From a young age, John Coates had a fascination with apples. While spending time in Vermont in his youth, he would walk through orchards. Coates says he enjoyed tasting the different varieties of apples, and in the back of his mind, began to imagine one day he might have a career as an orchardist.
The first step came several years ago when his family moved from New York City to Bedminster. Before even moving into the new house, he planted some apple trees on his property. These are not trees that grow dessert apples, the kind you find in supermarkets or at farm stands in autumn, but rather cider apples, the kind suitable to be pressed and fermented.
“It was really designed to be a hobby,” Coates says. But soon enough, an idea took root, as did Coates’ desire to open a proper cidery nearby.
New Jersey has a proud, if not damaged, history with cider. Once orchards were prevalent around the state and local hard cider was regularly consumed in taverns in all corners. Remnants of that history are still visible through applejack producer Laird & Company, the country’s oldest distiller.
Prohibition dealt a serious blow to cider production, with many growers chopping down their orchards due to the belief the 19th Amendment, implemented in 1920, would never be repealed. Then Prohibition ended in 1933, and whiskey, wine and beer were able to resume production. Without a robust apple crop for hard cider, the industry largely languished.
Hard cider has been on the upswing in American over the last few decades. The beverage is popular among drinkers looking to avoid gluten or looking for an alternative to wines or beer.
The majority of the nearly 800 hard cideries that exist in the country are small and local. There around a half dozen in New Jersey—including Ironbound Hard Cider, and the newest, Burnt Mills Cider in Bedminster, which Coates opened earlier this summer.
Originally, Coates planned for the business to be dealing with wholesale customers, like bars, restaurants and package stores. When he was getting ready to start selling cider in the spring, just as Covid-19 was impacting the world and causing havoc for retail accounts, he decided to install a tasting room on the property.
In addition to an inside bar, which can hold just six people with current Covid-19 restriction levels, Coates set up outside tables among the nearly 200 apple trees. More trees are on the way, he says.
Burnt Mills has the capacity to create and release large amounts of hard cider, Coates says, thanks to three 1,000-gallon fermenters he installed at the property. For now, as he waits on his orchard to grow and mature, he is bringing in fruit and juice from other growers, a common practice in the hard cider industry.
These include heirloom varieties like Northern Spy, Gold Rush and Rhode Island Greening. Burnt Mills makes a range of ciders that are dry, semi-dry and sweet to the market. Coates is also experimenting with blending other ingredients into his ciders, like ginger.
Over the summer he released a Jersey Blue cider, blended with blueberries, and has plans for a Jersey Red, made with cranberries.
“We wanted to incorporate other products from New Jersey into our ciders, and the results have been really well received,” he said.
In addition to drinking at the cidery, the Burnt Mills hard ciders are available in four-packs of 16-ounce cans, giving us all a chance to toast the state’s apple past and future from the comfort of home.
Burnt Mills Cider, 3540 Route 206, Bedminster; 908-781-6000Click here to leave a comment