Who names a cidery Blue Toad? These guys, apparently.
Tucked away in what is officially called the Genesee Valley Regional Market—and what I know as the area of Henrietta with most of the best shopping—Blue Toad might be hard to find if not for their temporary, campaign-style sign on the street corner, and the little fliers in other local businesses. Proof—if anyone needed it—that printed advertising is still vital if you have a physical location for customers to visit.
Ben and I had been seeing this and that about Blue Toad for a couple of months, and after encountering one of their flyers at the homebrew shop up the street, we decided to stop in. It didn’t hurt that we’d been gathering ingredients for an apple-based fermentation of our own, and had four gallons of Schutts sweet cider in the trunk—a supplier we have in common with Blue Toad. Curious to see what someone else had achieved with basically the same product, we headed over to 120 Mushroom Blvd, Suite 105.
Nestled in the back corner of the lot, the cidery has an unassuming exterior, typical of the district. On this particular Saturday, the warmest Rochester had yet seen this year, the cider tasting room’s shady interior offered a pleasant contrast to the bright afternoon. The place was quiet and appeared empty, but we were soon greeted by a bespectacled man with a military-cropped haircut, and easygoing manner. Taking seats at the bar, we paused to admire the embossed tin wall tiles on the front, and the warm glow of the bartop’s reclaimed wood.
A large chalkboard sign above the taps declared that Roc Hard Amber and Flower City Blonde were the tasting choices, and displayed notes and ABV stats on both. The price was $5 for a 7oz. glass of each cider. The man behind the bar mentioned the existence of another offering, not listed on the sign; a pineapple cider.
“We’re always experimenting,” he said.
Naturally, we had to try all three.
Roc Hard Amber: (Meagan) Very clear, clover honey-colored libation with strong apple notes (of course) and floral hints in the nose. Semi-dry, with a good balance of tannin, and notes of caramel and dark brown sugar. As the menu mentioned, it also had hints of raisin, and butterscotch.
(Ben) It had a semi-dry start and a sweet finish. The caramel built towards the end of the sample. Stronger in ABV but still well blended.
Flower City Blonde: (Meagan) Pale gold in color, with a more delicate nose. This one was probably semi-sweet, but with a slightly tart finish; it left a mild tannic bite on the middle of my tongue. There was also a hint of pear in the finish.
(Ben) I agree with the pear notes, but I also tasted orange blossom water and white tea. A very delicate, beginner-friendly cider. Not as complex as the amber.
Pineapple cider: Exceptionally pale; as Ben put it, “off-straw color, with—for a cider—long-lasting head.” The nose had a character that I couldn’t quite name. Ben described it as “woodsy, almost woodruff.” The flavor was sweet, with a lightly tart and tannic finish.
All the ciders were pétillant to sparkling, with a clarity owing largely to filtration.
Two other blokes came in shortly after we did, so I took the opportunity to ask the one seated next to me what he thought of the ciders. He liked the Amber better than the Blonde. Interestingly, he found it the sweeter of the two, and remarked that his friends who normally don’t like cider would probably appreciate it, too.
“I’m a hard cider junkie; I love it,” he said.
It soon became apparent that our host was no mere employee. He was in fact Scott Hallock; one of Blue Toad’s three co-founders, an experienced homebrewer, and according to the website, “the MacGyver of [their] operation.”† Scott explained that the cidery takes its name from one of the other partners, whose nickname is Toad. He’s in Virginia, running his pub, also called Blue Toad, and exploring the options for a cidery location there.
Like nearly everyone who loves what they do, Scott seemed quite happy to talk about the cider, the production facility, and where Blue Toad is headed. They’re currently operating on a 3 barrel and 7 barrel system, but they’re having new tanks built, so they can increase their production capability. Speaking of production, home brewers may be interested to know that Blue Toad has a very quick turnaround time on their cider; sweet to tap in a little over a week.
They let champagne yeast munch on it for about a week, and then they run it through (if I recall correctly) a 20-plate filter, much like those used for wine. After that, it spends a “couple days in the brite tank.” The result is a crystal clear product that contains no nitrates, tastes delicious and doesn’t get funky or dry out post-kegging. Not that it stays in the kegs very long; Blue Toad has only been open since January, and they can hardly keep up with demand. Hence their plans for a larger system.
When we mentioned being novice beer judges, Scott revealed that they’ve recently hired a lady who is a cider judge, and has experience with craft cider in Vermont. Scott hopes to let her use the current tanks for a pilot system, after they have the new ones up and running.
Readers thirsty for more cider might be pleased to know that Blue Toad has plans to open two or three more tasting rooms in the near future. When asked if he’d like to share a timeline on that, Scott said that their Victor location (in an old caboose, near Mickey Finn’s) should be open “hopefully by the end of May,” and they should be putting in a tasting room at Schutts this fall. “At some point,” they hope to open a tasting room in the city of Rochester, and they’re already on the Rochester Craft Beverage Trail.
Blue Toad operates under a New York Farm Brewery license, which, according to the NYS Brewers Association, allows them to open up to “five branch offices,” serve their cider by the glass, and sell “other New York State labeled beer, wine, and spirits by the bottle.”‡ The Farm Brewing Law includes a stepped system requiring licensees to use New York-grown hops and other ingredients in increasing percentages. This is likely to put a great deal of pressure on those brewers in coming years, as supply is not guaranteed to meet their growing demand.
But for Blue Toad Hard Cider, it’s all good. They already source 100% New York sweet cider from Schutts Apple Mill, in Webster. Prohibition may have wreaked havoc on New York hops and barley production—damage the state is now scrambling to undo—but its apples are still going strong.
‡ “Farm Brewery.” New York State Brewers Association. 2014. Accessed May 5, 2015.
†”Our Story.” Blue Toad Hard Cider. 2013. Accessed May 5, 2015.
Update: The original version of this post said Blue Toad hard cider went from sweet to tap in under a week. It actually takes around a week and a half. The post has been corrected for accuracy.