Bantam: Tasting Cider From The Small and Mighty

What fun, local activity does a Boston craft beer lover suggest to a visiting New Yorker with a gluten allergy?  In my case, I insisted that my friend Nadia accompany me on a pilgrimage to the new(ish) Bantam Cider tasting room in Somerville.  A fan since early 2012 when they launched Wunderkind, I was excited to sample the co-owners’ (Dana Masterpolo and Michelle da Silva) latest experimental creations.

IMG_3628     IMG_3620 

The historic Somerville building located just outside Union Square contains both The Tap Room and Bantam’s production facility, and features an open layout so that each is visible to the other.  Operating on the site of the former White Rose Baking Company, Bantam remains true to the building’s industrial roots: just about everything is made of concrete, steel, or wood.  Underneath a suspended ceiling of spaced wooden beams stands a large, unpretentious kegerator  with 8 taps and rows of glasses lining its shiny surface.  People gather at long, communal tables placed around the room, holding glasses of cider and reaching for mason jars full of pretzel sticks.

IMG_3610     IMG_3619

Joined by Nadia’s friend Gretchen, we each ordered $10 tasting flights of five cider varieties, and watched the work in the fermentation room from our spot at a communal table.  Proudly on display are two 100 barrel fermenters that doubled Bantam’s production capacity earlier this year, alongside two smaller ones.  In an adjoining room, we could see racks of barrels used for aging cider, and stacks of kegs and other production equipment.  Lights hanging from exposed piping in the ceiling created a welcoming glow that softened the otherwise industrial space.

IMG_3618    IMG_3617

In addition to Bantam’s flagship Wunderkind, and its tart cherry sister Rojo, the flights offered more experimental ciders, each made with unique ingredients and yeasts.  For example, the “Dry-Hopped” variety tasted the most like a beer, incorporating ale yeast and Cascade hops.  “The American,” a “big”-tasting cider, reminded me of the holidays, with flavoring from green cardamom, clove, cinnamon, and coriander spices.  Our crowd favorite was the “Wild One,” brewed with vinegar, mustard, and wild yeast.  We agreed that Wild One is the cider version of the current beer trend toward those funky, sour, Belgian tastes.  Once we completed our flights, we each ordered a $6 full pour from the menu board.


Bantam seems to be keeping its options open for its ~5000 sq. foot space.  There’s been talk of additional tables and seating, a full bar, and even a restaurant, but for now the space continues to evolve based on the current experience and feedback.  It seems to me that this is the best way to develop the space – alongside the cider it produces.

Beer and Elections

On 4 November 2014, a.k.a. Midterm Election Day, I (Robin) made the grave error of driving to and from work. Stuck in a hellacious traffic jam on the way home, a snippet from the NPR evening economics program Marketplace by Kai Ryssdal caught my attention: We spend more on beer than elections. This story was inspired by post on the Wall Street Journal Washington Wire blog entitled Americans Spend 16 Times as Much on Beer as on 2014 Midterms.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates the Americans shelled out $59.9B on beer in 2013. The Brewers Association has a more optimistic view of the total addressable beer market in the United States, declaring it to be $100B in 2013. [Correction: this figure includes exports.]  Craft beer accounted for 14.3% of sales and 7.8% market share (15M bbls of a total 196M bbls). A beer barrel (bbl) equals 31 gallons.

Clearly intended to put the influence of money in politics in perspective, the beer vs. election spending trope compares apples to oranges, so to speak. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, during the 2014 midterm election cycle, $1.64B was spent on behalf of Democratic candidates and $1.75B was spent on behalf of Republicans ($300M of which can be attributed to the Koch Brothers, who, by means of their oil refinery fortune, founded Americans for Prosperity, Official Bank of the Tea Party).

Consider a more relevant beer factoid, annual spending on beer marketing, which happened to total $1.3B in 2012. In fact, the beer industry spent only half as much plying its products upon beleaguered American voters as those PAC people. Most of that election money went towards…well…marketing one candidate or another, often by means of such below-the-belt tactics as robo-calling peoples’ cell phones at dinnertime and bombarding the airwaves with ads that give new meaning to lying with statistics and taking random quotations woefully out of context.

Correlation does not imply causation, of course. I must confess that this infographic about what kind of beer you drink allegedly says about your political inclinations gave me a chuckle. (It was clearly made before Yuengling returned to Massachusetts.) Let’s face it, comparisons between spending on beer and elections are kind of ridiculous. That being said, exercising one’s democratic right to vote in the United States of America frequently involves holding one’s nose while doing so, selecting the lesser of two evils, and then going home and drinking lots of beer, perhaps in the course of playing an Election Drinking Game.


New Glarus, Wisconsin: export your cheese, but we’ll keep our beer

I’m fairly sure I swooned when I was welcomed to the home of dear friends, in the dark of night, smack dab in the middle of Wisconsin, by a fridge of personally curated, excellent local beers.  The unfamiliar label of New Glarus Brewing Company, in various styles, lined the long shelves of the fridge door.  Dave had outdone himself.


Dave explained that New Glarus has big plans to avoid world domination, by focusing intently on its own backyard.  The commitment to the Wisconsin community stems from native Deborah Carey, President of New Glarus, and the first woman to found and operate a brewery in the United States.  Carey raised the start-up capital as a gift to her husband Dan, establishing the Brewery in 1993.  By then, Dan had already become valedictorian of the 1987 Siebel Institute Course in Brewing Technology and worked his way up the ladder to become a Master Brewer.

The local focus of the brewery allows it to keep close tabs on quality control of its creations, and to continue to invest in its specialty brews, including those “fresh” from its Wild Fruit Cave.  The 5000 square foot Cave features a 100-bbl koelschip, a piece of equipment that cools beer wort while exposing it to wild yeasts that float in the air, thus creating lambic-style beers.  Other residents of the cave include some of the first foeders (large oak casks for aging sour ales) in the United States, which produce New Glarus’ delicious sour red and brown ales, and the grasses on its roof that naturally keep the area cool.


Dave introduced me to my inaugural New Glarus beer within minutes of arrival.  It was the Raspberry Tart, gold medal winner of the 2011 Great American Beer Fest.  Marketed as a “Wisconsin Framboise Ale,” it pours a dark ruby red color, with a tart raspberry aroma.  The taste is very sweet, with some earthy, funky undertones.  A touch of Wisconsin-farmed wheat and Hallertau hops round out the flavor.  This is not a beer to drink in large volumes, but I found it to be the perfect dessert sipper.


The next day Dave opened the seasonal Pumpkin Pie Lust, a brown weiss beer made with German Munich malt, Wisconsin wheat, and Idaho Celeia hops.  This brownish-coppery beer smells just like pumpkin pie, with the requisite nutmeg, cinnamon, and vegetable notes.  The dunkelweizen taste comes through underneath the spices, but there is only a faint pumpkin background.  The brew provides a solid German twist on the American fall obsession with pumpkin beers.


My final taste of New Glarus was a 2012 Great American Beer Fest gold medal winner, the Hometown Blonde.  The combination of Tettnanger, Saaz, Styrian Golding and Strisselpalt hops bestow that decidedly German character on this Old World style pilsner.  The brew shines a clear light yellow in the glass and smells of grains and grass.  The taste features a crisp malt backbone, surrounded by herbal, grassy flavors and a very slight lemon zest.  While on the light side of craft beers, this Blonde stands as a paradigm of its style, and certainly introduces more complexity than most domestic lagers.


Even though my Wisconsin beer education remained in its infancy, it came time to leave my friends and their fridge.  I left with promises from Dave of a new collection of unattainable-in-Boston beers to be curated for my next visit.  Of course, I’ll need all that time between visits to identify a somewhat even trade.