It’s the first Saturday in March, and the traffic on Route 25 in Aquebogue is heavy. Height-of-the-season heavy. The air is biting cold and the car heater is doing double time waiting to make the turn into the crowded parking lot at Woodside Orchards Hard Cidery. Folks are bundled up with hats and mittens, coming and going from the rustic red farmhouse tasting room. They must be sipping something good.
Woodside is warming up weekends during this extraordinarily cold winter with their European style hard cider and it’s hard to find a spot at the bar.
“Our cider is dry, crisp and clean compared to American styles which are sweeter and higher in sugar,” says Bob Gammon who owns the business with his brother, Scott. “And it has all the benefits of eating an apple…without the fiber.”
The brothers, who grew up in Laurel and still live locally, know all about the benefits of eating apples. It’s a family thing: Gammon has fond memories of going upstate in autumn for apple picking when he was a kid.
When his father was ready to retire from his precision instrument repair company, he came up with a plan for what he thought would be a retirement hobby. He bought property in Jamesport in the ’80s to grow apples and sell them wholesale. With 4,000 trees, the orchard quickly became too demanding for one person. Scott, with a background in agriculture-related studies signed on to help and Bob followed soon after, happily leaving corporate America behind. In 2003 they added the Aquebogue property with the idea of replicating the U-pick experience for Long Islanders.
“It’s worked well for us,” says Gammon. “We were realizing good revenue from September through Thanksgiving. The rest of the year the property sat idle waiting for the next crop.” With a business model based on having “95 percent of what we sell either grown or manufactured on site” the Gammons were looking for something that would compliment their business without competing with neighboring businesses.
“I was playing volleyball with one of the winemakers, talking about extending the season,” says Gammon, “and we talked about apple wine and hard cider.”
With apples available seven months of the year, and requiring only four to six weeks from fermentation tank to keg, the idea seemed viable.
It took a year and a half to secure their liquor license. During that time they experimented. “We Googled all these different recipes…One would smell beautiful, but tasted horrible. The next one tasted great but stunk. [Eventually] we took 10 carboys (large, narrow-necked containers) and put one variety in each carboy. We learned the traits of each apple. That gave us the starting point to develop the recipes we have now.”
They currently offer four different styles. The Traditional, a blend of six different apple varieties, is the driest, with a low starting sugar level. The Traditional Sweet cider starts with an apple blend that has high sugar content. Their Apple Raspberry and Cinnamon Apple derive their flavor from all natural liquid fruit. The cider has an alcohol content of 6.5%, which is higher than beer but lower than wine. They also offer limited seasonal blends like Pumpkin Apple, Ginger Apple and Pear Apple.
The Cidery opened Memorial weekend 2013 for weekends only. In September they moved to every day, with the intention of closing after Christmas. They are now open every weekend and plan to stay that way until they add weekdays in May. In keeping with their “green” philosophy, when you buy a flight, or a pint, or even a growler, you can keep your receptacle. Refills are discounted.
True to the family business mission, Gammon’s wife Amy produces all the baked goods sold at the tasting room in a commercial kitchen in Jamesport. She is also responsible for the clever logo shown above—the apple leaf is a map of Long Island. Follow it to wine—and cider—country!
Woodside Orchards, 729 Main Road, Aquebogue, open Saturdays and Sundays noon – 5 p.m. 631-722-5770, woodsideorchards.com