As the culmination of Cider Week NYC, Bad Seed Cider, the legendary band once described by the Appleternative Press as a “fabulously fruity force incessantly redefining the boundaries of orchard opera,” released its latest album, No Seed Till Brooklyn.
The new nine-song collection, which I pretended to play in its entirety several dozen times before writing this exhaustively comprehensive review, opens with “Fruit of the Loon,” a hazy, psychedelic ode to the Golden Delicious cultivar of apple that lures listeners into a long bite (three consecutive minutes, at one hypnotic point) of this juicy chorus: “I’m gonna eat you soon / For you, I am a loon / I can’t help but swoon / You are the fruit of the loon.”
No Seed Till Brooklyn’s mood shifts drastically on the next song, the short and frenetic titular track–
EditorzZz: Bad Seed Cider is not a band, Niko. Can you please clarify that for our readership and stop…you-ing?
Sorry. Sure. I want to apologize for that excessive fart of fiction. My editorzZz are correct: Bad Seed Cider is not a band, but a small-scale cidery based in Highland, New York that I recently discovered (during the greatest month ever). The company has an interesting connection to Brooklyn and the GrowNYC Greenmarkets, in addition, and I’d like to share it with y’all now. Are you ready to share, Neighborhood? I am!
While shopping at the Fort Greene Park Greenmarket on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, each paw clutching a squad of softball-size organic tomatoes like an adept juggler, I passed Bad Seed’s booth and, intrigued by its beer-like packaging in 12-ounce aluminum cans, stopped for a sampling.
A vendor at the brownstone-abutting market since launching in 2012, Bad Seed is owned and operated by two longtime friends, Albert Wilklow and Devin Britton. The duo uses apples grown on the former’s family’s 1855-established farm, Wilklow Orchards, to make more than five types of hard cider. I tasted two of them with Wilklow that morning, starting with their crisp, bone-dry flagship. “It’s more of the traditional style, not like the sweet stuff you find in most mainstream ciders,” he explained. “It’s made with a blend of really tart varieties unfit for eating. But they’re perfect to make a dry, complex cider.”
That mix of six varieties (including Winesap, Empire, and Russet) serves as the base for most of their offerings, many of which, I learned, are infused with the spirit of beer. This adds Bad Seed to the growing number of American cidermakers influenced by the country’s craft breweries—using the same ingredients, employing the same techniques, etc.—that’s helping to redefine one of the nation’s oldest alcoholic beverages. (Our friend, Joshua M. Bernstein, recently explored the ongoing movement in a story for Imbibe.)
The most popular example of Bad Seed’s beverage-blending is the refreshing dry-hopped cider packaged in cans, IPC Reserve, which initially lured me to talk to Wilklow. An acronym for India Pale Cider, IPC is a twist on the IPA, craft beer’s most popular style, that’s dosed with Cascade hops to lend bright citrusy and floral aromas. “We make really small batches of it to ensure the hops stay fresh,” he said.
There are other creative boundary-blurring examples, though I didn’t taste them (yet). Belgian Witte Reserve is a witbier-inspired cider spiced with coriander and orange peel, for example, while The Farmer is fermented with saison yeast. Bad Seed also offers a cider aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels, the most full-bodied liquid in its core (!) portfolio. Wilklow’s descriptors of oak, smoke, and vanilla could easily be the characteristics of a wood-matured porter or barleywine.
After the sampling, I stayed and chatted with Wilklow about the influence of beer on his ciders, his farm’s 170-year history and how the Greenmarkets saved it from possible extinction, and their on-site tasting room in Highland.
Niko Krommydas: How was Cider Week?
Albert Wilklow: It was a lot of fun. This definitely seemed like the biggest one ever. It’s really cool to see more and more people want to learn about cider. The line at the event we did on Orchard Street, it took almost an hour for people to get in.
NK: When did your family start selling in Brooklyn?
AW: Brooklyn came into play in the ’80s … a year after I was born, so 1984. That’s when my father started to come to the Greenmarkets and we sold directly to the public for a retail price. And that’s really what started to turn the farm around.
NK: Was the farm struggling?
AW: Yeah, it was kind of on its last strings which is crazy to think because my family has been on the same land since 1855. In the early ’80s, we were doing mostly wholesale accounts. At the time my grandmother was actually working in the packing house of an orchard up the street and my grandfather delivered corn for another farm. They were still doing their own farming on the side, but our farm couldn’t sustain itself. A lot of small apple farms in the area went out of business around then.
NK: Why is that?
AW: Our farm and a lot of other small farms had trouble because there was an abundance of apples and that pushed the price down. Some of the bigger farms were able to handle the lower price, but the smaller guys started to drop out. Plus back then most of the small guys sold through distributors, so you would pack your fruit and then get paid what they offered; there wasn’t a whole lot of control over the price. That’s why the Greenmarket was great. Being able to name the price and get the full retail value was a big deal.
NK: When did you start coming to the Greenmarkets?
AW: Wow, I’ve been coming to Brooklyn since I can remember. Probably like five years old. I would drive in with my father and we sold in the mornings. I wasn’t used to waking up that early at the time. [Laughs.]
NK: How early?
AW: 4:30 a.m. But that’s part of the farmer life, the work ethic. My grandfather still works every day, at 84. He always told me that a farmer’s retirement party is his wake.
NK: What do you remember about the Greenmarkets at that time?
AW: I remember it was great to listen to his stories driving down. I remember he would tell me about siphoning gas out of the tractor to put in the pickup truck so he could get to the markets at the beginning. That’s why Brooklyn has always had a special place in my heart. I’ve always considered it a second home. I can honestly say if weren’t for [the Greenmarkets] our farm probably wouldn’t be here today.
NK: What about Bad Seed?
AW: Yeah. Bad Seed would’ve never happened most likely.
NK: When did you start making cider?
AW: I’ve been making cider since forever, so it’s hard to pick an exact date. We made fresh juice on the farm once a week, so it’s basically engrained. Hard cider, though … Devin and I shared an apartment together after college. That’s when we started messing around. We also did a lot of beer brewing. It was something we used to do for fun.
NK: How long have you known Devin?
AW: Oh, man. We’ve been friends since we were kids.
NK: Did you have an idea of the cider you wanted to make?
AW: We knew that we wanted to make a dry cider. Almost everything you could buy was very sweet. That’s why, everyone you talk to who says they don’t like cider, chances are it’s because it’s too sweet. I think that’s the main reason we thought we could do well with a truly dry cider. Plus it’s what we were used to making already.
NK: How did Bad Seed form from homebrewing in your apartment?
AW: Devin was a chef before he went full-time with us. And when he needed extra work and I needed help at the market, he started to ride down with me on Saturdays to sell. We started bringing bottles of the cider we made just to hand out to friends and people really liked it. The original plan wasn’t to be professional. But there was a customer who asked me if we made hard cider to sell and that inspired the idea. The more I thought about it, and the more people liked the ciders and enjoyed them, the better it sounded.
When I pitched the idea to Devin he got really excited. His father and grandfather were both small business owners so he always talked about starting his own business. So from there we hashed out a business plan in the truck riding back and forth to the markets.
NK: There’s definitely a growing cider movement in the U.S., but a lot of cider-makers are also following the footsteps of breweries, using the same ingredients and techniques. Is that something you wanted in your ciders from the start?
AW: Devin and I have always been beer drinkers, so for us, it just made sense and we just went with what we knew. Devin did and still does a lot of beer brewing. I think that’s helped inspire a lot of our flavors. Plus let’s be honest, cider has always been marketed towards the wine crowd. That makes sense, it’s fermented the same way, but being beer drinkers Devin and I always wanted to appeal to that crowd.
NK: Bad Seed also packages in cans, which is synonymous with beer.
AW: Exactly. We started putting two of our ciders in cans mainly to appeal to the beer crowd. When people see IPC on a can, they totally do a double take and want to try it.
Mainly we want people to think of cider as an alternative to beer instead of just a fancy beverage in a big glass bottle only for special occasions. There’s a lot of ciders out there in the market in the 12-ounce format but almost all of them are mass produced and sweet. That’s what makes us stand out in my opinion. Ours is a truly dry cider like those usually found in a 750-milliliter bottle in a wine shop. But we put in a 12-ounce can so it can be sold at a bar or beer garden.
NK: What’s your favorite part of making cider with that in mind?
AW: I think experimenting with the different yeasts, definitely. It’s pretty awesome how [yeast] can really change the characteristics of a cider and bring it into beer territory.
Devin always has a bunch of test batches with different yeasts in the back of the cidery. That’s how The Farmer cider came about. It’s fermented with a French saison yeast. We did test batches and put it out in the tasting room for feedback. People loved it.
NK: The tasting room is fairly new, right? Can you talk about it?
AW: Sure. We completely stripped this old barn that was once used as an apple cooler in the ’40s and redid everything. That’s where the production area and the tasting room is. We do tours and sell pints and everything. We originally bought the 20 acres surrounding it to plant more apple trees. But once we saw how beautiful it was we knew we had to keep it. That character is something you can’t reproduce.
NK: Lastly, how would you describe your ciders?
AW: In a nutshell, delicious! [Laughs.] Sorry I couldn’t help myself. We had an English cidermaker come visit us at the tasting room and I think he said it best when he said, “That is a proper dry cider!” But if you like craft beer, you’ll like us too.
Wilklow Orchards and Bad Seed Cider sell applestuffs at the Greenmarkets every Wednesday (Union Square) and Saturday (Fort Greene Park, Grand Army Plaza, Union Square).