Faulkner Branch Cidery at Blades Orchard
To gain entry to the speakeasy-like tasting room at Faulkner Branch Cidery and Distilling Company, one must first solve a riddle. The cidery, located between Preston and Federalsburg, is one of only six cideries in Maryland.
First-generation farmers Stephen and Lynda Blades bought what is now Blades Orchard, a 65-acre fruit farm near Federalsburg, in 2008. Initially the farm had 20 acres of peach trees and 6 acres of apples. After several years of nurturing, the orchard now boasts 28 acres of peach trees and 15 acres of apples, producing 200,000 pounds of peaches and 800 bushels of apples a year.
When the farm began to have excess fruit, the couple started trucking the fruit to cideries. Because this was not a lucrative solution for the excess fruit, friends in the wine industry encouraged them to get a winery license. Steve had recently retired from the liquor industry, so he was somewhat familiar with the business side of it.
“The fruit industry is a small community and has offered a tremendous amount of resources and support to us in our new endeavor,” he said. “The excess apples made a cidery the perfect venture.”
Faulkner Branch grows and crushes the fruit at Blades Orchard.
“Cider has its own set of rules,” he said. “It has to have a certain amount of apple in it, as well as a certain amount of alcohol and carbonation. It is made just like wine, but when you drink it, it finishes with a tartness from the apples.”
The cidery’s three ciders range in price from $15 to $17 a bottle. Head Waters cider is a dry European-style cider, much like a dry champagne. Tax Ditch Green is a sweet American-style hard cider with the flavors of brown sugar and molasses. The Jungle is made with Maryland honey and has a smooth finish and a sweeter edge, leaving a tart finish. It is Faulkner Branch’s most popular seller.
“Like Australian wines, our ciders should be drunk within 12 months to keep their young and fruity flavors,” Steve said.
Lynda, once in medical sales, is on the road selling the cider at farmers’ markets and helps to run the tasting room on weekends.
“People are enjoying what we are making,” she said. “We are selling out of what we are making with each batch. It is especially popular with the 20- and 30-something age groups.”
“Ciders are still relatively new and just starting to take off in the craft alcohol industry, representing about 11 percent of the craft alcohol industry today,” Steve said.
The couple is excited to share with visitors the Faulkner Branch Tasting Room, which opened in 2015 with a speakeasy theme.
A chalkboard riddle on the Tasting Room door challenges the visitor to solve the riddle before entering the low-lit lounge with a bar area and soft, comfortable sofas. The building also has a pavilion and patio for outside tastings.
Ciders are sold from the tasting room and are available at Town and Country Liquors in Easton, Hair o’ the Dog in Easton (where it is also on tap), The Wine Racks in Ocean City and Salisbury, Cheers in Salisbury, Pips Liquors in Chestertown, Beverage Barn in Denton, and Bakers on Kent Island, as well as area farmers’ markets.
Blades Orchard also makes fresh pressed apple cider, known as “soft cider” which is non-alcoholic. It is sold in gallon and half-gallon containers seasonally from Blades Orchard farm stand, located at the edge of the farm.
Blades Orchard also sells blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, preserves and honey at the farm stand, as well as U-Pick apples on weekends in the fall months of September and October. Families come to pick apples, take family pictures, experience hayrides and tours of the farm, sample fresh pressed cider, as well as Faulkner Branch hard cider.