Friday, May 24, 2013
EAST WINTHROP -- The dark red shoots rise from gnarled limbs of dwarf apple trees, near where a stream widens toward a pond.
Staff photo by Joe Phelan Betsy and Ben Parks-Stamm and their daughter Polly recently moved to Winthrop and opened Kennebec Cider Co.
This fall, the fruit from those branches is destined to form the base of iced cider to be produced by a new venture -- the Kennebec Cider Company.
Ben and Betsy Parks-Stamm, both 30, bought the six-acre former Whit's Orchard last fall and have set up a cider-making operation in the lower-level garage of the ranch home.
"We wanted to be in Maine," Betsy Parks-Stamm said, standing outside and surveying the newly trimmed trees. "This is a good place. We wanted to start small, and this is a great area to be in."
The couple has been to Quebec to sample and see the ice cider produced along a Montreal-Quebec City corridor.
And they're perfecting their recipe in a series of experiments, devoting their time and money to the fledgling operation and to caring for their 1-year-old daughter Polly.
Inside the cool garage, airlock-topped carboys hold colorful blueberry cider, cranberry cider and an apple-pear combinations. (They've already decided, though, the apple-pear combo won't go into production.)
The entrepreneurial couple has also won a grant from the Maine Technology Institute to develop a process to use cryocentration to produce iced cider.
They have to put in $11,075 of their own money to get the $5,374 grant.
"The grant is specifically to build up the prototype to do a bigger production, to develop a process to do a full-scale production," said Betsy Parks-Stamm.
One method produces a concentrated, sweet, hard cider without bitterness and similar to port wine; another method produces fermented or sparkling cider, capped champagne-style.
Boxes of empty bottles awaiting cider are stacked in the garage between a stainless steel, water-powered cider press and a large stainless steel vat.
A green wine-size bottle holds the pale fruits of the latest experiment and bears a label designed by Ben Parks-Stamm. The label is blue and green with red apples standing out from a heavily-leafed tree.
Living on a small farm is familiar territory to Betsy Parks-Stamm, who grew up on a cranberry farm near Plymouth, Mass., and has a Ph.D. in psychology from New York University. Ben Parks-Stamm has an engineering degree from Princeton University and says some aspects of cider-making involve engineering.
He said his first wine-making, done as an experiment when he was 13, left a huge stain on his bedroom floor and unhappy parents. The couple even brewed their own beer in their New York apartment.
"In Manhattan, we would go out and get old beer bottles so we could do home brew," Ben Parks-Stamm said.
The Parks-Stamms say the making of craft or hard cider is similar to that of wine and requires similar liquor licensing. They have acquired federal permits; they're preparing appplications for state permits and plan to seek local permits.
Producing hard cider commercially requires business owners to have a winery license and to pay excise tax on the products they sell.
According to the Liquor License & Compliance Bureau of the Maine Department of Public Safety, there are 22 wineries licensed in Maine.
Now, the Parks-Stamms are looking at buying more trees to round out the mature collection of Cortlands, McIntoshes and Honey Crisps once planted by the late Laurence Whitney Hodgkins, a horticulturist who work for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service in Augusta.
"There are some interesting crosses," Ben Parks-Stamm said. "He liked to experiment."
Their apples will all be freshly picked for cider, and the couple has already approached other growers to round out their supply.
Betty Adams -- 621-5631