Booze

Haykin Family Cider Elevates Its Craft With Heirloom Apples

The red-hued Niedzwetzkyana gets its color naturally from red-fleshed apples.
The red-hued Niedzwetzkyana gets its color naturally from red-fleshed apples. The Unfound Door
It seems that every few months, a new cidery pops up in Colorado. Like the burgeoning microbrew trend of the 2000s, cideries are growing, and each one has its own twist on the classic American beverage. Some are throwing in tropical fruit or hops, and the craziest are fermenting smoked apples. Dan and Talia Haykin of Haykin Family Cider, however, are taking a more traditional approach — one that truly respects the farmers and history behind each variety of apple.

Unfortunately, with the industrialization of the orchard process, many heirloom varieties of apples fell by the wayside to make way for apples that are uniform and can be stored for months in the produce aisle (insert Red Delicious). “Flavor is irrelevant. Aroma is irrelevant. Peanut butter smear-ability is the top priority when it comes to apples nowadays,” Dan says.

But some heirloom apples had been selected for centuries to produce the perfect apple cider, and Haykin Cider, which has a tasting room at 12001 East 33rd Avenue in Aurora, focuses on brewing with these special fruits. Most of its ciders are single-varietal, which elevates the apple in much the same way that a winery treats a grape. With more bubbles, no sugars and no added flavorings, Haykin's ciders are more comparable to a sparkling wine than a beer.
click to enlarge DUSTIN BAILEY
Dustin Bailey
Many of today's cideries will source the cheapest bulk apples they can find and then rely on flavorings downstream in the brewing process to add a personalized touch. Those bulk apples are usually cull apples that didn’t make the cut for grocery stores because of blemishes or odd shapes. This is where Haykin has changed the game. “Nobody can taste the size uniformity of an apple in my bottles,” Dan notes.

To maximize efficiency, most orchards focus on just a handful of apple varieties. To find the heirloom varieties for its ciders, Haykin has to find orchardists that aren’t solely focused on growing commercial fruit, like Ela Family Farms in Hotchkiss. In the corner of his hundred-acre orchard, owner Steve Ela has rows of trees with the most bizarre-looking apples you have ever seen. Some look like potatoes (Knobbed Russet); bunches of cherry-sized apples (Crimson Gold); or apples with skin as dark as plums (Arkansas Black). Among these trees are the long-lost apple varieties that the Haykins seek.

For example, one of Haykin's best-selling ciders is the Niedzwetzkyana variety, made with a red-fleshed apple. Most of its other ciders are golden, but the deep-red flesh of Niedzwetzkyana results in a cherry-red cider. Not too sweet, quite dry and bubbly, this cider is unlike any in Colorado. It isn’t trying to mimic a beer; instead, it highlights the qualities of an heirloom apple that you will never find on a grocery store shelf.

Sourcing this way is much more expensive for the Haykins, but Dan believes that you get what you pay for: "The fruit we buy is from farmers with solid organic practices. Generally, high-quality cider comes from high-quality fruit.” This rationale seems like common sense, but it is far too common to find cideries attempting to turn trash into treasure.
click to enlarge THE UNFOUND DOOR
The Unfound Door
Haykin Cider always sources organic fruit and local apples when possible. As cideries gain popularity, many will follow the path forged by the beer industry, but with the incredible orchards throughout Colorado, there is so much potential to create more elevated drinks. Dan is even noticing regional differences between the same varieties of fruit, which opens the door for even more tweaks to his craft. Front Range Golden Russet apples from Masonville Orchards in Fort Collins, for example, create a different profile than the Golden Russet apples sourced from the Western Slope.

A common saying in wine-making is “Grapes that struggle yield the best wine-making grapes." Dan says the same goes for apples. Front Range apples have a tough quality to them, and Dan is hopeful that more heirloom fruit can be planted in the area. Maybe one day, the Front Range will be the Napa Valley of the cider world.

For now, though, you can sip Haykin ciders at the tasting room, or sign up for the cidery's Cider Club to get four shipments a year — the ideal way to taste the variation in all of the heirloom varieties it uses. 
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Dustin Bailey grew up in the mountains of Colorado and began cooking in kitchens at a young age. He improved his culinary skills in a variety of food genres and then shifted his focus towards sustainable farming practices. As a farming apprentice, he was able to get the full farm-to-table experience. Now he shares his perspective through food writing and photography.
Contact: Dustin Bailey