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[Book Review] Uncultivated: Wild Apples, Real Cider, and the Complicated Art of Making a Living

Uncultivated: Wild Apples, Real Cider, and the Complicated Art of Making a Living
by Andy Brennan
Chelsea Green Publishing, June 2019
9781603588447

275pp
Main Subjects: Personal Memoir – American Agriculture – Wild Orchards & Cider Making
Audience: Mainly US-based; Potential Cidermakers; Potential small farm owners; those interested in pre-Modern farming and food connections.

Read and reviewed by Tan Light, August 2019
Andy Brennan is the Cidermaker and owner of Aaron Burr Cidery and the author of Uncultivated: Wild Apples, Real Cider, and the Complicated Art of Making a Living. Both charming and informative, Uncultivated follows Andy’s journey into wild cider making in New York State. The book is divided into 3 sections: the first takes a look at Andy’s love affair with wild apple trees and buying land; the second, how he developed his cider and craft; and, the third is about the cider business itself. You’ll learn more about his personal production philosophy, his triumphs and failures in trying to establish traditional orchards and a “forchard” (a forest orchard), and his deliberate choice to remain a micro business – The Aaron Burr Cider only produces about 2000 gallons each season. (A “small” operation will make close to 10x that!)
The Aaron Burr Cidery primarily produces what they call Locational Ciders, ciders made from wild apples grown in one of the 7 distinct geological bands of the local valley. Unlike a varietal cider, which focuses on using only one apple type, like Golden Russet, locational ciders focus on the distinct terroirs of his valley, so that “the drinker can then taste the ciders … and experience the trees’ acclimation (or struggle) in each location” (p212). The ciders are crafted in small batches using traditional cidermaking techniques – those that require the least intervention from the cider maker – so that the apples and terroir-related flavours are able to shine through. The cider is bottle conditioned for a slight, natural carbonation.
Andy is very connected to his land and the local trees, and believes that we should all reinvest in our own connections as well, by learning more about the foods native to our areas, natural cultivation techniques that pre-date Morden Agriculture, and the small, local businesses that can decentralize our food supply, allowing for better biodiversity. Uncultivated is full of calls to consumers and producers alike to consider what they want as the future of food and drink in North America and to spend and consume in a way that aligns with our intentions. In other words, he challenges us to put our money where our mouth is, quite literally.
As a Cider enthusiast who dreams of someday producing a little of my own, this book was as interesting and informative as it was motivating and eye-opening. There are many challenges that face craft cider makers today, and many of the cultural issues Andy describes in New York State are also faced by craft producers here, just North of the border: a similar history with prohibition disrupting the cider culture of yester-years; big beer makers jumping on, and perhaps commandeering, the cider bandwagon in the past 5 years, using economies of scale to price out the craft-maker; and, government licencing & “support” that doesn’t fully understand how Cider is different than either wine or beer making. In my opinion, any current or potential cidermaker who is looking to create a more natural cider program and/or is concerned with our Modern Agriculture practices should pick up a copy.
Or, read an excerpt on the publisher’s website.
And hey! If you are wondering what a wild apple cider program looks like in Ontario, why not check out Windswept Cider’s Lost Orchard Project

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