Ironbound Farm’s Fortified Cider is a Worthy Rival to Port and Sherry

Produced with Jersey apple brandy, it'll warm you from the inside out.

Fortified cider is a worthy rival to port or sherry.
Lemon Beebrush, one of three fortified ciders from Ironbound in Hunterdon County, is bolstered with apple brandy. Courtesy of Ironbound Hard Cider

The opening of Ironbound Hard Cider’s tasting room in 2018 marked the first time consumers could taste the Hunterdon County company’s flagship cider on-site, alongside its flavored varieties. The tasting room quickly became popular. But Charles Rosen, Ironbound’s founder and CEO, thirsted for more.

Rosen wanted to showcase cider as a cocktail ingredient. Under New Jersey law, Ironbound, which operates under a winery license, is prohibited from selling anything but their own products on-site. That ruled out traditional cocktails. So Rosen decided to make a higher-proof fortified cider to work with. “The whole concept of fortified ciders,” he explains, “is built off of fortified wines.”

Hard cider is to apples as wine is to grapes. A fortified wine is one to which a distilled spirit is added to increase its proof and enhance or concentrate its flavors. Some of the world’s most famous fortified wines include port, sherry and Madeira, which are fortified with grape brandy. The process can be replicated with any kind of fruit wine.

When Ironbound cidermaker Cameron Stark was developing a fortified-cider recipe, he started with apple brandy. Lacking a distilling license, Ironbound sends a 5,000-gallon tanker of hard cider to David DeFisher, owner of the farmstead cidery and distillery Rootstock in Williamstown, New York. DeFisher distills the hard cider 47 times, until it clocks in at 190-proof apple brandy. He then sends 250 gallons of the clear, unaged liquor back to Ironbound.

[RELATED: A Sticky, Giddy Grape-Stomping Session at Four Sisters Winery]

At the cidery, Stark adds the apple brandy to a tank of fresh-pressed cider. That stops the fermentation and produces a fortified cider of 18.5 percent ABV. He infuses it with different blends of herbs and botanicals, in a process similar to the way vermouth is made.

Stark’s first fortified ciders debuted at Ironbound in 2019. There are now three available, at $25 per bottle. The Lemon Beebrush—named for the native plant that is one of 30 botanicals in the infusion—brims with floral aromatics. “It’s a little bitter, a little sweet” says Rosen, “but it complements gin so well.”

The Spiced Cherry Burdock, infused with bitter barks, citrus and other botanicals, displays notes of cherry and chocolate and is great mixed with bourbon for an appley take on a classic Manhattan. The newest offering, citrusy Golden Russet Orange, flavored with chamomile blossoms, orange and lemon, pairs surprisingly well with tequila and lime.

For now, the fortified ciders are sold only in the tasting room at Ironbound Farm in Asbury. While you’re there, you can sample the cider cocktails they’re featured in—inspiration to create your own autumn bulwarks at home.

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