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Small-batch cider sourced from wild apple trees of Deer Isle

DEER ISLE, Maine — On a bright October day made notable by golden leaves falling through the deep blue sky, Spike Carter of Stonington was in search of a different kind of gold: small yellow apples that had fallen at the base of a gnarled and overgrown tree.

The tree, surely planted by an industrious, long-gone farmer, is now hidden in the woods that have grown up around it. The tart, abundant and tasty apples were unlikely to be collected or even found by human hands — until Carter came along. A few years ago, the 27-year-old freelance writer had something of an epiphany when he came to the island to visit his mother and saw all the forgotten apple trees that were no longer being tended or harvested but still producing fruit.

“It just completely blew me away,” Carter said. “And cider’s the best way of reducing an abundance of apples into something manageable.”

The apples changed his career path. He’d moved to Maine from Chicago with the intention of becoming a brewer but soon set his sights on staying in Stonington and learning to make apple cider, a drink he previously had avoided.

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“I kind of hated apple cider before,” he said. “A lot of cider is really insipid and cloyingly sweet, and I don’t have much of a sweet tooth.”

But the cider he is making now at his new business, Pinch Cider of Stonington, is none of those things. A recent cider tasting revealed that it’s much more dry than sweet, with a tart, complex flavor that has an undeniable — and far from unpleasant — funk. The taste changes from batch to batch, he said, depending on many different variables.

“Because nature is wildly inconsistent, I would never want to take a stab at consistency,” Carter said of his cider.

To learn how to make cider, Carter got in touch with Andy Brennan of Aaron Burr Cidery in Wurtsboro, New York, who makes small-batch craft hard cider that is on the menus of some of the most acclaimed restaurants in New York City. The two hit it off, and Carter went to New York to help Brennan harvest and to learn some of the tricks of making really good cider, though for the moment he is focusing on fresh cider, not the hard variety.

When Carter came back home, he knew he wanted to make naturally fermented cider using only wild yeast from the apples themselves and to only use the wild, or “feral,” apples from trees he’s found on Deer Isle — no apples from anywhere else or from tended or sprayed orchards. To take them, he asks permission from landowners, who have so far been welcoming but often perplexed that someone would want the wild apples from their oft-forgotten trees, he said. He thanks them with the gift of a bottle of cider.

Carter is intensely interested in the concept of terroir, the idea that a particular region’s climate, soil, proximity to the ocean and other factors can affect the taste of a product like wine or cider.

“It’s fully an expression of Deer Isle, which keeps me pretty fascinated.”

Right now, Pinch Cider is only available for sale at Charcuterie in Unity, run by Amish chef Matthew Secich. Carter said that the fresh cider for sale there starts at $17 for 750 milliliters.

“It’s pretty unique. It’s all wild apples, coming from the coast of Deer Isle,” Secich said. “It’s really exceptional cider.”

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