“Two hundred or 300 years ago in Brooklyn, this is what you would have been drinking,” explains Rob Hendrickson to a group at Brooklyn Cider House in Bushwick as he opens a tap.
Armed with fun facts—the wooden barrels contain cider from about 83,000 apples— and nicknames for the various raw ciders—you may start with the Goldilocks, a bright cider with lots of acid— the team of guides leads groups through a four-course meal with a cider catch between each course. The cider catch includes a Basque-style cider which is poured straight from the barrel to your glass. Known as “txotx” to the Basque people of northeastern Spain, this method of pouring from height makes the cider bubblier as it hits the glass and yes, spills are common. Over the course of several hours, and multiple rounds of catching, the guides leave guests satisfied and curious for more.
Cider has an association with the colder months of the fall, and the best cider according to a founder Susan Yi, who used to be an English teacher in her former life, is made from the freshest apples possible, rather than ones that wait for months in cold storage.
The apples are harvested between September and November and the cider starts fermenting immediately. Brooklyn Cider House owns an orchard and tasting room near New Paltz which grows both cider apples and sweet eating apples for snacking. The raw cider is made in Brooklyn and the other varieties are made on the farm.
However, in the Basque region of Spain that inspired Brooklyn Cider House, cider is considered more of a refreshment, than a heavy drink, making it perfect for summer. To give an example of volume, Susan compared Basque cider drinking habits to American Coca Cola or Sprite consumption. cider is something delicious to sip all day without getting too full or, well, drunk.
Another reason to consider cider in summer is how well it goes with food. The ciders at Brooklyn Cider House have no residual sugar. Even the Kinda Dry, the sweetest offering, is nothing like canned ciders you drank at college tailgates. They’re acidic and bright, almost like a dry white wine, and can stand up to spicy foods, grilled meats, and salty snacks.
Brooklyn Cider House, which opened in December 2017, is the product of a brother-sister team and a third co-founder. After a visit to a cider house in the Basque country, wine importer Peter Yi decided he needed to bring the experience to the U.S, specifically to Brooklyn.
Their cider uses bittersweet and bittersharp apples, two varieties that are hard to find even in New York State. The siblings grew up in Brooklyn and saw a natural fit for a “niche version of a niche beverage,” as Susan put it, in the creative community of Bushwick, where customers already had an interest in raw and natural foods like kombucha and natural wines.
Their 12,000-foot space includes a dining room, where guests eat a four course Basque meal interspersed with cider catching, a climate controlled room, where raw cider ferments in vats, and a spacious bar with ciders and other local beers on tap. The ciders flow alongside a global menu which features also Korean dishes, Spanish tapas-like dishes, insanely crisp yuca fries and tacos from their Mexican sous chef, and classic burgers.
The space is lighthearted but it’s also the epicenter of a serious education program, in which the staff and owners are teaching guests about a type of cider they’ve likely never tried. It’s lightly aerated from the catching, not sweet, and each batch tastes a bit different, like different vintages of the same wine.
Building the space took over two and a half years, and there’s still work going on. A collection of murals by street artists that Susan finds on Instagram is growing, and the high ceilings give the space a a gallery feel. Incorporating apples in the mural is strictly optional.
While Basque cider houses are the main source of inspiration for Brooklyn Cider House, they’re not striving for a replica, and their main source of inspiration is the community of Bushwick. In the first year, the team worked with a consultant from Spain, but now they’re forging their own path, focusing on the less traditional raw cider program, experimenting with aging cider and building out the space.
As Hendrickson explained, cider used to be this country’s most popular drink. During Prohibition, orchards were burned by the FBI and groups of activists. After Prohibition was repealed, alcohol production shifted to beer and distilled spirits, which could be made more quickly. Apple trees take five to seven years to bear fruit. It’s a long game, and one Brooklyn Cider House is committed to playing.
Cider catching is usually only available to dinner guests, but this Mother’s Day, it will be a $9 add on to a special $30 prix fixe brunch. Ciders are available to go in $10 750ml bottles, perfect for a group. Look for Brooklyn Cider House products on Fresh Direct, at Whole Foods in Park Slope, Gowanus, and Williamsburg, as well as on tap at many local bars, like The Well and KCBC.
Stop by the bar to try a $9 cider flight (ask for half sour and half raw) and don’t skip the yuca fries. You won’t need ketchup. Bar food ranges from $7 to $17 and the four-course prix fixe meal is $49 ($43 for vegetarians) and includes cider catching. Reservations are required for dinner.
Brooklyn Cider House
Bar and cider house with a Basque-style as well as international cuisine.
1100 Flushing Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11237
Mon: closed; Tue: 5 p.m.– 12 a.m.; Wed:5 p.m.-12 a.m.; Thur: 5 p.m. – 12 a.m.; Fri: 5 p.m.– 1 a.m.; Sat 11 a.m. – 1 a.m.; Sun 11 a.m. – 12 a.m.
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Cover photo: Abigail Koffler/Bushwick Daily