety of sizes at both the Kingston Farmers’ Market and Abandoned’s Outpost in Woodstock.
Speaking of the Outpost, it’s the newest venture for the Abandoned team and a pivot from their original plan to build out a tap room and production facility in Germantown. Yet after going so far as to engage engineers and build out a budget for the space, COVID-19 hit the Hudson Valley and prompted Bernstein and Childs to rethink their plan.
“We hadn’t had time to think of a plan B when we discovered this little gem of a space in Woodstock was for rent,” Bernstein admits. “Eric lives a minute away and one of our best accounts, Sunflower Natural Foods, is nearby. It made perfect sense to open up a small retail space in Woodstock.”
Open since August 7, the Outpost is just as much of an educational space as it is a place to grab a drink. Photos of foraging and production are everywhere, offering visitors an inside look at what it takes to craft wild Hudson Valley cider. The décor pairs perfectly with the Outpost’s six-tap system, which serves drinks that can be enjoyed outside. Later, cold ciders and local beers are ready and waiting to take home.
Beginning September 15, the Outpost opens outdoor seating for Hudson Valleyites to experience cider tastings, with local beers and kombuchas on the menu as well. Later this fall, Abandoned launches a new canned cider along with small-batched bottled ones. If all goes well, Bernstein and Childs envision a comfortable home for Abandoned in Woodstock and, eventually, across the Hudson Valley.
“We hope this Outpost is a popular place for people to come to and, if it proves so, we’d like to open more outposts,” Bernstein enthuses. “We both are very eager to open a larger, family friendly taproom with food, indoor and outdoor seating, and fun things for kids to do. Let’s see how 2021 shakes out!”
Abandoned Hard Cider
1802 Rte 28, Woodstock