ANDY BRENNAN, CIDER EVANGELIST
The artist behind Aaron Burr Cider celebrates an uncultivated culture.
If there is one person who would be named spiritual leader of the Feral Cider Society (if we ever got that formal) it would be Andy Brennan of Aaron Burr Cider in upstate New York. A fine artist by trade, Brennan found himself in 2008 living in the New York countryside surrounded by “uncultivated” apples, as he calls them — abandoned orchards, feral seedlings, gnarled methuselahs near old cellar holes. Brennan was inspired to plant an orchard and make cider, but when he showed his soil maps to experts at Cornell University, they told him it was hopeless — apples would never thrive in such rocky, inhospitable terrain. But Brennan looked at the ancient trees growing all around him and decided they knew more than the experts.
Eight years later, working entirely with feral fruit, Brennan has become one of the most celebrated cider makers in America. Elite Manhattan restaurants such as Eleven Madison Park, Per Se and Gramercy Tavern compete to carry bottles of Aaron Burr Cider, which are always in short supply because Brennan has no way of scaling up — he can only work with what the wild trees provide each fall. He believes that when apple trees are not babied with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, or with overly easy growing conditions, they find ways of coping with their environment that give their fruit more complex, transcendent flavors. And he must be right because a glass of Aaron Burr Cider is filled with funky, floral, woodsy notes unlike anything found in conventional cider.
“Cider offers companionship and wonder,” Brennan says. “Truly fine cider is a collaboration with the life cycle of apples and their juice. We experience the growing season together and we enter the dormancy of winter together with the yeasts. A good cider maker is a shepherd.”
You can learn all about Brennan’s flock at AaronBurrCider.com.
Polly, Andy Brennan and Bertha (the apple tree)