Taking the Short View of Long View
Being the guy who experiences and writes about everything in my little state puts me in an awkward position more times than you’d think. Like, I’m certainly not an expert on anything and of course I simply can’t truly enjoy everything. I go to museums that bore me, hike trails that annoy me, and drink expensive alcoholic ciders that don’t thrill me.
One thing I’ve learned is that there’s a vast spectrum of ciders. I loved the light, crisp, subtle ciders at Treehouse in Woodstock, and I couldn’t swallow ciders at [name redacted]. At Long View, I was somewhere in between.
First, the setting. Oh man, it’s beautiful. I visited in pouring, cold rain. In other words, it was downright miserable. Yet the hilltop setting at Rogers Orchards in Southington was still romantic and pretty. I can only imagine how awesome this place is on a sunny October day. I followed the winding orchard road to a large parking lot and walked up the woodchip path to the mobile cidery.
Yes. It’s in a truck. Which means the “tasting room” is outside. Cider is a bit of a rustic drink, so this rustic experience, exposed to the elements, just works. It didn’t work so well with the driving sideways rain during my visit, but we all managed. (There’s a huge 40’x40′ tent with lots of picnic tables and seating to stay out of the elements when necessary. However, when it’s nice, there’s even more seating on the hillside. Oh, and the port-o-potties are the highest quality available, which is appreciated.)
Being situated atop one of Connecticut’s largest and oldest orchards, the air was just filled with the smells of apples. Rogers Orchards should be on your annual autumn bucket list, as their cider donuts and treats (and apples) are fantastic. And now? Now you can add hard cider to your shopping list.
The beginnings of Rogers Orchards were in 1809. The same year guys named Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, Edgar Allan Poe were born. Chauncey Merriman purchased a plot of land at the the south end of Shuttle Meadow Lake in Southington. He began to farm the land and handed it off to his son Anson. I enjoyed this bit from the Rogers website:
His son Anson, who has been described as both “a progressive farmer” and “a very impulsive man,” planted a thousand Baldwin trees at the time when Baldwin apples were an untried variety of fruit. Although he knew nothing of their market value, they proved to be a success, according to Atwater’s “History of Southington,” written in 1924. Anson also planted an acre of cucumbers, intending to start a pickle business. Mr. Atwater has stated, “At the end of the season he had large quantities on hand, every available place stored with them, but no market. By this venture he acquired the nickname of “Old Pickles,” a name which remained with him during the remainder of his life.
By 1916, a Merriman daughter married a Rogers and the farm had grown to include 7,000 peach trees, 3,500 apple trees, thirty cows, and twelve acres of alfalfa. In the 1950’s one particular Rogers guy tried selling apples in vending machines, calling this venture “Fruit-O-Matic,” and also tried to develop a market for apple concentrate through a product called “Apple Dapple”. Both attempts were unsuccessful.
Over the years, the orchard has expanded to 275 acres and salesrooms have been added around the area. Twenty varieties of apples and fifteen varieties of peaches are grown, as well as nectarines, apricots, plums, pumpkins, flowers, and herbs. Apples and peaches are sold wholesale throughout the state directly to supermarkets. All the fruits, along with Rogers’ Orchards famous apple cider donuts, pies, locally grown vegetables and other specialty food items, are also sold at the two retail salesrooms. Both farms have a Pick-Your-Own option for customers on fall weekends. And of course now you can buy hard cider with everything else.
The cidery is the passion project and brainchild of Jeff Rogers. He of course knows his apples and other fruit that goes into his products – and has some of the highest quality available to him. Everything other than some berries from other Connecticut orchards is sourced from Rogers Orchards. Jeff uses traditional cider-making techniques like using a slow fermentation process. He produces a wide range of ciders, from dry to sweet and everything in between.
I ordered a flight of six 5 ounce samples. This was $28.
This should not be $28. I mean, okay, I get it. The operation is just getting off the ground and the process to make these is slow and laborious. Time is money. But dang, this might be the most expensive fight in Connecticut… wine, beer, liquor, or cider. After my initial shock – wait, they don’t even have to pay rent! They don’t even have utilities to run the outdoor and mobile tasting room! Yeah man, this is expensive stuff.
I took my wonky paddle of cider to a picnic table and gathered myself. It really is an incredibly beautiful spot, nestled on a hill on Southington Mountain overlooking the Hartford skyline in one direction and Sleeping Giant in the other. They’ve built a little lookout platform with a placard identifying far off hills. Definitely cool.
The six draft ciders I had were Sweet Farm semi-sweet apple cider, Apple-Peach-Apricot, Ginger Orange Peel, Lemon Balm, Cherry, and Korean Shiso.
The Sweet Farm was good. Applely and dry, the kind of hard cider I like. The APA was sweeter; not my thing, but exactly as billed. I was warned that the Ginger Orange one was very ginger forward and… it was. If you don’t like ginger, this is not for you. Randomly, my wife was eating some homemade congee yesterday that her mother made. Her mom just “makes stuff” and this Vietnamese version of congee included giant fish balls and little matchsticks of raw ginger. My wife just ate it up. I cannot eat raw ginger. Just putting that out there.
The cider was good, but it did burn a bit. The Lemon Balm is said to be one of the most popular options here, but despite my liking lemon, I did not care for this one at all. The Cherry was dry as a dust and rather disappointing for this cherry lover.
The most interesting flavor was the Korean Shiso. Shiso is also known as perilla and is an aromatic herb that tastes like… a basily, minty, citrusy herb. I have no idea, but I guess this was added to the apples in the fermentation process? All those flavors are here, but it’s weird to my palate. The mint really comes through and I don’t want mint in my cider. It reminded me of when you brush your teeth and then drink apple juice or something.
Rogers has some oaked ciders as well, but even if they were offered to me, I’d have politely declined. That’s just not a flavor profile I want – but it’s cool that they make such adventurous styles here.
There was a bottle available called Omija. Another Korean influenced cider of “five flavor berries” and it supposedly tastes of sourness, sweetness, bitterness, pungency and saltiness. I think I’d like to try that next time. Along with the apple brandy I didn’t know they made here.
When I say “bottles are available” I don’t mean up here on the hill. Due to some legalities, you must descend the hill and find the retail shop in order to buy bottles. This of course works in Rogers’ favor as, really, who can go in there and walk out with only hard cider bottles? Not me, that’s for sure.
Maybe someday they’ll have a permanent structure, but until then, enjoy the seasonality and, um, the long views at Long View.