The craft beer boom has a not-so-distant cousin. Mirroring the growth of the exploding specialty beer industry is the hard cider market. In 2012, Boston Beer launched cider brand Angry Orchard; it has quickly become the beer company's fastest-growing product, according to a recent Globe story. Cider production grew 70 percent from 2011 to 2012, attracting major players like Anheuser–Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer, who now distributes the Stella Artois Cidre line.
Cider may be big business, but just as in the beer sector, small-batch, artisanal cider makers are getting their say. Cider makers are dry-hopping, barrel-aging, and spontaneously fermenting their product just like their brewing brethren. The resulting ciders are drier and infinitely more complex than the mass-marketed ciders showing up on tap at and in the beer fridges of your local tavern.
Michelle da Silva and Dana Masterpolo founded one of those small batch cideries in 2012. Named for the word referring to a lightweight boxing class and also a small breed of chickens, Bantam Cider's first commercial product was Wunderkind, a cider featuring local apples fermented with a sparkling wine yeast and a hint of flower blossom honey. The drink tastes more like a white wine, hanging lighter on the palate than the ciders you might be used to.
"The experience most people have had with cider is limited," says Masterpolo. "Our whole goal is to open people's eyes to everything cider can be."
Later this month, Bantam will open the first tap room dedicated to cider in its Union Square, Somerville headquarters. There, the duo will showcase eight taps dedicated to oak aged, smoked, sour, and other experimental ciders.
"Cider has a huge spectrum, on one side being more akin to a fine wine and on the other side being akin to a sangria," says Masterpolo. "There are so many products that we make that people don't get access to. People can come in and try the most interesting thing we just made, whether its commercially viable or not."
Masterpolo and da Silva's cider-making story reads like that of many craft brewers. The pair were working in architecture and real estate, respectively, before quitting their day jobs to make cider full-time. In their Somerville space they have the capacity to make 4,000 barrels of cider annually (a barrel is roughly 31 gallons). For perspective, the new Trappist brewery in Spencer plans to produce 4,000 barrels of ale this year, while Harpoon shipped 205,000 barrels in 2013. In addition to Wunderkind, Bantam has released two other products, Rojo, aged with sour cherries and black peppercorns, and La Grande, aged in bourbon and rum barrels. A smoked saison cider will be released later this month.
Masterpolo admits Bantam entered the booming cider market at the right time. She aims to put the beverage "on par with a fantastic bottle of wine", while also keeping the price point accessible. She feels a kinship with craft brewers and often abuts their tables at beer festivals around the region.
The Bantam Cider tap room is an industrial space with a comfortable feel. The bar has views of fermentation tanks and racks of barrels. It is expected to open March 1 and will offer flights of cider as well as full pours. Merchandise will be available, as will tours of the facility. The tap room is located at 230 Somerville Ave., Somerville and will be open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays to start.