Destination Spirits: Seminary Hill Hard Cider Tributes The Catskills Agricultural Heritage

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In Callicoon, New York, The Boarding House at Seminary Hill is steeped in 100 years of history, but it’s their contemporary production of Seminary Hill cider that “turns the script,” according to co-founder Susan Manning.

“A traditional hotel attracts people based on price or location, then ‘amazes’ them with amenities and experience to close the deal,” Manning told TBEN. “At Seminary Hill, we provide an incredible experience first and foremost.”

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Manning refers to Seminary Hill’s Cidery, which produces orchard-driven, eco-focused and Passive House-certified hard cider that she says is “a return to the country and agricultural heritage of the western Catskills, inspired by the concept of updating or revitalizing age-old practices.” to live off the land.”

The cider operation began in 2012 when Manning’s husband and co-founder, Doug Doetsch, enlisted the help of orchard consultant Michael Phillips on a small orchard on Doetsch’s family home. As the duo prepared the country, they began experimenting with different varieties of apples and pears to see what style of ciders they could produce, which eventually became their “core” offering, Manning said, highlighting the family’s founding mission. to connect. place people.

As our cider master, Stuart Madany, says, “Through the interaction of the trees, the land and the cider production process, a new story unfolds in every glass – a story that cannot be told anywhere else. It is forever varied yet always an expression of this place,” Manning said of the unique story Seminary Hill tells the guests.

“We notice that our guests are more familiar with cider and there is a particular interest in dry and still ciders,” Manning said, adding that the orchard now grows 54 varieties of cider apple and seven Perry pears.

Below, Manning takes an in-depth look at the history of Seminary Hill and its ever-expanding portfolio of ciders, as well as what guests can expect, whether they’re visiting for the day or checking in for a fall weekend experience.

Jillian Dara: What was the first cider made at Seminary?

Susan Manning: We made our first cider in the barn before opening the cidery with the help of Chris Negronida, the manager of Black Diamond Orchard and Cidery near Ithaca, New York. We didn’t sell the first ciders – we were experimenting to learn what the region’s apples and pears could produce. Out of these experiments came a pear wine (pear cider) called Perfect Pear (now sold out).

Dara: Why was it so important that the cider was produced in the first passively certified cidery?

Crew: We didn’t necessarily want to be the first Passive House certified cidery. Seminary Hill has sustainability in its roots, so following the architectural practices that achieved Passive House certification made sense to us. The architectural practice aligns with the holistic nature of the orchard and cidery, following age-old practices of living off the land.

Dara: What about the cider that is most unique to the hotel and property? And how do you reflect the hotel and property in the offer?

Crew: Everything about Seminary Hill cider reflects the property. We take an orchard- or harvest-driven approach, meaning Seminary Hill focuses intently on the apples, growing them in a way that maximizes their traits and highly reflects how those apples express themselves in the orchard location in the western Catskills.

Dara: Who did you work with to make this cider and how did you choose these key partners?

Crew: The late Michael Phillips, a farmer, carpenter and renowned orchard consultant, compiled the initial list of 12-15 cider apples for our core apple varieties and guided us through the years-long process of growing the fields and apples. Stuart Madany, the cider master of Seminary Hill, trained as an architect and found his calling as a cider maker; he was a cider master at Castle Hill Cider in Keswick, Virginia, before moving to Callicoon. Bill Hess, our orchard manager, grew up outside Callicoon on his great-great-grandparents’ land. We worked with local design firm Homestedt on the branding of the cider and the interior of the Boarding House in Seminary Hill.

Dara: Why was it so important to you to provide these kinds of amenities to your guests? And how has it proven itself?

Crew: Cider is our core offering at Seminary Hill, including a full-service restaurant (the Tasting Room), a hotel-style guest house and private event spaces. Our clients include local residents and day trippers as well as overnight visitors staying at the guest house. We offer an incredible experience with the opportunity to be in nature, visit a working orchard and cidery, taste the cider and eat excellent farm-to-table meals, and make it easy to experience by providing a progressive sleeping place to offer . By taking this approach, we have attracted clients hyper-focused on what Seminary Hill offers: a place to relax and disconnect from nature.

Dara: When you launched your cider collection, did you expect it to evolve into what it has today?

Crew: Seminary Hill plans to eventually make 15,000 gallons of cider per year, or 75,000 bottles. We currently produce about 4,600 gallons per year. We hope to produce more next season (autumn 2022 to summer 2023), but we have to wait and see how the harvest goes. The orchards are young and more trees are added every year. As Bill Hess, our orchard manager, says, “Nature is our boss.”

As we develop our portfolio of harvest-driven ciders, we will create annual variations on themes, such as Susan’s Semi-Dry, while producing additional unique blends during a specific year. Some of the unique blends can become a regular offering, but it’s important to emphasize that making cider is a constant process of exploration and discovery. We are always looking to evolve and grow, but it all comes down to our holistic orchard practices – we rely only on our apples and pears, so we have to wait and see each harvest to see what we have and where we can go.

Dara: What are some cider experiences you have on site?

Crew: Orchard and cidery tours and tastings every Sunday. Guided tastings and cider flights in the tasting room. Two cider subscriptions offer seasonally selected cider selections that ship nationally or are picked up from the cidery. Special nano-batch exclusives are offered as part of the cider subscriptions; it is an opportunity to renew your connection with the property (a form of virtual visit). An annual celebration in May with an exclusive dinner in the orchard.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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