It all began innocently enough (as most stories involving apples seem to). Tim Graham and his wife Anna Rosencranz were working at the Greenmarket in Greenpoint, Brooklyn one fall when they noticed the vast quantities of apples that a fruit farmer was disposing of Saturday after Saturday.
Graham had already been playing around with home fermentation, making mead, so they decided to salvage the unsold apples and try their hand at cider. “We would cut the apples up by hand, grind them in a food processor—if you can imagine 40 pounds of apples, it takes a while,” he says. “Then we would ring it through a shirt or a pillowcase by hand. No press or equipment. It would take all day to make a gallon or two gallons.”
Time-intensiveness of the home-scale operation aside, Graham was hooked and he wanted to turn the hobby into a profession. So when his friend Benjamin Fain, an artist, real estate developer, and former classmate from grad school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, bought a beautiful c.1870 three-story building in Catskill, he jumped at the chance.
“The space we’re using has this amazing cellar and this whole other half, we decided, would be a great tasting room and bar, serving other New York State licenced products,” Graham says. The couple worked on the space for two years, all the while fermenting, before finally opening Left Bank Ciders to the public this July.
They had originally planned to buy local juice for their cider operation, but then last year’s bumper crop changed their minds. “We were just going to the mountains a lot to hike and to get away, and we started seeing apple trees everywhere,” says Graham. “Because of the amazing bounty of wild apples we were finding, we decided to totally change the whole entire plan.” They already had a fully underground cellar, whose natural temperature range was ideal for year-round fermentation, they were able to find a used press, they bought a new grinder, and all of a sudden they were brewing their first batch of foraged cider.
With just a pickup truck and two people, they were able to forage almost 2,000 pounds of apples last October, which yielded close to 1.000 gallons of juice. “Wild apples made a huge difference in the quality of the juice and the cider we ended up making,” he says. “Before last year, I had never really known how apples could taste. There are so many different flavors and textures. Some of them taste like spices, some are peppery. It was a revelation to use these wild apples.”
At any given time, Left Bank has at least eight ciders on tap, plus a few New York State beers. “The ciders on draft are all fundamentally different,” says Graham, who tries to curate a spread that will appeal to a range of tastes. Last year, his ciders were fully foraged. This year, he will probably buy some apples to meet his production goal of 3,000 gallons. Some of his ciders are wild-fermented with native yeast, others with commercial. Some are aged, some are not. Some are single-variety, some have hundreds of types of wild apples, tasted and blended at the press. The common denominator: All of them are slow-fermented in the naturally cool cellar, and none are filtered.
“Our ciders aren’t really chuggable,” Graham says. “It’s not stuff you want to slam. It’s a really elevated but easy drinking cider. It’s really nice when people say ‘I don’t like cider,’ then try something and change their minds. We have a lot of people that were strictly beer drinkers that are crossing over—and we also have a lot of wine drinkers.”
Another is the Tina, which Graham calls “off-dry.” Made with lower-sugar dessert apples, the batch spontaneously quit fermenting early, before all the residual sugars had been consumed. “I’m used to having really bone dry ciders,” Graham says. “This one, for whatever reason, stopped just short of dryness. I didn’t know I liked that flavor. But the Tina has just enough sweetness to give it a much fruitier profile and to brighten the acidity really nicely.”
Where the Apples Are From
Amid the pandemic, renovating the space, and brewing their first batch of cider for commercial sale, Graham and Rosencrantz, who works for the New York Public Library, moved upstate full-time and had their first baby.
“We were trying to get the cidery open before the baby, so we could get our feet wet,” Graham says. “But that didn’t happen, mostly due to the pandemic, so that gave us more time to work on space and do a lot of building stuff we wouldn’t have been able to.” They built an outdoor patio, which has allowed people to gather during COVID, very much honoring Graham’s original vision for the business.
“There used to be a brewery, and before that a cider house, in every town, going way, way back to before Prohibition when everything was local by necessity, and every region had their own style and every town had its own watering hole,” Graham says. “We think of ourselves as rooted in Catskill, the town, and the mountains that are close by. We are trying to be that place for people to drink the flavor of the area. It’s cool to be where the apples are from.”
This Saturday, October 10, from 1-6pm, Left Bank will host their Fall Harvest Celebration with the debut of their single-estate Byron cider, and a cookout by Hudson-based market/cafe Kitty’s (another tenant of Ben Fain’s).