Perennial: A cider bar for all

By Fran Gonzalez | Jul 03, 2019
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Khris Hogg, farmer, owner and chef, talks cider June 21 at the new Perennial Cider Bar + Farm Kitchen at 84 Main St.

Belfast — Just when you thought you knew everything there is to know about apples, Perennial Cider Bar + Farm Kitchen comes along, and blows your mind.

Located in the former yarn store at 84 Main St., Perennial feels right at home in the basement space, transformed into a bright and airy room with a copper-topped bar — a good spot to while away time sampling, socializing and enjoying different ciders along with organic, locally sourced cuisine.

"It's tiny but it is intentional," said Khris Hogg, owner and chef at Perennial. "I wanted to start small and try and keep it manageable, and concentrate on everything else we are doing."

The business had a strong opening in April, he said, with the majority of guests locals.

Hogg shares his excitement and passion for ciders, guiding people through first-time experiences and expanding ideas of what cider is or can be. He said a lot of people are really surprised.

"It is really gratifying to hear the response, 'wow, I had no idea,'" he said.

To get to that point, Hogg said, the staff engages guests by asking about their particular tastes to get an idea of their palate and narrow down options.

"There are so many different variables in the process and the fruit, the potential results are kind of endless," Hogg said. "I think that is something a lot of people don't know about cider. Giving people a sense of the diversity and variety that producers are putting out there is step one."

The majority of the ciders Hogg stocks are from small producers throughout the Northeast, with a few selections representing the cider-making traditions of England, France and Spain.

More than 30 ciders in a variety of formats are offered, including glass pours, draughts, flights and whole bottles. Prices vary from $7 to $9 for an 8-ounce pour of cider by the glass, to $7 to $12 for a 12-ounce cider on tap selection. There is cider by the bottle or in cans as well.

The menu features small plates, or tapas, with locally sourced, organic treats. "Roadside inns, tavernas and farmhouses serving humble specialties of the house that taste like land and season," the menu reads.

"The food program is a big part of what we do," Hogg said. "Having a menu that is entirely locally sourced and organically grown is pretty unique."

He said the decision to use small plates was to keep the price low.

"I don't want people to have to pay $30 a plate to come here," Hogg said. "The small plate format is not because we want to be 'precious' or 'fancy'; it's because when doing small plates you pay $6 or $8 for something and if you want another plate, you can do that."

The ciders at Perennial are made with apple varieties that traditionally have been used only for ciders, according to Hogg — varieties that originated in the western counties of England, in Normandy, France, and, to a lesser extent, Asturias in the Basque area of Spain.

That is how he became excited about cider.

"Drinking cider made from those apples, I think a lot of people have this awakening of 'this is what cider can be,'" Hogg said.

"We're focused on ciders made with older varieties, as well as seedling fruits — wild trees that you see in the landscape," he said. "Ciders that are made with those trees, are technically 'brand new' varieties that are unique to this place."

There is one "semi-sweet" offering for folks who are use to drinking sweeter ciders, but most of the menu "tends to lean towards stuff that is totally dry or just off dry," Hogg said.

Some of the descriptions in Perennial's cider by the glass include "foraged fruit," "bottle conditioned with maple," "abandoned heirloom trees," "mouth-wateringly tart," and "fresh green apple nose giving way to white wine flavors."

Hogg said there are a lot of stories and history that can be conveyed through apples — interesting biographies of people who came before, old farmsteads expressed or captured through apple trees, abandoned orchards or even that big old tree in someone's yard that they know nothing about.

"Someone with a trained eye could discover that it is a super obscure apple people used to grow in Maine all the time, but for whatever reason, fell out of favor and they have the last tree," he said.

"Getting to drink a drink that is made from one of these trees is fun and interesting, knowing it has been around much longer than you in the case of old unique trees," Hogg said. "In the case of the younger seedling trees, it is really fun to taste something that literally, until that tree was around, no one had ever tasted before."

He hopes to make cider less intimidating than wine so people do not feel isolated or excluded. He said he would like people to look at the menu and be able to find themselves in it.

Hogg said there are rumors of other cider bars opening in the Portland area later this year, but for the time being, Perennial is the only one in New England.

"Even after they open up, we will still have been the first cider bar in the area," he said, "in terms of folks who are not producers, selling lots of other people's stuff."

Perennial is open Wednesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to close. For more information, visit perennialciderbar.com.

Perennial Cider Bar + Farm Kitchen features talks, workshops and musical guests. The new venue at 84 Main St., lower level, has 30 ciders to choose from, along with locally sourced small plates. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
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