The Cider Lab Black Label Series (2016 – Present)
The Cider Lab creates the cure for the common cider by coaxing luscious, full-bodied, award-winning ciders from New York State Empire apples, setting a new standard in American craft cider. Located on Cornell’s TechFarm in New York’s craft food and beverage capital, Geneva, The Cider Lab stays true to the fruit with specially selected wine yeasts and a rigorous method that showcases the brilliance of integrating science in the art of cidermaking. And by doing so achieves its mission of integrating family-owned orchards into the US cider market to support sustainable food systems.
In 2016, ECC created “The Cider Lab” in Geneva to leverage science for the art of cidermaking, and use its expertise and experience to support hard cider business incubation, scientific product testing, research and product development, and small-batch production.
Since then, we performed more than 200 fermentation trials using different apple types and a wide variety of yeasts (wine, cider, beer, wild). From this, we market tested the highest potential ciders with drinking and eating focus groups in Geneva, Rochester, Syracuse and NYC. As a side note and a testament to our earned cider expertise, both Cornell and the USDA asked us to perform original fermentation research for them and we also developed cider portfolios for several US cider clients using their region’s fruit, which won multiple competitions including the Portland International Cider Cup and the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition. To purchase online, please visit our online store for shipments to Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. For Michigan and South Dakota, please contact us via email.
Interestingly, in our market tests we learned that the “winning” ciders were not the typical apple blends most NYS and New England regional cideries were using, but were instead a single varietal cider made from Empire apples, a cross of Red Delicious and McIntosh, created at Cornell in the 1950s specifically for upstate NY’s terroir and named for the Empire State. The Empire is a late harvest apple and the extra time on the branch allows it to develop full characteristics and great sugars, which, when fermented optimally like a fine wine grape, translate into a cider with robust ABVs and ideal balance. With in-house winemaking expertise, cider can be created as a sophisticated fine wine.
The Cider Lab Black Label Series is the cure for the common cider and sets a new standard in American craft cider. The Cider Lab ciders are award-winning, hard ciders made from fresh-pressed New York Empire apples grown at Doyle Family Farms on the golden shores of Lake Ontario, earning us “Taste NY” certification.
Turning to the ciders now, of which we currently produce four:
EMPIRE BLANC ABV: 7.1%. Like fine wine in its balance of tannins and acidity, The Cider Lab’s Empire Blanc is crisp, dry, bright and complex. The effervescence of this brilliant straw-colored cider floats a bouquet of orange blossom and melon awakening the senses with carefully blended fermentations. Available all year in bottle (12oz and 750mL) and keg (sixtel and half-barrel).
EMPIRE GOLDEN ABV: 7.0%. The sweetness of The Cider Lab’s Empire Golden is perfectly balanced with the tart acidity of the fruit. A luxurious nose seduces the senses while hints of apples and honey comfort like a warm day. A smooth cider experience that pairs well with foods that have a spicy finish or simply as a luxury to be enjoyed on its own. Available all year in bottle (12oz and 750mL) and keg (sixtel and half-barrel).
EMPIRE CHERRY ROSÉ ABV: 6.6%. An award-winning cherry-infused hard cider that performs a well-choreographed dance of apple and cherry to create an elixir unlike any other. The effervescence of this crystal clear coral cider floats a perfect scent of elegant cherry to the senses. A sophisticated experience that will put a sparkle in every moment. Available all year in bottle (12oz and 750mL) and keg (sixtel and half-barrel).
EMPIRE ROYALEABV: 6.3%. Robust, juicy FLX and Hudson Valley blackcurrants set this cider on fire. The Cider Lab’s Empire Royale is reminiscent of the iconic French cocktail Kir Royale: beautifully balanced, elegant and refreshing. With a luscious deep purple hue and a fruit-forward nose that tempts the senses, Royale is a regal cider experience, pure pleasure from start to finish. Available from September – March in bottle (12oz and 750mL) and keg (sixtel and half-barrel).
Sovereign Cider (2014 – 2016)
Empire was chosen as our company’s name because cider was a staple beverage of Europe’s major empires, a Cornell fruit nutritionist created the Empire apple in Geneva and we are in the Empire State. And then we ended up moving to Geneva, NY onto a boulevard called Empire. So being “Empire Cider” seemed perfect.
Unfortunately, calling our ciders “Empire” would likely have caused confusion in the market with the Syracuse-based Empire Brewing Company’s beverages. So as not to muddy the waters with our craft beverage neighbors, we dreamt up the brand name of “Sovereign Cider”, which we felt had a similar meaning to Empire.
In 2014, we launched our “Sovereign Cider” brand with crisp, dry and pure premium craft hard ciders made exclusively from apple juice from the Nicholson family’s Red Jacket Orchards: “Crisp & Dry” and “Apples & Honey”, with all-natural honey from the Finger Lakes. These ciders went out to taste-making bars and restaurants in NYC and to agricultural and arts non-profits. Lucky for us, word-of-mouth from those first drinkers quickly grew into placement at more than 200 of the City’s best restaurants, bars and stores like 11 Madison Park, Marlow & Sons, Nomad Hotel, Lincoln Center, Whole Foods, Eataly and more. Our little “Empire” was rising!
Unfortunately, in early 2015, our success attracted the attention of the Treasury Estates Wine group IP-attorney and they challenged our “Sovereign Cider” trademark registration as they had a trademark on “Souverain”, their French-branded California value wine company (sold to wine giant E&J Gallo in mid-2015. To avoid a long and costly court face-off with the largest wine group(s) in the world, we agreed to change our brand name and sell through our existing “Sovereign” inventory, which we did in 2016.
So the delicious (though short) reign of Sovereign Cider came to a disappointing close, but to keep advancing the cause of premium-craft cider made from locally-grown fruit, we created The Cider Lab facility to allow us to perform the R&D needed to develop our best series of cider, which we aptly named The Cider Lab Series.