Bear Swamp Orchard & Cidery

Certified Organic Hard Ciders and Apples

Winter cider work

We are currently in the cold snap we were waiting for to start the ice cider. We need cold temperatures for at least a week, in order to freeze-concentrate the cider before fermenting. While we have certainly had some cold weather earlier in the winter, it was interspersed with warmer days. Now, however, we have highs in the teens for a few days, and highs below freezing for the foreseeable future. Great ice cider weather.

We are making ice cider in our new space for the first time, and finding it to be a breeze. We got to press in a heated space, roll the pallets of cider-filled buckets out into the unheated portion of the building, and then roll them back into the heated space to separate ice from liquid, which we did by dumping the buckets into our press and collecting the liquid in buckets. Now we will repeat the freeze and strain process until we’ve reached our desired level of sugar, at which point we can start fermenting. Yay for the new building! If only we had more apples to press, we could make more ice cider than we’ve ever made before…

December was taken up with legislative worries and work. The Massachusetts legislature changed the wine distribution rules back in July, when they were adding direct shipment ability (i.e., ability to mail wine into or out of state), and they omitted the language that allowed farm wineries/cideries to sell wine or cider to stores and restaurants. Although this happened in July, the ABCC (Alcohol Bev. Control Commission) did not let wineries know about this change until November. We got together with the other cideries in the state and let our legislators know that this was a big problem for us. Most small wineries rely on self-distribution, since a) at a small scale the cost of distribution is less than you would pay a distributor to do it (30% of the cider’s cost), and b) we have all heard (or lived) horror stories about how distributors deal with small producers, since they are really scaled to deal with Budweiser, not those of us selling a few cases a week to select stores. Some of our legislators, in particular local reps John Scibak and Steve Kulik, worked really hard to get the language reinstated before the end of the year, finally getting signed by the governor an hour before he left office (!). They apparently did not realize this change would impact us, suggesting that the ABCC was interpreting the law in a way that they didn’t expect, hence the last minute fix after we realized what was happening.

The laws governing alcohol in this (or I suspect any) state are a Gordian knot, a result of post-Prohibition laws that have been tinkered with in different places at different times, resulting in a nonsensical collection of hoops an alcohol producer must learn and jump through. The purpose at the beginning appeared to be to limit the sale of alcohol, perhaps the lingering grasp of the teetotaler’s movement, as well as to track it for tax purposes. Over the years they have been modified bit by bit to better reflect modern times (though not much), and to make them consistent with the Constitution. For instance, the farm winery license initially allowed self-distribution and sale from the farm, but that was challenged in court as a violation of the Interstate commerce clause since it was limited to businesses within Massachusetts, thereby giving Massachusetts wineries an advantage over out of state wineries. So, those distribution rights were moved into another license that was available to wineries both in and out of state. The farm brewery license has exactly the same self-distribution rights within it’s license, since it was never challenged in court.

Unfortunately, as with most of our laws, it seems impossible for us to look at the body of law as a whole, decide what is important to us (in my view, tracking for taxation, plus laws that prohibit driving drunk or public inebriation, and probably allowing municipalities a say in where and how many places can serve alcohol), and get rid of the rest. Hundreds (thousands?) of bureaucratic jobs depend on the inane paperwork to track alcohol in our country, and much of that work seems singularly unproductive to me. How do we gain from all the laws controlling alcohol distribution? If it was regulated the same way as soda, would the world be a more dangerous or less productive place? I just don’t see how. Even the drinking age seems arbitrary, and having legal adulthood occur before people are allowed to drink creates huge difficulties in the college-age crowd (so much so that many college presidents support changing the drinking age to 18. Such a change would mean they could actually provide services to make college drinking safer, rather than pretending it doesn’t happen). Most countries in Europe allow drinking at much younger ages. In Germany, for example, 14-year olds can drink in a restaurant if a custodial adult approves, and 16-year olds can buy beer or wine unchaperoned. I don’t see that Germany is falling apart as a result.

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