EAST WINTHROP — A year ago, when Megan and Nathan Hall first took over Kennebec Cider Co., they hoped to grow the small, local operation and maybe even expand it into an industrial space in Portland, with a tasting room to draw a regular crowd.

Originally founded by Ben and Betsy Parks-Stamm in 2009 on a 6-acre orchard on Case Road, Kennebec Cider produces small batches of hard apple cider every fall. About a quarter of their apples come from the property’s 200 trees, while the rest come from orchards around Kennebec County and beyond.

They sell their finished, 750 milliliter bottles in stores across Maine.

About a year ago, the Halls took over the business from the Parks-Stamms, who still own a part of the company but have moved to Cape Cod with their children.

When Megan, who is 32, and Nathan, 36, first donned the cider-making caps, they thought about increasing the amount of cider they produce every year. But they reconsidered when spaces were not readily available in Portland and the challenges of offering a seasonal, labor-intensive product on a perennial basis became apparent.

“Now it seems crazy that we thought we could bring it into an industrial space,” said Megan, who grew up in the Winthrop area and still has family here. “We would have sold out. We can’t just make more.”

Indeed, Maine’s apple season lasts from about August to October, and according to Megan, fermenting a batch of hard cider can take anywhere from two to 11 weeks. So unlike beer makers, who can more easily brew throughout the year, small batch cider makers have a narrow window for their craft.

The Halls have since recalibrated their goals for Kennebec Cider, focusing more on the quality and originality of their offerings and hosting periodic tastings in the barn where it’s brewed.

They’re just starting to harvest and press this year’s batches of cider. They offer a few varieties, including one with hints of blueberries and another with raspberries (both berries grow on their land). A third cider includes the flavor of quince, a pear-like fruit that grows from a tree in their orchard.

But they also offer a traditional cider, and the couple’s main focus has been on finding the right blend of apples to include in each batch. They begin each batch with a base of McIntosh and Cortland apples, which are more commonly occurring in Maine. Then they then add more cider from slightly rarer apples, including Honeycrisps and Galas.

Nathan Hall takes apples from a crate to drop into a grinder Thursday at Kennebec Cider Co. in East Winthrop.

Nathan Hall takes apples from a crate to drop into a grinder Thursday at Kennebec Cider Co. in East Winthrop.

Finally, for the remaining 10 percent of each cider, they use crabapples, which are smaller, more tart and more variable.

To make the cider “hard,” they let the natural sugar in each batch ferment for several weeks, then pasteurize at the end.

“We run around like squirrels trying to find the better apples,” said Nathan, an artist who speaks eloquently about the flavor profiles of each batch, as well as the history of apples grown in the area.

According to information available on the Kennebec Cider website, some of the earliest apple growers in Kennebec County were Charles and Benjamin Vaughan of Hallowell, who in the late 1700s planted extensive orchards and built a cider mill on their farm. Closer to the Hall’s turf was Ichabod Howe, a Massachusetts native who planted what’s thought to be Winthrop’s first apple orchard.

Howe named one of the varieties of apples he bred Winthrop Greening. Several other varieties have been developed in Winthrop, including Moses Wood, Winthrop Pearmain, Fairbanks and Winekist.

Looking forward, the Halls say they would like to hold more tastings at the East Winthrop barn and orchard that they describe as “off-the-beaten-path.”

The next event they are hosting is a “Ciderfest” from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Oct. 15. The festival will include live music, cider tastings, a food truck and games and activities for kids. Tickets to the Ciderfest ($5), as well as VIP passes ($15), can be purchased on the Eventbrite ticket website.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker


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