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Shacksbury: Reviving America’s Early Cider Tradition

Photo courtesy of Michael Tallman

David Dolginow and Colin Davis founded Shacksbury Cider and launched the “Lost Apple Project” in 2013. The pair is on a mission to revive America’s early tradition of cider and the lost apple varieties that have been forgotten over time. We had the chance to chat with David about Shacksbury and his love of cider. 

WAS THERE A PIVOTAL MOMENT WHEN YOU FELL IN LOVE WITH CIDER?

I grew to love cider over time. First I had a Basque cider with my brother at the restaurant Toro in Boston, and then two weeks later, I had a Farnum Hill English style cider. That was my aha moment – both were made from apples, but totally different. I wondered, how did they do this? It took me from being aware, to wanting to dig in and get involved in the cider industry. 

HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN MAKING CIDER AND HOW DID YOU PIVOT INTO DOING THIS FULLTIME?

After college I worked at Sunrise Orchards, a third generation owned orchard in in Cornwall, Vermont. I had a growing interest in cider varietals, and we started planting and grafting apples. I had known Colin socially, and then in 2012 we met in a professional setting. We were both inspired by ciders made in Europe and by Stephen Wood. We had the desire to start a cider company and to grow world-class apples in Vermont. There was a 6-month transition from talking to when Shacksbury became a fulltime job. In the summer of 2013, we started the company – working on the logo, brand identity, and beginning to work on operations. 

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF CIDER MAKING?

The moment when we’ve gone through the first press in the fall (usually in late September.) At this point, a lot of work has already gone in, and the fresh juice is a gratifying moment. You can get a sense of what the cider will taste like when you take a bite into the apples themselves, but it’s even better from the fresh, unfermented juice, as there’s so much excitement and potential energy at the start of a fermentation. At that point, we shepherd the cider through fermentation and aging for 6-12 months.

THERE’S BEEN COMEBACK IN AMERICAN-MADE HARD CIDER, WHY DO YOU THINK THIS IS?

Right now and in the past decade there’s been a tremendous interest in food and beverage. No longer do we want milk chocolate – we want bean to bar. Cider has come to this fruition in this beautiful moment. And it’s part of our heritage, as it’s a deep tradition from English settlers. People like to be connected to something. Cider has similar complexity to wine, but with lower alcohol, so it pairs really well with food. In France, the tradition of enjoying a low alcohol cider with crepes is one of the most beautiful traditions in the world. 

Cider has its place on the table – it’s not a fad, it’s a trend here to stay. It’s a whole new tradition for the dinner table (or lunch or brunch table).

WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING OBSTACLE SINCE YOU STARTED YOUR BUSINESS?

Because we are at the front end of new wave cider, there’s not as much knowledge in the United States as there is for wine and beer as there is in Europe. So, we went to the source and partnered with orchards overseas. Neither of us had experience before Shacksbury – we love natural wine and cider and we want to have an intersection. We self-teach, and we’ve made some mistakes where we’ve had to pour some stuff out.

CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE LOST APPLE PROJECT, AND HOW IT HAS PROGRESSED SINCE IT BEGAN?

It was inspired by the incredible goat cheese maker/farmer Michael Lee from Twig Farm. He made a cider from foraged apples, and it stood out to us an exceptional one. When we heard it was made from Vermont apples, we were shocked. We went out that fall with Michael and foraged for apples . Currently we have grafted 800 trees that are 1-2 years old, from 12 of the 900 unique seedling apples that we have found and fermented. Over time, we will have a lineup from cultivated apples. Every year we will continue to forage and find trees. We’ll take cuttings from ones we love, some will work, and some will not. In about 50 years we’ll be doing our best work. That’s the trajectory of life in apples.

Kick off this fall, with one of Shacksbury’s delicious, complex ciders:

Semi-Dry Cider: Perfect for those who enjoy dry cider with a hint of sweetness. Crack open a can and enjoy solo or with a semi-firm cheese, such as a gruyere. 

Dry Cider: A pleasant, crisp cider that’s earthy with citrus notes. Pack a couple cans to enjoy on your next hike!

Dry Vermont Cider Pét Nat: A dry, refreshing, complex yet approachable cider made in the Pétillant Naturel style (or “Pet-Nat” for short) meaning that the fermentation finishes in the bottle. In this process, bubbles are made by the natural sugars and yeasts in the apples creating a beautiful lightly carbonated cider. 

Shacksbury’s ciders are stunning inside and out: Charming cans and bottles with exquisite flavor and complexity. We guarantee you will fall for them at first sip –truly apples at their finest!

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