How do you like them apples?
Star Cider is a Finger Lakes family affair
When Adam and Cortni Stahl of Geneva were dating, Cortni was introduced to the Stahl family’s fall tradition of picking and pressing apples to make hard cider. The couple, who married in 2016, started making cider together as a basement hobby over a decade ago. Cortni’s biology degree, scientific approach, and professional experience upped the game, leading to painstaking experimentation as they perfected different blends with consistent quality. When dabbling turned to passion, Cortni, Adam, and his brother Nate took the leap to start their own cider-making business. Star Cider, which began as a small commercial operation providing cider to local restaurants and bars, was launched in 2014.
Lake Drum Brewing and Kindred Fare in Geneva and Mullers Cider House in Rochester were among the first establishments to carry Star Cider. “We started with a cider blended with fresh ginger root,” says Cortni. “We love making ciders with different seasonal ingredients added in.”
Hard cider, with a typical alcohol content from 5.5 to 8 percent, isn’t a new drink but in the craft beverage industry it is the newest kid on the block. And the “kid” is growing up fast. According to the New York State Liquor Authority, there were just twenty-two cideries licensed in 2012. At last count, there were seventy-two statewide. That number doesn’t even include the abundant wineries and breweries that also produce hard cider, an increasingly popular trend.
“New York’s craft cider industry is booming, largely due to Governor Cuomo’s deregulation of the craft beverage industry,” says Stefan Fleming, director of industry development at Empire State Development. The creation of the Farm Cider License in 2013 allowed smaller manufacturers (up to 150,000 gallons annually) to make cider, exclusively sourcing New York–grown apples. Not a problem: New York is a ripe region, the second-largest apple-growing state in the U.S. “The state’s rich heritage of growing the finest apple varieties and groundbreaking agricultural research at colleges like Cornell University, has generated one of the most robust hard cider markets in the entire country,” says Fleming.
Back in the Finger Lakes, Star Cider was also growing. The Stahls downsized their personal living space to an Airstream trailer to finance the fledgling operation. Nate assumed the “chief financial officer” role. Their first commercial space was a leased garage in Clifton Springs. From there they rented barn space in Seneca Castle—where they source their apples at Seneca Orchards. The ultimate dream of opening their own tasting room and production facility came to fruition in May 2019.
Star Cider’s East Lake Road cidery in Canandaigua occupies 4,000 square feet. About a third of the property is production space, leaving the rest for the tasting room and a seasonal outdoor patio. The unpretentious red building is timber frame construction made with reclaimed materials. The tasting room is constructed from salvaged barn wood and tin. Adam built the forty-foot bar—a poured concrete top and a base of apple crates. There is additional table seating and high tops scattered about. Building the cidery was a group effort, with friends and family pitching in along the way.
“We wanted to create a space where people feel at home and can enjoy hanging out,” says Cortni.
Megan and JW Wadsworth of Farmington do just that. “We visit the tasting room at least once a month,” says Megan. “We love the vibe and atmosphere.”
Variety is the spice of life
“Cortni and Adam Stahl of Star Cider have a passion not only for creating a great product but also for developing an amazing experience in their tasting room,” says Christen Smith, director of marketing and communications at Finger Lakes Visitors Connection.
The cidery attracts locals, visitors, couples, friends, and families (children and dogs welcome). Nonalcoholic apple cider, mulled cider, and slushies, depending on the season, are a hit with the kids. In addition to complimentary fresh popcorn and a community water bowl for the pups, a simple snack menu offers salty bread or pretzels with dipping sauces and mozzarella sticks. A menu expansion is in the works.
Of course, the star appeal is the cider. Core blends are Five Point (featuring five apple varieties), Apple Crisp (made from sweet dessert apples), and Frisky Whisky (using wild apples aged in whisky barrels). Seasonal offerings include Forever Wild (April through September) and Appley Ever After (October through March) plus several rotating ciders such as the bright and bubbly Ginger cider that launched their wholesale business. Ginger cider is Megan’s favorite so far, while JW favors the refreshing, fruity flavors of La Vie En Rosé. Growlers and canned ciders are available for purchase to bring the tastes back home.
A lot has transpired since Star Cider debuted in 2014. Cortni and Adam married in 2016, they bought a house in Gorham, welcomed son Ashton in 2018, and opened the tasting room. Cider production has grown from 9,000 gallons in 2018 to 14,000 in 2019. This cider thing is catching on!
Since there’s a lot to celebrate, Star Cider will mark its one-year tasting room anniversary with an all-day party on May 30. Starting at noon, family, friends, and customers will enjoy live music, a special spring cider release, a new cocktail, and slushies. What better way for local cider lovers to raise a glass to New York’s newest signature drink?
Star Cider is located at 3365 East Lake Road in Canandaigua. Starcidery.com
Nancy E. McCarthy is a freelance writer in Canandaigua. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org