Far From The Tree Cider Harnesses Centuries Old Tradition for Local Launch
Story originally Posted on March 15, 2014 with an Update on April 2, 2016.
SALEM – I’ve met numerous entrepreneurs in Salem over the last two years, each injecting life and spirit into the teeming community. Far From The Tree Cider has joined in the effort by creating a local product that is “unique to the core”, using a 250-year old New England tradition in the process.
After working for a decade in their respective careers, founders Al and Denise Snape took off to Europe, looking for a change of pace and the opportunity to explore craft beer and winemaking.
“If someone else wants to do it too, you start to think to yourself that it must not be that crazy,” Al said.
Denise continued to work on a visa while Al spent his time studying and earning a degree in oenology and viticulture. While making wine in Germany, Bordeaux and Champagne, he was taken by the European approach in developing alcoholic products.
“I watched how winemakers took their region and their culture and turned it into a product that is more than just something to drink,” Al noticed. “It is representative of who they are.”
Upon their return to the United States, Denise and Al abandoned their careers while convincing two friends to join them in launching Far From the Tree Cider. With his experience, Al would take on the role as Director of Cider Development while his wife would direct and guide business operations. Al Needham joined the crew as Director of Production Operations and Tim Fitzpatrick watches over the company’s books as Director of Finance.
While many companies across Massachusetts have entered the craft-brewing industry in recent years, the market was missing a traditional, New England style cider. The drink is quite popular overseas, representing 20% of the European market, but only comprises 1% of the market domestically.
Despite the smaller market share, demand for craft cider has moved eastward with numerous cider houses found in the Pacific Northwest, Chicago, and Michigan.
The company hopes to be ahead of the curve in Massachusetts while also embracing a superior fermenting technique that would set them apart nationally as well. It may not be timely or the most cost-effective, but will undoubtedly offer drinkers a superior product.
“We couldn’t believe no one was creating this product using this method, so we knew it was an opportunity we couldn’t afford to ignore,” Denise recounted.
After receiving their state license, the team kicked off the fermenting process within a week’s time to put the company on track to stocking local liquor store shelves, bars, and restaurants by the end of May.
The company has diverged from the typical fermenting process in a stainless steel tank to embrace a centuries old technique that uses oak barrels, dating back to New England’s colonial times. The resulting product is noticeably dryer than most typical ciders.
There are 60 barrels currently fermenting, all made with American oak and once contained bourbon or whiskey for up to 10 years. Using these rather than a new, French oak barrel allows for a more mellowed flavor.
“If we used the brand new barrels, the oak would be so dominant that it would floor any other flavor,” Al noted.
Eventually, the company would like to branch out to use red and white wine barrels to give the cider a bit of color for use with a blueberry cider.
The barrels were delivered in January, filled in February, and the wood particles will become incorporated into the cider as it slowly fermented over the course of the winter without any interference in the process.
“You don’t hit it with a bunch of chemicals. You don’t filter. You can do it a natural way that allows you to taste the best of what Massachusetts apples have to offer,” Al noted.
Far From The Tree will be vastly different from competitors who often heat their cider to quicken fermentation and get the product out to consumers as fast as possible. Their product also features as many locally sourced ingredients as possible.
Their apples are picked and pressed in Massachusetts, and brought to Salem to begin fermenting the very same day they are taken out of the orchard. The total time from apple to product is at least four months, but some ciders will be aged as long as four years. Borrowing from a solera blending system used by many Champagne makers, the team plans on aging and blending ciders to create a consistent flavor palate.
“If the apple crop is bad next year, we will be able to tap into older ciders in our future reserves to keep a regulated taste,” Al explained.
“Hopefully the aged barrels won’t multiply to a point where they become like children to me and I don’t want to let them go,” he joked.
So, how will the resulting product look and taste?
Far From The Tree will be clear in color, and maintain a dryness that sets them apart. The drink will feature lighter carbonation than a beer, and include hints of bourbon & oak, yeast, and maple.
After fermentation ceases around four months, the cider is transferred to another barrel to separate it away from the settled yeast. The cider is then aged in that barrel for another few months with additional flavorings possibly incorporated.
The process also produces higher alcohol content than your typical cider with their first batch boasting an 8.5% level.
“This isn’t your mainstream, mass-marketed cider from the United States,” Denise added, “and we think it’s a product Massachusetts has been waiting to get back.”
Cider fans can expect an array of flavors down the line, however, their first release called Roots will include a hint of Massachusetts maple syrup.
While barley or wheat is not added, some brewers incorporate hops and other flavors that compliment the sweet, dry taste of cider. Far From The Tree has begun experimenting, currently running test trials that integrate blueberries, hops, and tea.
The cider will be bottled, capped, and labeled by hand with more than 13,000 ready for products already on site in the company’s nondescript warehouse on Jackson Street. The company plans to become a visitor destination in the future, working with community and statewide organizations to grow their roots in Salem and develop an important, local brand.
“So many people in the community have heard about us, and Salem Chamber of Commerce has been a great resource to connect with other entrepreneurs in the community,” Denise said.
“We were unsure about how we would be received as outsiders to Salem, despite being from Massachusetts,” Al countered. “There has been an outpouring from other entrepreneurs asking us how they can help, and it has made becoming part of this community so much easier.”
The company has already constructed a bar utilizing reclaimed wood from the Waltham Watch Factory as well as a schoolhouse in Martha’s Vineyard. Denise has also embarked securing a pouring permit that would allow them to open the doors of their taproom to visitors later this summer.
“We want people to be able to come here, see the barrels, see what we’re doing, have a taste, and help us test and create new products they want as well,” Al added.
Over the last year, the journey to build Far From The Tree Cider has had its course of ups and downs, but the group believes they are positioned for success not only because of their quality product, but also their close relationships.
“The worst and best part of our venture is that we all know how to push each other’s buttons,” Needham added, “but we also know how to pick each other up when we need that helping hand. It’s so much better to be in it together, especially in the toughest moments.”
“I could make cider on my own, but sharing that creative process with three other people who I care for deeply has been extremely rewarding,” Al Snape concluded.
“Some of our ideas may be out there at times, but what we’re creating couldn’t be closer to home in so many ways.”