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January 13, 2012

Grazing: Unified Press From Citizen Cider

CitizenI don't kick back with hard cider too often, but Unified Press will probably change that.

This libation landed on my radar earlier this week, when someone "liked" Citizen Cider on Facebook and my pulse quickened — a new local ciderhouse? Yup. Turns out that over the last few years, three friends — a farmer, a chemist and a wine expert— have been quietly piecing together a cider operation inside an old railroad depot in Essex Junction.

Two years ago, the trio purchased a 1950s cider press, which they reconstructed and used to press local apples and experiment with blends. "We wanted to make something to appeal to the beer crowd and the Champagne crowd, and also for people who are into wine," says Kris Nelson, who also works at Vermont Wine Merchants. 

Nelson, Justin Heilenbach and Bryan Holmes finessed those test batches into something sublime. They like prosecco and vinho verde, and it shows: Their signature cider, Unified Press, is zesty and slightly off-dry, with pear and citrus notes alongside the obvious apple flavors. At 6 percent alcohol, it's a touch more bracing than the average hard cider, and entirely made from local varieties such as Mac and Northern Spy, among others. 

Right now, the "three great friends" are sourcing their apples from Happy Valley Orchard in Middlebury.  "We want to give farmers a fair price for their excess," says Nelson.

They have a few blends in the works — including barrel-aged ciders and a blueberry cider sourced from Charlotte Berry Farm — but Unified Press will remain their signature blend. This Saturday, they'll throw open their doors to friends, neighbors and the cider curious to sample Unified Press, buy advance cases and sign on for shares. A "Proletariat Share," for instance, offers a bi-monthly pickup of six cases. I'm not sure if it's the first "CSC" (community-supported cider) share in the country, but... it very well might be. Drop by 6D Laurette Drive, in Fort Ethan Allen, between noon and 9 p.m., and watch for Citizen Cider's launch at The Farmhouse Tap & Grill on February 3.

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