Believing that New York State has the best apples and that the cream of the crop are grown in the Hudson Valley, a pair of Yorktown pals and self-described “corporate refugees” from Pepsi’s research-and-development department have set out to craft the world’s best hard cider. “New York is Napa for apples,” says Christine Sisler, CEO of Merchant’s Daughter in Purdys. “It’s just a natural to take advantage of what we have here in the Hudson Valley.” Plus, she admits, “I was a cider stalker.”
That said, Sisler knew little about how to make her beloved drink. She enlisted her friend and former colleague, Dan O’Brien — who spent a few years winemaking in New Zealand and the Napa Valley — as chief cider maker, and together they began studying local apples, taking classes, and learning the process “from the root up.” Sisler even planted a small orchard on her property, though it’ll be a few years before the trees bear fruit.
During the course of their research, they discovered that New York State is not a big grower of cider apples, which are bittersweet or bittersharp, high in tannins, sugar, and acidity, and generally considered “spitters,” or ugly apples, as opposed to lush eating, or “dessert apples.” So, they began blending the juice of Crimson Gold cider apples with crab apples, Arkansas Black and Northern Spy heirloom apples, and newer Honeycrisp and Jonagold varietals. “Our ciders are fresh and modern,” says O’Brien, who ferments with a “wine mentality,” resulting in a “clean and pure expression of the fruit.”
Late last fall, they sold their first bottle under the name Merchant’s Daughter, which is a heartfelt nod to the succession of young women who ran the 1850s general store in Purdys that they renovated into their headquarters and taproom.
Today, three varieties of premium hard cider are produced: dry, semi-dry, and Clara’s Reserve, which yields a creamy, sweeter, and spice-dappled finish, and they’re sold at most DeCicco & Sons locations, Wegmans, and a handful of liquor stores throughout the Hudson Valley. Each is a hearty 7% alcohol, which Sisler insists has nothing to do with why she has become even more “enthralled by the cider industry.”