Stone Circle Cider was started by two men with a shared passion for cider. English expatriate John Hamblin and his American brother-in-law Dan Lawrence realized that the cider readily available in the states just didn't stack up to the stuff John would bring back from England. So in 2014 they decided to join forces to plant an orchard of their own and start making it themselves. It made sense. John had spent his entire career in horticulture, which gave him the skills to manage a healthy orchard, and Dan had a penchant for science and a background in retail marketing to help spread the good word. Dan upped his game by spending the 2015 fall and winter in Southwest England, working with some of the best cider makers in the world to find out what it is that makes English-style cider so special.
English Style Cider
English ciders are as drinkable as they come. They are light golden brown in color with a slight haze, aromatic, and boast a smooth and well-rounded finish with an array of depth and character. It is the gold standard in cider, as it should be. The English have been perfecting the craft for over a thousand years. This type of cider is very different to the type of cider you will typically find in the grocery store in America.
The differences in flavor and color are immediately noticeable and can largely be attributed to the varieties of apples that are used to make the cider. There are hundreds of varieties of cider apples with all sorts of characteristics, but in general they tend to be smaller, bitter, and typically not pleasant to eat. But what they lack in snack appeal, they more than make up for in contribution to the cider. They are packed with tannins and sugar, which provide the depth of flavors and richness to a good cider. Unfortunately, these apples are in short supply in the states and most cider makers are forced to make cider with the type of apples you will find at the grocery store. The problem with using these apples is they lack the tannins necessary to provide richness and flavor and they contain too much acidity, which reduces drinkability and masks other flavors in the cider.
The other main distinction lies in the approach to cider making and its impact on the final product. Mass produced cider typically goes from juice to bottle in about 4-6 weeks, is processed in various ways, and is made year round. This approach may be sound for a business, but it does not promote quality cider. If you blend the right apples in the fall and slowly ferment the juice over the course of the winter, you provide the cider with time to meld flavors and round out. In addition, the cider will go through a malo-lactic fermentation which serves to smooth out the acidity and increase drinkability. Like English cider, our cider stays in our tanks for at least 6 months.
Our farm is our pride and joy. It serves as a wonderful place to live, relax, and make cider. When we're not enjoying the beautiful views of the Coastal Range as we work the fields, you'll find us fishing or swimming in our pond, picking blackberries, or just enjoying the beautiful sunsets over Portland. The farm provides us with a pace of life and sense of wholeness that we would recommend to everyone.
We are fortunate to have 36 acres of undulating prime farmland that is very well suited for growing apples. Much of the property is currently in Christmas trees, but we are transitioning it to a cider apple orchard, with over a thousand trees currently planted. The orchard is planted at low density and managed with a holistic approach. Our current varietals are Yarlington Mill, Kingston Black, Muscat De Bernay, Tremletts Bitter, and Dabinette.
In addition to our fields, the property has a building for cider production and storage, a spring fed creek and pond, and a plethora of wild foliage. We just began construction of our raised beds, where we'll be growing all sorts of fruits and veggies that we will have for sale on the farm and at farmers markets. We also have a large 1940s barn that we are currently renovating into a space for people to come visit, drink cider, get fresh produce and enjoy the farm!
We're really excited about everything we have planned for the future. We'll be starting our commercial cider production in the fall of 2016 and will have cider available late next spring at the farm and in growler stations and bottle shops in and around Portland. In the meantime, we'll be getting the property ready to be shared and enjoyed by visitors. We hope to offer an experience at the farm rich with scenery, history, fresh local food, and of course cider. Follow our progress on our blog or connect with us on social media to learn more about what we're up to!