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Yankee Brew News Archive

Cask & Hive Making Mead and Hard Cider at Mid-Maine Farm Winery

Originally Published: 06/97

By: Tom Ayres

One of New England's most eclectic homebrewers has chosen a different path as he steps up from crafting homebrews as a hobby to producing fermented beverages commercially.

Bruce Stevens, a homebrewing raconteur noted for his rapier wit, Hunter Thompson-inspired Internet musings, and longtime affiliation with the Maine Ale and Lager Tasters homebrewing club, will proffer the first meads and hard ciders from his new Cask and Hive Winery in Monmouth, Maine, shortly after apple blossom time in early June. The Cask & Hive effort is a partnership between Stevens and Craig Chick, vice president of Chick Orchards, one of Maine's largest apple-growers.

The 600-acre, family-run orchards, located about one hour north of Portland, just south of Route 202 on Norris Hill Road in Monmouth, produce about 45 percent of the independently-grown apples in the state. Cask & Hive -- legally classified as a winery under Maine's farm winery regulations -- will make its line of meads and hard ciders using Chick apples plus wildflower and specialty honey from a range of Maine apiaries.

When I visited the burgeoning winery this spring, Stevens and Chick had more than 1,000 gallons of hard cider, mead and cyser (a blend of cider and honey) in various stages of production in 53-gallon American oak casks, most of which the industrious Stevens had reclaimed from bourbon distilleries. Cask & Hive expects to produce up to 1,000 gallons annually of its Chick-A-Dee Barrel-Select Maine Hard Cider; up to 4,000 gallons of Chick-A-Dee Maine-Made Cyser; and approximately 500 gallons of its limited-production, semi-sweet Chick-A-Dee Maine Mead. Stevens and Chick have opted to use the Chick-A-Dee name for their fermented offerings because the brand is already attached to Maine's most widely known farm stand cider.

Cask & Hive makes Chick-A-Dee Barrel-Select Maine Hard Cider with a blend of juices from Northern Spy and Golden Delicious apples from Chick's Monmouth orchards. The fresh-pressed juice is fortified with sugar to 19 Brix/Balling, then spontaneously fermented in the traditional New England style to finish at 3 Brix/Balling. Alcohol content is 7-1/2 to 9 percent by volume. As is the case with Cask & Hive products, no concentrates, sulfites or preservatives are used in making the hard cider. Fermentation in former bourbon casks used only once for cider production accounts for the "barrel-select" designation. The barrels are then turned over to production of Cask & Hive's flagship cyser.

Chick-A-Dee Maine-Made Apple Cyser is also crafted from fresh pressings of Chick apples. Red Delicious and Macintosh varieties are blended with Maine wildflower honey to make the potion. Fermentation in oak with Lalvin "killer" wine yeast produces a heady, lightly tannic, dry cyser redolent with delicate apple, honey and oak aromas. A tasty alternative to white table wine for more adventurous consumers, it checks in at about 10 percent alcohol by volume.

Next up for Cask & Hive is the anticipated introduction of its first mead this fall. Stevens says he expects to release the first Chick-A-Dee Maine Mead to coincide with the autumn apple harvest. Several hundred gallons of the specialty honey wine, crafted entirely from Maine raspberry blossom honey, were fermenting merrily away when I visited with Stevens and Chick.

"My concept with this mead is similar to German lager brewing," commented Stevens as he stood in the early March chill at the Chick Orchards warehouse where Cask & Hive is currently housed. "We use a cold-tolerant wine yeast that will ferment down to 45 degrees and go with a cold, extended fermentation with maturation in oak." Tastings of Stevens' test batches and barrel samples revealed a rich, smooth, semi-sweet mead with a delicate floral character and lots of oak notes.

Cask & Hive is a labor of love for Stevens and Chick, who both maintain other full-time jobs while operating the winery part time. Chick heads the winery as its president and secretary. He is the principal cidermaker and coordinates all production. Stevens is the winery vice president and treasurer and heads up marketing, public relations and sales efforts. He is also the meadmaker.

Cask & Hive cider, cyser and mead will be distributed initially only in Maine. The winery is handling its own distribution, focusing on select restaurants and fine wine retailers throughout the state. A retail sales outlet and gift shop are based at the Monmouth winery. A second winery-operated shop in the outlet store mecca of Freeport is also a possibility in the near future.

At press time, retail prices for Cask & Hive offerings under the Chick-A-Dee brand name were projected at $9 for a 750ml bottle of the barrel-select cider, $8 for the cyser and $15 for the upcoming semi-sweet mead.

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