ALBION — A chemical engineer and a longtime hedge fund manager are onto a new joint venture — hard cider.

As the owners of Freedom’s Edge Cider Co., Ned Ervin and Andrew Kaplan are fully invested in the full-time endeavor.

“Recently, there’s been a cider revival,” Ervin said. “We’re trying to build the Maine champion of draft cider.”

For the past year, Ervin of Waterville has traveled to his brother-in-law’s Belgrade home to produce cider out of Kaplan’s garage.

Freedom’s Edge Cider Co. supplies restaurants in Maine, including Gritty’s in Portland, Cushnoc Brewing Co. in Augusta and Mainely Brews and The Proper Pig in Waterville.

The co-owners aim to develop Freedom’s Edge Cider Co. to a larger scale, similar to wholesale producers Angry Orchard of Walden, New York; Downeast of East Boston, Mass.; and Citizen Cider of Burlington, Vermont.

Ervin and Kaplan said they were surprised to learn Maine did not have a major cider maker. Across the state, there are 17 operations making hard cider, according to www.ciderguide.com. Ervin and Kaplan said their hope is Freedom’s Edge will become the largest by the end of 2021.

“Maine apples are pretty amazing,” Kaplan said. “Given the history of cider in Maine, why isn’t there a great Maine cider?”

Ned Ervin, left, and brother-in-law Andrew Kaplan of Freedom’s Edge Cider Co. work last Wednesday at their apple orchard in Albion. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Kaplan, 55, is married to Ervin’s sister, Kate. In 2018, they moved from New York City back to Maine full time, and Kaplan, who worked as a hedge fund manager and investor in private businesses, immediately sought to get involved with a local business.

Ervin, 38, is a chemical engineer and former chef. He was the head chef at the Sugarloaf Inn in Carrabassett Valley and went to Cornell University in New York to study chemical engineering.

“I had the creative side of things, but there was always the quantitative analytical side that I wanted to develop,” Ervin said. “I think it’s made me suited uniquely for this endeavor because cider making is art and science.”

Kaplan, a self-described historian, said 90% of Kennebec County households in the 1800s produced their own cider, and cider outsold beer in Maine from the 1600s through the 1870s. Cider declined when people moved to cities, and Prohibition put an end to nearly all cider orchards in Maine.

They are working on plans to build a larger production facility on a 90-acre farm in Albion and planting and grooming an apple orchard.

The cider’s name — Freedom’s Edge — is explained simply: Their farm is near the Albion-Freedom line.

Most cider apples, a combination of wild and cultivated, are not sourced from Ervin and Kaplan’s farm. For now, the business partners buy apples from a handful of orchard partners across central Maine.

Kaplan, who is on the board of Waterville Creates!, said he hopes to open a tasting room on Main Street in Waterville, perhaps in 2021.

Ervin’s family roots in Waterville date back four generations, and his grandparents had an orchard on Mayflower Hill Road.

“This is where we’re from, this is where our parents are,” Ervin said. “Just getting back home so my kids could grow up with their grandparents, with their cousins. The idea of starting this business — really around family, is a lot of it.”

The Kaplans have five children, between ages 8 and 23.

Ervin and his wife, Erica, have two children, ages 1 and 4.

Ned and Erica want Freedom’s Edge to be a sustainable business. Erica Ervin is working on social media and Kate Kaplan is doing the designs for labels and marketing.

Ned Ervin of Freedom’s Edge Cider Co. checks a container fermenting cider Wednesday at the company’s new location in Albion. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Kaplan’s daughter, Sophie, a 2019 graduate of Colby College in Waterville, designed the Freedom’s Edge website.

“We’re hoping over time, it creates a pathway for our kids,” Andy Kaplan said. “It’s really hard to find great jobs up here, and the lure of leaving here, of going somewhere else to make money, is strong, but the sense of community is unbeatable.”

At the Albion farm, the Freedom’s Edge co-owners have planted about 1,200 trees. Their own apples should be available next fall, but Ervin and Kaplan said they plan to continue buying 80% of their apples from the established orchard partnerships.

They are growing bittersweet apples in Albion, which are not eaten. When fermented, bittersweet apples have a lot of sugar, which makes them a good option for cider.

“A great cider is made with a blend of 15 to 20% bittersweet, and the rest a variety of eating apples,” Kaplan said.

Ervin and Kaplan press the apples themselves, ferment until dry and age the fermented apples in tanks. They add a small amount of sweetening from fresh apples to create the cider. Ervin described them as “apples most people have never heard of.”

The ingredients in the cider are few and simple: apples and yeast. The bittersweet apples, which are rarely grown anywhere in the country, are used to create structure and sweetness, without actually using sugar.

Ervin and Kaplan use other apples, including McIntoshes and Cortlands, to create a base and balance. Freedom’s Edge is the company’s original blend, but Ervin and Kaplan hope to roll out two more ciders next year.

They plan to make 30,000 gallons of cider over the winter. Ervin and Kaplan said they hope to distribute across Maine by the end of 2021.

Staying home and keeping the central Maine feel is important as the brand expands.

“Our first priority is to grow in the immediate area around Kennebec County, because that’s where we’re from and where the business is,” Kaplan said. “We want to be known as the cider that represents the place that we’re from, and the place that we’re from is Waterville.”

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