"Community orchard" turns unwanted apples into prized cider

There was a young lady from Ryde
Who ate tons of green apples and died.
The apples fermented inside the lamented
And now she has cider inside her inside.
anonymous limerick, old English

Neither of them are certified pomologists (apple specialists), but Matt Fater and Aaron Fodge know all about having too many apples — green, red, yellow or any combination of those colors. Instead of trying to eat all the extra apples from a wonderful tree in their neighborhood, these two neighbors found a better use for them and a unique way to use an urban environment to promote sustainable agriculture.

They made cider. More cider than they could drink. And they began to notice other apple trees in their neighborhood with an abundant harvest going to waste. They began accumulating equipment, using a GPS to locate trees and soliciting their owners to join them in creating “a community orchard.”

Before long they had a business plan, solicited help from Larimer County Small Business Development Corporation and became a fully licensed apple winery.

Their cidermaking became a mission and began to grow. In 2012 they formalized their operation, naming it Branch Out Cider. While cider is traditionally made from apples too tart to eat, sometimes called spitters, because you want to spit out a bite from one of these apples, Fater and Fogle aren’t picky about the apples they harvest.

“Some are sweet and some are tart,” Fater explains. “We rely on careful blending in order to create a traditional dry sparkling cider.”

And they do a fine job. From their 2012 harvest, they bottled a cider that took first place as Best Fruit Wine in the 2014 Governor’s Cup Wine Competition sponsored by the Colorado Wine Board. “Pretty good for using neighborhood apples,” Fater noted.

Today they have a website where people can sign up to donate their apples and a couple of trucks they use to retrieve them.

But hold on, in case you’re getting any ideas: “Our tanks are full for this year,” Fater said in mid-October. We’re winding down for this season but it’s not too late to sign up for 2015.” You can do that at www.branchoutcider.com.

Fater and Fogle have been delighted at the response to their idea of a community orchard from which they are able to rescue good, unwanted fruit and convert it into an enjoyable drink. They like the fact that their growers are their customers.

Once collected, the apples are washed, crushed and pressed to obtain the juice. After a one-month period of fermentation in steel tanks, the liquid is allowed to age for three to six months. Bottling, the final step in the process, takes place in early spring.

The process takes time, much like the making of wine. The final product shows up in Champagne-style glass bottles with a distinctive label.

Last year Branch Out produced 180 cases of cider, 12 bottles to a case, and there will be more than that next spring when Perennial 2014 goes on the market. “It’s a vintage, just like wine,” Fater said. ABV (alcohol by volume) is 8.3 percent, more than for beer and less than for wine.

Branch Out cider is available by the glass at William Oliver’s Public House, Mayor of Old Town and Scrumpy’s Cider Bar in Fort Collins. It’s sold at the Farmer’s Market on the grounds of Larimer County Courthouse where you can get a free sample. The sparkling cider will also be available at a winter farmer’s market in Fort Collins and at Aggie Liquor, Pringles, Liquor Cabinet and Supermarket Liquors in Fort Collins.

While Fogle and Fater are passionate about what they do, it is what Fater calls “a seasonal business” that they must find time to operate when they are not working their “real jobs.” Fater is a civil engineer and Fogle is a transportation planner.

They have no immediate plans to become full-time cidermakers, but they admit to having some ideas, which they will not share, to increase their product line.

The way cider is gaining in popularity in the U.S., Fogle and Fater may be forced to change their minds. It was once the most popular drink in the country. Water was not safe and often carried disease-producing organisms. Cider could be stored easily, was good for breakfast and, back then, mild enough that kids could drink it.

Calvados, a hard cider made in France with an ABV of at least 40 percent, is served in Normandy before or after dinner and/or between courses as “trou normand” — or “Norman hole” — intended to create a hole in the appetite to make room for the rest of the meal.

An article in the Utne Reader, excerpted from Amy Stewart’s “The Drunken Botanist,” answers any question you ever had about the types of cider and its evolution over time.

The drink went out of style when German immigrants began producing large quantities of beer in the Midwest. When prohibition made it illegal, cider nearly disappeared from the scene.

The growing popularity of microbreweries and new interest in forgotten styles of beer and ale is fueling a renewed interest in cider as well. Rocky Mountain Cider Association lists producers in Denver, Hygiene, Firestone, Cedaredge, Loveland and Hotchkiss.

In addition to Scrumpy’s, you can find local ciders at Compass Cider and Branch Out in Fort Collins and at Brown Spike Hard Cider in Loveland.

If “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” who can say what wonders a sparkling glass of cider might be able to do. Try some during Thanksgiving dinner, create a “hole” in your appetite and you’ll be able to consume even more turkey.

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