How does an installer of solar panels and a manufacturer of magnetic products come up with the idea to make hard cider? For Jody Rael, who had been making fruit wines for many years, a light bulb went off when he discovered a bottle of his wine underneath his bed that had been there for 6-8 months. When he tasted it, he said it tasted like ambrosia. His interest was piqued, and he started experimenting.
Rael was not only a home brewer but an entrepreneur, inventor, and environmentalist. One of his companies, Sundog Solar (installing solar electrical and thermal systems) had many clients who were apple farmers, as well as were many cold storage facilities that could keep apples fresh all year long. Being an advocate of sustainable living and with a long history of home brewing, Jody began to explore the idea of making a small batch, handcrafted artisanal hard cider. In 2013, based on the very diverse disciplines of manufacturing, renewable energy and brewing, Sundog Cider was formally licensed as a New York State Farm Cidery. Sundog Cider produced its first batch for distribution in March, 2014.
However, Jody was not content with brewing the “old-fashioned way” and processing apples was a lengthy and labor-intensive process. He searched out the best and sweetest apple cider in the Hudson Valley and found the farm, Samascott Orchards, in nearby Kinderhook. He wanted the sweet taste of apples in his hard cider, not like the accepted taste of dry, slightly bitter English-style cider.
He explored capturing the C02 (carbon dioxide), a natural by-product from the fermentation process, and use it to add back into the hard cider for just a hint of carbonation. Because he wants his cider production process to be as sustainable as possible energy-wise, every step of production is completely solar powered. The result is a robust apple-flavored sweet, aromatic cider with a touch of carbonation. The cider is delicious and thirst-quenching – an ideal warm weather drink, low in alcohol (only 6 percent) and naturally gluten free.
Looking to the future, Jody wants to add fruit flavors to the apples and is considering using black currants in collaboration with culinary and horticulture expert, Greg Quinn. Quinn owns the only dedicated currant nursery in the country. Also in Jody’s repertoire of experiments is hard perrys (hard cider made from pears) and non-alcoholic beverages made with locally grown products.
In his quest to make his factory completely sustainable and energy efficient, Jody retrofitted his plant with energy efficient lighting and spray foam insulation and installed a vegetable oil boiler. The boiler provides heat for the facility with used vegetable oil (collected from restaurants) and eliminates propane. He also had his diesel vehicles converted to use vegetable oil and installed a solar air conditioner. The Sundog Cider factory is 100 percent solar powered and carbon neutral with 4,000 gallons of cider ready to go at any given time.
Sundog Cider, Sundog Solar, and Kling Magnetics are located on The Solaqua Campus along the Stonykill Creek in Chatham, New York, in the heart of the Hudson Valley. Solaqua Campus is a sprawling complex of buildings covering several acres. The campus has been designed and built around the tradition of innovative usage of the site through rehabilitation and reuse as a green building and a food and energy center powered by renewable energy technologies.
Sundog Hard Cider is the perfect light libation for the 21st century.