One day, Peter and Susan Yi, a brother-and-sister duo from Brooklyn, decided to quit their jobs to grow apples, make cider and share their love of food, life and drink. That decision would give birth to the Brooklyn Cider House, NYC’s first cidery, bar and restaurant in the heart of Bushwick in 2017.
The life-changing journey began in Spain’s Basque Country when then-wine buyer Peter Yi took a break from tasting wines to visit a sagardotegi, a traditional cider house. For Peter, it was a magical experience: simple, farm-fresh food paired with natural cider caught straight from the barrel in the most picturesque setting.
“I came back from Spain and I felt totally inspired,” recalled Peter. “I was a taster of wine for 25 years. And it took me a little while, I wasn’t always a cider fan. But when I tried the cider in Spain, it absolutely blew me away. It impacted my life.”
Shortly after, Peter told his sister Susan, then a school teacher, “We need to make a cider house in Brooklyn.”
She called him crazy, he laughingly remembered.
“I knew I needed someone strong to help me carry the cider project out,” Peter said. “After explaining the process and her trying the cider, she fell in love, too.”
Within weeks, Peter walked away from a business he built for 25 years, and Susan quit teaching to study apples and hard cider. Not knowing a bushel from a bin of apples, all they knew was that they wanted to make a wildly natural cider. That was in the spring of 2014.
On their quest for the perfect apple that would make an all-natural, preservation- and additive-free cider, they realized they couldn’t find the fruits they needed.
“Pre-prohibition, people in Bushwick, which then was all farmland, had apple trees in their own backyard and made cider of it,” explained Christina Batch-Lee, Brooklyn Cider House’s marketing manager. “When the prohibition came around, they chopped down all the cider apple trees. So that special apple variety best suited for making cider got lost for many generations.”
In 2015, Peter and Susan decided to buy an 220-acre orchard and grow their own apples in New Paltz, NY. There, they also built a cidery, tasting room, farm store and pavilion that serves wood-fired pizza and burgers which allowed them to cut their teeth before they opened the Brooklyn Cider House, explained Christina.
Once Peter and Susan found the space in Brooklyn, it took them two years to build it out and make it through all the red tape. In 2017, since the prohibition took the apple trees, cider began flowing again in Bushwick.
Now, the Brooklyn Cider House consists of a large bar area with a variety of ciders, wines and beers, and the cidery where the housemade cider is stored in massive wooden barrels. A separate dining room invites guests to enjoy 4-course prix-fixe menus that include “cider catching,” where diners can catch cider from the barrels in the adjacent tasting room between courses. In a separate room, more cider is waiting — and fermenting — in large silver tanks.
On Wednesday, Peter proudly unveiled the 2017 harvest and a new pintxos menu – a selection of tapas-style bites served on hearty bread. He fully believes in the future of cider, even though, he admits, it may be an acquired taste for some.
“It’s a difficult beverage,” said Peter. “It’s kind of like wasabi. Did you like wasabi the first time you tried it? It’s an acquired taste. It’s very natural, full of probiotics. But what I really love is that it pairs well with food.“
“And you feel great the next day,” he added grinningly.
Meanwhile, the apples on the orchard in New Paltz still have some growing to do. Until they are ready, the Brooklyn Cider House team is purchasing fruit from other local orchards.
“But the goal is to really manage our own production,” said Christina.
Cider made in Brooklyn — how about them apples?