Mar 26, 2019Cider contest win good news for Brown’s Orchard
Winning a regional cider contest was a bittersweet cap to the growing year for Brown’s Orchards and Farm Market.
The Brown family grows on 216 acres in what cider manager Brett Krosse calls “the rolling shale hills of southern York County in Loganville, Pennsylvania.” They grow about 37 acres of apples and 25 acres of peaches in addition to cherries, apricots, plums, pears, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, sweet corn and pumpkins.
“We have been through a whirlwind this last year,” Krosse said. “We lost our patriarch and his wife, Stanley and Nona Brown, when they passed last year. And we also lost their beloved son David Brown, who was the current president of the business when he passed in March.” David Brown was 53 years old and died from a heart attack, local media reported.
“They built this business and put every ounce of love they had into this place. Instilling quality and customer service came before anything else,” Krosse said. “We are now led by an amazing lady, Mary Brown, David’s widow.”
It was a turbulent season, but hands took in the harvest and the business once again competed in the cider contest at the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The competition is limited to non-alcoholic cider.
“We are not permitted by Hershey Lodge & Convention Center to add a hard cider contest,” according to an email from Penn State Professor of Horticulture Rob Crassweller.
Thirteen other farms entered the contest, which was organized by Crassweller and decided by a panel of six judges. Metrick’s Harvest View Farm & Market of Butler, Pennsylvania, came in second place; and Ivy Hill Farm in Smithsburg, Maryland took third place. Crassweller noted that the top ciders were very close in the total points awarded by judges.
Brown’s cider had risen to the top on one previous occasion.
“Four years ago, I tied for first place in the Mid-Atlantic cider competition,” Krosse said. “It was a magical year as it was our patriarch’s last Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention that he was able to attend. The smile on his face and the honor he carried that night was incredible. The only thing I did different this year was hanging onto a bin or two of certain varieties to give me the best possible blend.”
Those two first-place finishes are a good start for somebody who jumped into the cider business just six years ago.
“I learned most of everything I know about cider from Stanley Brown and trial and error,” Krosse said.
While Krosse is relatively new to cider, Brown’s has been producing apple cider for more than 60 years.
“It all started when one of the local growers bought a small rack and cloth system,” he said. “Every grower that had apples would haul them down, after the work on the farm was done, and they would press cider into the evening hours to haul fresh cider back to their markets. When the demand grew, Stanley and his other son, Scott Brown, built our cider facility and laid the groundwork for most of what we have today. Scott was a visionary and made my job today much easier because of his research and devotion to quality. Scott ran the cider world until his tragic passing from a brain tumor in 2005.”
Like other producers, Brown’s primarily uses packinghouse culls for its cider.
“We load the apples into a dumper and they roll into a washer so that all apples are washed before pressing,” he said. “The apples are then carried to a hammer mill where the apple is pulverized and the pomace drops into a hopper. From that hopper it is pumped into our accordion style press. We use the Good Nature SX 280. This press is designed to produce 250 gallons per hour. We have been able to tweak our process and achieve 500 gallons per hour on a daily basis.”
Krosse lets the cider settle out in a processing tank for about one day, draws the fluid just slightly off the bottom to leave the sediment behind, and pumps it through a UV processing light to kill bacteria.
“There is a huge difference between cider that is treated with UV versus being pasteurized,” he said. “I believe the heat alters the flavor and texture of the cider. In my opinion, UV treatment is superior.”
In recent history, Brown’s produced about 50,000 gallons per year solely for its own market.
“With the increase of hard cider and increase in the fresh cider market we now produce over 225,000 gallons a year,” Krosse said. “We have expanded our fresh cider to include many of the local family owned grocery stores and other orchards that recognize quality. This year we are expanding into our large grocery chain store with many more locations.”
Variety of varieties
“Great apple cider comes from variety,” Krosse said. The farm grows 26 apple varieties for market.
Each year’s blend is different, he said, even with the same apples and “no two batches turn out quite the same.”
“The apples in this year‘s mix were Empire, Rome Beauty, York Imperial, Fuji, Stamen Winesap, Cameo, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Goldrush, Ruby Mac, Honeycrisp, and Nittany,” Krosse said. “I put a very limited amount of the super sweet varieties (Fuji, Red Delicious). I stayed away from Gala altogether. I try to focus on the tart and zing that the other apples give. Making cider is an art.”
The booming business to be had in hard cider has also attracted some interest from Brown’s – as well as investment. The operation has planted three acres of heritage cider apple varieties on semi-dwarf M26 rootstock for single stake planting on an 16×8-foot spacing.
Those varieties include Baldwin, Goldrush, Winter Banana, Grimes Gold, Golden Russet, Dabinett, Blacktwig, Albemarle Pippen, Red Field and Arkansas Black.
For its alcoholic products, Brown’s is partnered with Wyndridge Farm, and also serves other breweries that are getting into hard cider.
“This boom in the hard cider industry has created a re-introduction to these varieties because of their unique tannins and bittersweet qualities,” he said. “I am also hoping to introduce some of these unique flavors into fresh cider.”
“My recommendation for anyone looking to make the best cider is to start with the best ingredients,” Krosse said. “People ask me all the time what do you add to your cider to make it so good. And I explain to them it is just juice from apples, nothing else. What you put in is what you get out.”
— Stephen Kloosterman, associate editor