I went on five ballpark road trips in 2015, including one in New England. But the time that I spent in Burlington, Vermont, was not part of that trip. It was a standalone long weekend that included Minor League Baseball (the Vermont Lake Monsters, natch) as well as a variety of other diverting and educational activities.
One such activity took place on the afternoon of Saturday, July 11. My cousin, Ali, and I visited Burlington’s Citizen Cider.
Our visit was arranged by the Lake Monsters, who count Citizen Cider as one of their sponsors. Their ciders are sold at Centennial Field, within the outfield-area Vermont Frames Pavilion and Bar. Upon arriving, we were greeted by company co-founder Kris Nelson.
Kris, originally from Staten Island, moved to Vermont in 2002 and initially was employed in the field of social work. He later became involved in the wine business, and in this capacity met chemist Bryan Holmes and farmer Justin Heilenbach. They bonded over a mutual interest in hard cider and its untapped potential, and founded Citizen Cider in 2010. Their first location was a decommissioned military base, Fort Ethan Allen; the current Burlington location, comprising a bar, restaurant and 6000 square-foot production facility, opened in 2014.
Kris said that the initial reaction to this business venture was generally along the lines of “Cider? Why cider?” But he and his co-founders persevered, believing that the skepticism was a result of a lack of knowledge.
“We just kept marching forward,” he said. “We asked ourselves, ‘Why is cider not happening?’ At the time, it was always marketed to young women. And then came Angry Orchard and why is that? Because men are angry?…Cider wasn’t cool, people weren’t connected. We’re Citizen Cider because we wanted to create ciders for the people.”
Kris set us up with two tasting flights, comprised of 10 ciders total. (Pun apple-ations for said ciders are not just tolerated. They’re encouraged.) The apples are obtained within a 250-mile radius of Burlington, and pressed at the Happy Valley Orchard in Middlebury.
I like alcohol, sometimes too much, but cider is especially appealing to me as it is naturally gluten-free. Since getting diagnosed with celiac disease in 2012, I have had to give up drinking beer and, thus, cider has stepped into the void. Kris said that the rise of gluten-free diets (whether it’s a medical necessity or otherwise) is “great timing” for Citizen’s Cider. Hey, if somebody’s got to profit off of my disease then it may as well be these guys.
We started with the first five ciders on the list, excepting the beer-infused (and thus not gluten-free) “Citizen Zero.”
Pale translucence was a consistent theme here, but each cider had its own taste. What follows are my not very in-depth notes; click on each cider’s name to see the official description (when possible).
Unified Press: The flagship cider. Drinkable, dry and crisp.
Wit’s Up: Very dry, less acidic. Fermented from Belgian Wit yeast.
Happy Valley Heirloom: Fruity and tart.
B-Cider: Made with honey. Light and sweet.
Olmsted: Made with wild apples. Heavy and dry.
Northern Spy: Made entirely with Northern Spy apples. Acidic.
The Americran: Made with cranberries and apples.
“We buy from Cranberry Bob,” Kris told me. Cranberry Bob appears to work for the Vermont Cranberry Company. I mean, when your name is Cranberry Bob, then I guess you have no choice but to go into the cranberry biz.
Brose: Rose for bros. Made with Vermont blueberries, which I assume were provided by Blueberry Bob.
The Full Nelson: “It tastes like a floral IPA,” said Kris. This one’s designed to appeal to the beer drinkers who may be wary of embracing cider.
Dirty Mayor: “Rick is the Dirty Mayor,” said Kris, though I no longer remember who Rick is. At any rate, Kris described this one as “emotionally challenging” as it’s not a true cider. A nip of ginger is what makes it dirty.
We then headed next door to the production facility. The truck in the below photo was carrying a payload of unpasteurized sweet cider.
Cans? What is this, a French film festival?
Each fermentation tank holds 3000 gallons of cider.
“Cider was a national pastime, but it’s been forgotten,” said Kris. “Absolutely, people were drinking cider and watching baseball at the turn of the century. So we love that our stuff is in the ballpark.
“We hope that cider is back, and back to stay. It’s what we’re betting our lives on.”
As you may recall I visited Williamsport last season, but this time around I’ll be spending the evening as a member of the team’s promo crew. From there it’s off to Maryland, taking in four games within a region that is definitely not lacking in Minor League Baseball. The relatively last-second nature of this trip, combined with the hurricane uncertainty surrounding the east coast, means that many of the specifics have yet to be ironed out. But I’ll do my best to roll with it; we all will.
As always, get in touch with any recommendations regarding things to do/see/eat while on the road. Time is always at a premium, but I do my best to take everything into consideration. Really, I do.
But, jeez, since I’m returning to the road I better hurry up and finish this “Return to the Road” series of blog posts. The previous dispatch covered Day 5 of my Carolinas trip, focusing on the culinary delights and shopping meccas to be found between Durham and Burlington.
Today’s post, then, starts in Burlington. One more time, in bold:
Day 6: Burlington, N.C.
I attended the B-Royals game the night before, but before departing I the next day I made a point to explore Burlington’s downtown area.
It’s an appealing place, with more traditional establishments such as shoe stores, tailors, and banks sharing space with tattoo parlors, art studios and dive bars.
A Rookie ball town with Class A aspirations:
The ultimate destination was Zack’s, an iconic hot dog joint that’s been in business for 83 years. Simply put, this is a must-visit establishment if you’re ever in Burlington.
The place was jam-packed and the service lightning quick. I ordered a hot dog with slaw and onions, cheese fries, and the third (and best) Cheerwine incarnation I was to come across: an ice-cold glass bottle.
Thoroughly satiated, I then made the idyllic drive to Danville.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the afternoon was spent in a losing battle with the Danville Best Western’s internet connection. I should have explored the town instead, especially the famous “Millionaire’s Row.”
But such is life on these trips, mistakes are made and you can never do it all.
Day 7: Winston-Salem, N.C.
The final destination was Winston-Salem, home of the Dash. Not too much to report from here that hasn’t already been reported, but I would like to note that prior to attending the ballgame I stopped at Bib’s BBQ in the city’s downtown.
The motto of this establishment is “It’s Not Eastern or Western…It’s Bestern!”
“Bestern”, in my case, consisted of a three-bone plate of St. Louis Style ribs, red cabbage slaw, hush puppies (the best I had on the trip!), Texas toast, collard greens and a sweet tea.
Writing these posts agitates me — why can’t these plates of food actually be in front of me now, in real life? In New York City I subsist on red velvet donuts, taco trucks, and Triscuits.
Bibb’s is located on 5th Street, not be confused with 4 1/2 Street.
As for downtown itself, I didn’t have much time to explore. The two photographs I have feature buildings right across the street from one another. This historic and dignified church…
is in a perpetual stare-off with this monolithic fortress of unspecified commercial concern.
Anti-climactic as it may be, this really is all that I’ve got from the Carolinas (save for the inevitable pics of the random swag that was accumulated).
Thanks, as always for reading. Hope everyone safely weathers the storm this weekend, and here’s to an excellent last week of the Minor League season!
I was fortunate enough to go on a series of road trips this season, all of which featured jam-packed itineraries. One unfortunate side effect of a busy schedule is that I found it difficult to explore the areas I was visiting outside of the confines of the ballpark.
Difficult, but not entirely impossible. On Sunday, September 5th, I was was able to make a brief stop at “Snake Alley” in Burlington, IA (home of the Bees, of course).
Located in Burlington’s idyllic, sprawling, and somewhat ramshackle “Heritage Hill” neighborhood, Snake Alley is billed as nothing less than “the Crookedest Street in the World”.
A brief history, from the official Snake Alley website:
Snake Alley was constructed in 1894 as an experimental street design. The intention was to provide a more direct link between the downtown business district and the neighborhood shopping area located on North Sixth Street.
Working together, three public-spirited German immigrants conceived and carried out the idea of a winding hillside street, reminiscent of vineyard paths in France and Germany.
But unlike most vineyard paths, you are allowed to drive down this one. So, I did. The view from the top:
People actually live on this road. One of the houses:
The view, upon reaching the bottom:
And, really, that’s about all I had time for. But that’s what’s great about Minor League Baseball — it can bring you to small towns, such as Burlington, that might otherwise be overlooked. And an afternoon at Heritage Hill combined with a Bees game at Community Field that evening would make for a truly excellent day of leisure.
A long-term goal of mine is to be able to combine the ballpark experience with additional content from the town where said ballpark resides. I still have a ways to go toward truly accomplishing this, but Snake Alley was a start.
And I truly appreciate that a pair of readers took the time to email me with suggestions regarding things to check out while I was in the Midwest. In addition to recommending Snake Alley, former Bees employee Adam Small mentioned that the Old Thresher’s Reunion was well worth checking out. Over 100,000 people flood the town of Mount Pleasant, IA (population 10,000) over Labor Day weekend as part of an extensive tribute to vintage agricultural equipment, and country music shows and live theater take place nightly. Here’s a shot from the official Midwest Old Threshers web page, which conveys what a truly American experience this must be:
Small also suggested stopping at Ross’ Restaurant in Bettendorf, IA (one of the Quad Cities). A 24-hour diner, the restaurant is best known as the home of the Magic Mountain. According to a local newspaper article, the Magic Mountain “starts off with grilled Texas toast covered with Ross’ special hamburger meat, then is piled high with a choice of either French fries or hash browns and smothered with cheese sauce. A diner can request his or her mountain be capped with snow — an option of chopped onion.”
Unfortunately, I cannot find images of this mammoth concoction online. Use your imagination, or, better yet, visit the restaurant and send me a picture.
Also providing some Midwestern food recommendations was Iowa native Shaun Northrup (now VP of tickets for the Fresno Grizzlies). He wrote:
If you stop at any restaurant/gas station and you see a “tenderloin” on the menu — ORDER IT!! It is a fried pork sandwich.
As you may recall, I did get a chance to order a Tenderloin while taking in at the game at Burlington’s Community Field.
I was a bit intimidated by the Tenderloin, and didn’t quite know how to approach it from a condiment perspective, so I contacted Northrup for advice. His reply:
“‘With Everything’ — ketchup, mustard, pickles, onion, salt, and pepper.”
Another food recommendation I was able to enjoy was Sterzing’s Potato Chips, a company based out of Burlington. They were crisp, tasty, and refreshingly simple: potatoes, oil, and salt. Native Iowans who go on to live elsewhere are known to suffer Sterzing’s withdrawal, or so I’ve heard.
A final recommendation, and one I passed the exit for but did not have time to check out, was the Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter, IA. I’ll definitely work it into my plans the next time I’m in the area. A visit there would almost certainly have resulted in an interesting experience, perhaps along the lines of Greenville’s Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum.
Well, that’ll most likely do it for my 2010 “On the Road” content. Thanks for reading, and feel free to get in touch anytime regarding anything in this blog post, anything in Minor League Baseball, anything in America, or anything at all.