FAIR HAVEN — Bobby and Amy Malo's love story starts on the West Coast. They both worked at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in San Diego, California, bonding over their shared interest in World War II air crafts. They dated for a while before moving to Seattle, Washington, where Amy got the idea to start making cider using Trader Joe's juice and yeast in a bottle under the apartment's kitchen sink.
"The first couple of batches we ended up using to cook," Amy said, laughing. "And then we got better and better, and then we started to get other ideas from the other cideries."
After visiting Bobby's family, who lived in Fair Haven, the couple fell in love with the village, the orchards and the small-town feel. They moved cross-country, bought a double-unit house on Richmond Avenue in the center of the village, and on the Fourth of July weekend in 2015, opened up Sterling Cidery.
"We had a baptism-by-fire weekend," Amy said.
By then they were experienced cider makers, using fresh juice from Ontario Orchards. Bobby is the head cider maker, something he never saw himself doing before, and he can tell you almost anything about it.
He comes home from his day job at the local bank around 3 p.m. to work on the production side. Amy, who is a social studies teacher for Hannibal School District, helps out when she can, too. Bobby makes the cider well into the year, but now that he has one year of business-scale production under his belt, he hopes it will be a little less "round-the-clock" this year.
Last year the Malos produced 300 gallons of cider, and this year they hope to produce about 500.
"We have five varieties," Bobby said. "We have a standard hard cider. We have a dry-hopped hard cider. We have a hard cider that's aged with American oak. We have a black currant hard cider, hence the different color."
The black currant cider, called Cassis, is one of Sterling Cidery's best sellers.
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Despite their ever-growing knowledge, the Malos are always learning and experimenting, and have found the craft beverage industry in Cayuga County to be open and welcoming. A few local wineries have given them pointers and suggested new equipment and ways to grow their business.
"It's been overwhelming how people open their doors," Amy said. "It's like, 'Let me show you, let me show you how you do it.' There's no guarded secrets."
The Malos are also amazed by the "apple knowledge" from neighbors that stop by. Amy said she and her husband feel like they are getting a Cornell University education on apple growing and cider making. That combination of help from the orchards and local wineries is helping Sterling Cidery flourish, they said.
"I think the rules of cider making are being written as we speak, because really, before now, there really wasn't much of a precedent," Amy said. "There's Woodchuck, and like the big cider producers, but beyond that, we really just had British cider making to refer to. But now, this little area of New York is becoming a hotspot for cider because of the abundance of amazing apples."
For now, Sterling Cidery is only open weekends. Each year, the Malos plan to tackle a new venture for their business, like distributing their product to bars, booking area bands, increasing their hours and adding snacks to their menu. This year they're increasing production, and will stay open later — until Dec. 31.
They'd also like to explore making new kinds of cider — specifically single varietals, something they said is more attuned with the East Coast. Amy said that right now, they have more of a West Coast style of blending apples and infusing their cider with things like oak chips and black currant.
"We kind of want to do both because I think that symbolizes us," she said. "We're East Coast and West Coast."
"Right," Bobby said. "We're fusion."