Cocktail Club

Meet the hospitality director behind a forward-looking craft cider project

Megan MacLean shared how Artifact Cider Project honors local apples.

Megan MacLean, director of hospitality at Artifact Cider Project. Photo courtesy of Megan MacLean

A crisp and sometimes tart cider is a classic drink to have in the fall, and when Megan MacLean talks about the beverage, you can tell that she has a passion for the drink and the apples it’s made from. As director of hospitality at Artifact Cider Project, which has taprooms in Cambridge and Florence, Massachusetts, she was drawn to the business where she currently works because of its philosophy and commitment to sourcing fruit from local orchards and championing fresh, authentic tastes.

“Our cider is made very much in a similar style to wine,” MacLean said. “Soham Bhatt, our co-founder, and Craig Collins, who is our lead cider maker, they really have pursued this vision of honoring the apples and the terroir where the apples come from.”

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MacLean has been working in the hospitality business since she was 16 and she was required to do an unpaid internship in high school. Fascinated by pastries, she chose to work in the kitchen at a dessert restaurant, and she “fell in love” with the spot. She worked for about four years as a pastry chef, and after feeling a bit burned out from the kitchen environment, she decided that she wanted to learn how to bartend, something she had always dreamed of trying. She dove deep into that world and found a calling as a manager.

On Sept. 29, MacLean will be featured on Boston.com’s Cocktail Club, making fall cocktails with apple cider and sharing tips on how to prepare drinks at home. She will be mixing an original cocktail, the Soft Landing, and a spin on the cider classic, the Stone Fence. We chatted with MacLean about her journey, the industry, and why she loves cider so much. Read the Q&A below.

Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

How did you get involved in Artifact Cider Project?

I actually have a mutual friend with Artifact’s first ever employee. During the pandemic, I parted ways with my last company and was really thinking about getting out of the restaurant industry. I wanted to move into operations and do something new, test the waters a little bit. I’ve been in the industry since I was 16 and have done a lot of different roles. I was thinking about transitioning into something like operations or marketing and trying my hand at that. I was on all the job websites pretty frequently and saw Artifact pop up with the general manager position, and I couldn’t pass it up. I decided to do the thing one last time and ended up opening our Cambridge taproom, back in May of 2021. I was the only manager, and it was my first GM position. It was a great learning experience for me, and I got to create the culture that I wanted to work in from scratch. It’s just been a really great ride. We’re a small company. We’re very people focused, and culture building is a passion of mine…

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I’ve been in the beverage industry for a long time, and cider never really interested me until I joined Artifact. I’ve always been more of a wine and spirits person and went through my beer nerd phase. Cider, to me, all I had really experienced was sweet, juicy, very sugary, syrupy ciders, especially around here. Because I had a mutual friend with Artifact, I was able to try their stuff right when they got started around 2015 and was blown away by how much care and character went into each product.

Could you tell us a bit about how the cider is produced?

A lot of cider makers will do things like use concentrates to ferment, or use corn syrup as a sugar base, put in things like sulfites and things like that to alter flavor. I think what really impresses me about our production team is the commitment to honoring the apple and the history of Massachusetts and New England. Apples have been in New England for a very long time, and there’s a lot of varietals that most people have never heard of that actually make really fantastic cider…

The one [cider] that has really blown me away—there’s an apple called the Redfield that I had never heard of, never seen pictures of. … The production team will do really small batch, specialty, limited edition ciders that we only sell at the taproom. The first one that I got to try was called the Redfield. It was this gorgeous, caramel rosé color, and I asked, “Did you guys add coloring to this? How did this come about? Was it fermented with skins?” And they said, “No, it’s actually a red-fleshed apple.” If you look at pictures of it, it’s this gorgeous, red-pink fleshed apple, so when you cut into it, it has this natural color that makes a beautifully dark cider. It’s got some floral notes to it, some honey notes to it. But the thing that fascinated me about it is the apple itself is very bitter and tannic, but it makes this beautiful, complex, full-bodied, almost toffee-like cider. It’s so unexpected, and it’s an apple that’s native to the area.

Do you have any other favorite ciders?

The cider that really got me into Artifact in the first place is called Long Way Back. It’s the most crowd-pleasing cider I’ve tried. Everyone likes it, no matter what style they’re looking for. It’s 100% McIntosh, which is also a local varietal that a lot of people know the name of but don’t necessarily know what the cider that comes from it tastes like. For me, it’s very much a pure expression of the apple itself. We do ferment it to keep a little bit of residual sugar, unlike our other 100% McIntosh cider, Slow Down, which is fermented dry. …The way that I describe [Long Way Back] to guests is it really tastes and feels like biting into a fresh McIntosh apple. It’s juicy, it’s a little tart, it’s surprising, it’s fresh. It goes with pretty much any food that you could possibly pair it with. … It kind of tastes like childhood in New England, in a really beautiful way.

What’s going on in the local bar and restaurant scene that we should know about?

I don’t get out much these days. But I have been in the industry for a long time. The trend that I’ve seen now … is a focus on the individual as an employee. The positive trend that I’ve seen in the industry that I hope continues, that’s really a product of COVID and lockdown, are both employees and employers really advocating for employee rights and making sure that people are being taken care of and paid well. There’s more of a focus on mental and physical wellbeing. I think that’s something that has really progressed in the last couple of years and something that I’m really excited to see, as someone who literally grew up in this industry and never really had that foundational support.

There’s a cider-based cocktail program at Artifact that you started. How did that come about?

Soham and I, it was one of the first things that we talked about when I came on board. Cider cocktails are obviously a very niche realm in the industry. It’s tricky with our licensing because like most taprooms, we have a farmer brewery license. So we’re only allowed to sell alcohol that either we made ourselves or contracted out to somebody else to make for us. So I can’t use any liquor in my cocktails, which has forced me to be more creative in a really fun way. My favorite thing about the program is that we do seemingly simple cocktails but with a little bit of a complex edge. My signature is called the Pine Hill Spritz, which is named after our main orchard partner, Pine Hill Orchard, out in Colrain, Massachusetts. For the base of the Pine Hill Spritz, I make a homemade rosé vermouth, using one of our ciders as the base. I infuse that cider with 11 different botanicals and fortify it with a little bit of sugar. I fell in love with vermouth in cocktails when I was a cocktail bartender. It was really fun for me to create something that I could use as the base for a lot of different cocktails. … We take the vermouth as the base over ice and top it with our bone-dry McIntosh cider called Slow Down and orange twist. It’s a great expression of two different products, elevated to a more complex and creative cocktail.

If you were a cocktail, what would you be?

I have to go with the Sherry Daiquiri. A little simple, a little unexpected, refreshing, and just kind of a beautiful combination of things.


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