It's early Thursday morning and Burnham Orchards (8019 State Rt. 113, 419-588-2138, redheadciderhouse.com) is already teeming with kids fresh off the school bus for a fieldtrip. At one end of the cozy space, a group of third-graders peers through a large glass window into a room where apples are being pressed between large accordion-like flaps to make cider.
Carter, the orchard's pressman, waves to the visitors before scooping up pounds of pulp with a paddle and dumping it in the machine. It's a very hard, labor-intensive process, one that Josh Raboin is very familiar with. "I worked here as a teenager and my father was the one pressing the cider," he says from behind the bar, pointing to Carter. "My partner, Joe Burnham, worked here too. He was just out of high school, starting college. He would come around in the summer months and we became good friends while his dad was running the business."
A friendship forged around apples. Joe is the sixth generation of Burnhams to work at the Berlin Heights-based orchard, about an hour west of Cleveland. They've focused on continuing the farm's growth, bringing their products to neighboring communities, and now, for the first time, bars. The orchard's newest venture happens to be Redhead Ciderhouse, producer of naturally gluten-free craft hard cider.
"It's been a family tradition on my father's side for a long time," Raboin says of his roots. "My father continued making hard ciders and wines at home. I started learning and just kept going with it, developing new ciders, different ingredients and methods. When you're home brewing, there's not a lot of science behind it. I took more of a scientific route and thought that one day I'd like to do this commercially."
Twenty-four varieties of apples are grown in the orchards, seven of which make it into their blend. The apples used for cider are No. 2 apples, ones that have been sorted through a huge conveyor and run through a high-tech scanner that rates each apple according to color, weight and number of visible blemishes. Unlike their more attractive counterparts, the cider apples won't be bagged and sent out to local groceries or Walmart via Ohio Apples, the co-op where Burnham and his father sit on the board. Instead, they will travel just feet away to the ciderhouse to be pressed and fermented into hard cider.
In 2014, the cidery officially produced its first batches of hard cider: Redhead Original and Coop Dill'Ville, a semi-sweet dill-spiced cider no longer found on the current menu (though Raboin hopes to bring it back). Since then, they've crafted an Apple Pie Cider that tastes like the real thing right down to the buttery aftertaste, a Hot Chick Cider fermented with jalapenos for a slightly spicy, peppery kick, and Smooth Hoperator, a smooth, semi-sweet cider with light citrus and fresh floral notes. Next week, they will debut a new Pumpkin Pie Cider in their taproom.
Ciders can be purchased by the pint or in growlers at the taproom and in 750-ml jugs at Miles Farmer's Market in Solon. Maple City Ice Company, a local distributor, delivers Redhead Ciderhouse kegs to spots in Put-in-Bay, Mansfield and Lorain. A wider network is expected to develop in the future.
With hard cider demand on the rise, and production at the ciderhouse climbing above 4,000 gallons per year, I ask Raboin if the orchard grows enough apples. He laughs and guides us next door to one of five warehouse-sized coolers, each filled to the ceiling with crates of apples. There seems to be an infinite number. The real question is whether or not Raboin can keep up with demand.