It’s taken decades for the East End wine industry to come into its own, and another few years for Long Island craft beer to gain a foothold. Could hard cider be next?
Long Island’s largest cidery so far, The Riverhead Ciderhouse opened earlier this month on Sound Avenue in Calverton. The soaring 8,000-square-foot space includes a 40-foot bar, scattered tables, two fireplaces, a small-bites menu, and 24 taps of New York State cider, wine, and beer.
While none of the cider on tap is made on-site, it soon will be. “We’re going to do a variety of seasonal ciders to reflect what’s going on in the farm community,” said Greg Gove, a longtime North Fork wine- and cidermaker who will lead cider production.
A window on one side of the tasting room and cafe offers a view into a production area, anchored by a handful of stainless-steel tanks in which Gove can produce up to 50,000 gallons of cider per year, most of it between 3.5 and 6 percent alcohol by volume.
“I’m going to buy as many apples as I can out here [on the East End],” said Gove, primarily from Peconic’s Breeze Hill Farm and Southold’s Surrey Lane Vineyard Orchard Farm. “After that, [we’ll source] from the Hudson River Valley. Looking down the road, we might plant our own.”
Gove, a trained chemist, first began making cider in 2008 at Peconic Bay Winery, where he was also a winemaker. (Before that, Gove was at Hargrave Vineyard and Pindar Vineyards). Though Gove admits that competition for cider apples is becoming fierce — cider is best made from bittersweet, tannic apples that are in short supply, and has also soared in popularity because it is a gluten-free alternative to beer — he has a leg up on the competition: Riverhead Ciderhouse is partially owned by J. Kings Food Service, a Holstville food distributor with produce connections across the state.
When J. Kings and other investors purchased the former plumbing-supply company at 2711 Sound Ave. a few years ago, it was used primarily as leasable wine storage. As he worked in the food-and-beverage chain, J. King’s chief customer officer, John King, began to notice a growing demand for cider, one that often exceeded supply. When New York State began offering a farm cidery license in fall 2013, King hatched plans for a cidery.
“We’re not a bar, we’re not a restaurant, we’re not a tavern,” said King, pointing out there are no barstools and the menu is focused on casual bites, such as pizza and sandwiches, that are made off-site at a J. Kings facility.
Instead, Riverhead Ciderhouse is part store, part production facility — the ciders made here will be bottled and distributed across Long Island — and a place to sample and kick back with local beverages. On tap this week, for instance, are ciders from Maspeth’s Descendant Cider, beers from Port Jeff brewing Company, and wines from Martha Clara Vineyards.
Right now, the three branded Riverhead Ciderhouse ciders on tap — Benjamin’s Best, Founder’s Reserve, and Razzmatazz — are now made in the Hudson Valley, but Gove has plans to create a broad variety of effervescent ciders. Some will be fermented with seasonal fruit, such as strawberries; some will be dry “in the French style,” and some might be ice ciders. “We want to attract people who know about cider,” Gove said.
Riverhead Ciderhouse, 2711 Sound Ave., Calverton, riverheadcider.com