EAST HADDAM — Although it is only a few years old, Yankee Cider Co. stands out in a lot of ways.
In August it became the first Connecticut cidery to open a taproom, which means it grows the fruits in its orchards, produces the cider in-house, and serves it to customers.
It’s also reportedly one of two cideries in the country to offer a single variety Zestar apple cider.
Co-owner Kevin Staehley says the family- run business is also experimenting with peach and grape-flavored ciders.
Yankee Cider Company is a venture of Staehley Farm & Winery, which has been around since Kevin Staehly’s parents planted Christmas trees in their East Haddam yard in the mid-1980s.
The family was selling Christmas trees and fresh produce from a farm market stand but had to start thinking of other ways to use their fruits when market sales started declining around 2014.
“We put a lot of care and a lot of passion into what we grow and so to be throwing out apples or tomatoes or whatever at the end of the day was very disheartening, very troubling,” Staehly said.
Around that time the owner of Two Roads Brewing in Stratford suggested fruit wines.
The farm is now producing about 15 varieties of fruit wines, including classic flavors like apple, blueberry, and strawberry along with more unique flavors like tomato, plum, concurrent and rhubarb.
“A lot of it has seriously been trial and error, learning it as you go along, seeing what works and what doesn’t work,” Staehly said, adding neither he nor his father Chris — the primary winemaker — had much previous experience.
Their Blueberry Breeze wine won “Best Connecticut-grown Wine” at the Big E last year. They also won “Best Connecticut Cider” and a gold award at the Big E for their pear wine this year.
In 2016, after Kevin Staehly graduated college in Washington state, the farm started Yankee Cider Company and the cider production.
“We had always been intrigued by ciders and the process for ciders versus wine is much shorter in duration,” Chris Staehly said.
Because they produce more apples than anything else, the move made sense, he said.
The new cider taproom opened two months ago in a converted 100-year-old barn on the Staehly Farm property at 63 Petticoat Lane.
“You get to enjoy the hard ciders in this very historic space,” Staehly said.
Across the street is a new apple orchard, which the family expects to be open for pick-your-own next fall.
Although the ciders were available at the farm’s winery across the property before the taproom opened, now they can offer more varieties. Visitors can try a flight of hard ciders (or a mix of ciders and wines) or grab a bottle, or glass of cider on-tap.
The ciders and wines are both derived from sweet virgin cider, but the wines have a higher alcohol content and tend to be stiller, with less carbonation than the hard ciders.
Yankee Cider Co. will participate in this year’s Cider Week, with three other local cideries. Visit CiderWeek CT on Facebook for more information about events throughout the week.