Artifact Cider’s Soham Bhatt has been at the forefront of contemporary U.S. cider-making for nearly a decade. An industry trailblazer who has built a sterling reputation for thoughtful, sustainable, terroir-driven cider showcasing apple varieties native to Artifact’s central Massachusetts home, Bhatt started out as a cider-drinker-turned-home-fermenter before his love for making cider and his excitement for the opportunities offered within the young, hungry American cider industry convinced him to turn pro in 2014. With his childhood friend and business partner Jake Mazar, Bhatt has grown Artifact from a project on his kitchen stovetop to a highly respected and successful cidery with taprooms at their Florence, Mass., cidery and in downtown Cambridge. With over 90 percent of the apples used by Artifact coming from within a 200-mile radius of their cidery, Bhatt’s passion for hyper-local sourcing aimed at expressing the flavor of Northeast America has created innovative and unique ciders with terroir at their heart.
Now, for the first time in his career, Bhatt is directing his complex creative skills and processes toward perfecting the capture of a different terroir, that of his Indian heritage and his summers spent in India as a child. One of just a handful of South Asian cider-makers in the world, Bhatt has made the first Indian terroir-driven ciders in the U.S., giving drinkers an intense and considered taste of two very specific Indian flavors: Alphonso mango in his Jalsa cider and guava in Juhu Beach, both collaboration releases . While there are many fruited ciders on the market, the care and precision that Bhatt has taken to precisely revisit both the flavor and spirit of these fruits — working with his collaborators at New York’s acclaimed Dhamaka restaurant and ethically sourced spice retailer Diaspora Co. to establish a shared sense of memory and sensory appreciation — has been a unique undertaking.
Below, Bhatt discusses his journey into cider, why terroir-driven cider matters, the inspiration behind these collaborations, and the innovative cider-making methods he used to ensure these ciders offer drinkers an authentic taste of Indian culture.
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1. Tell me how you got into cider and decided to become a cider-maker.
I was introduced to cider as a customer. Jake and I grew up together in central Massachusetts and have been lifelong friends. We were roommates after college and discovered cider together, drinking Woodchuck and Harpoon before starting to dig deeper and seeking out U.S. and European craft ciders like West County and Oliver’s. This tied into our shared interest in how food and drink culture is connected to agricultural systems, which sparked the idea for a cidery with a focus on community and emphasizing local. Jake had moved from finance to farming, and I was working in biotech when we saw the potential for cider as a local Northeastern specialty, like lobster or clam chowder. I wanted our cider to showcase the history and the quality of apples in the Northeast and demonstrate how they pair naturally with our food and culture, and how this has evolved.
I started making cider in one-gallon jugs and was by no means a genius or prodigy. In fact, it took me about five years to find my voice as a cider-maker. We started the company completely on our own — totally bootstrapped, working mainly nights and weekends for the first three years. It’s taken time, but now we are recognized for innovation and trying to give customers new expressions of apples, new ways to think about them, and new processes. Cider-making in the U.S. died in the 1840s, 50s, and there is very little information left from that period, but now we have new research, apple varieties, and access to knowledge that American cider-makers didn’t have before. There is no such thing as traditional American cider — we’re inventing it all from scratch and creating those traditions through innovation.
2. Artifact launched in 2014, when there were just 400 cideries in the U.S. — what has it been like watching and being a part of a young but growing industry that has tripled in size since then?
It’s been exciting to see this first stage of the evolution of the industry. I liken the growth of the cider industry to the waves of coffee drinking we’ve seen in recent years. Like cider, coffee has been consumed for thousands of years, but not as a mainstream drink. Coffee evolved from convenience beverage to an experiential beverage, spearheaded by Starbucks, with fancy shops and different flavor profiles, to the advent of the “Melbourne coffee shop” with pour-overs and European styles; different roasts focusing on geographies and terroirs and complex preparations. A theoretical fourth wave should follow where terroir and flavor profile come to the fore, similarly to wine.
Cider is now on the edge of entering into its second wave, following its resurgence in the U.S. from around 2012 or 2013, when new brands and new perspectives came in. Big brands like Angry Orchard and Bulmers were instrumental in driving that first wave — craft cideries might malign them, but they did a lot to push cider forward. It’s a dynamic time to be part of the industry, and I’m glad there’s a lot more growth to come. Cider has a very contemporary growth curve and it’s now at a transitional point, with data showing a significant transfer of money from macro to regional cider production, a strong signal we’re entering into the next phase.
3. Your approach to cider-making is source- and terroir-focused. Explain what that means for how your ciders are produced and how they taste, and why this is important to you as a cider-maker.
I think that people often misunderstand the idea of being terroir-driven as being traditional. Tradition is a part of the conversation, but for me, terroir comes down to three components. There are geographical considerations — where the fruit is from, the soil, geography, and elevation. Then, there are climatic conditions which can change year to year and affect how the apples are grown. Finally, there is the human element, which people can forget about, which is the way people do things. Cider, wine, cheese, and coffee do not manifest in nature — they all require a human being to create them and make them look and taste the way they do. When I think of terroir, I think of how these three ideas connect together. Terroir is how the place and the people influence what the final product is and what it tastes like. I know some people think terroir is tasting the earth, but I don’t agree. For me, it’s about having a consistent flavor profile that is unique to this place and those people. I’m especially interested in the hero story of certain apple varieties, particularly local ones, and I think we are at the very beginning of understanding which apple varieties are unique for cider-making as opposed to what’s available.
4. You’re one of the only South Asian cider-makers in the U.S. — why haven’t you made a South Asian-inspired cider before now?
I’m very aware that using names and logos that play straight into South Asian cultural iconography as a way of combating appropriation by owning it ourselves can be effective as a way of showcasing diversity in an industry and as a branding tool. But it can also be a double-edged sword. I’ve been wary of being pigeonholed as “the Indian cider-maker” because this can become your niche and creates certain expectations that can be difficult to shake off. I wanted to build my brand based on my interest in the exploration of terroir and modern culture in the Northeast, varietal exploration, and the innovative methods we’ve brought to this young and growing industry. I waited 10 years to do this because I wanted to find an authentic reason to make ciders that are reflective of and adjacent to my heritage while also aligning with the philosophy of our brand, which I feel we’ve achieved with these collaborations.
5. How did the Jalsa collaboration with Dhamaka come about?
We connected with the Dhamaka team and chef two years ago when we hosted dinner at the restaurant. The idea was to break the standard aesthetic and show that cider doesn’t have to be paired with European cuisine, and to demonstrate how cider’s properties pair well with Indian food. We looked for the most authentic, bold Indian restaurant to work with and found Dhamaka. The event was a success, and we began a conversation with Dhamaka’s chef about the concept of terroir in Indian food and how this could be expressed as a cider.
Our conversations about the importance of seasonality and regionality brought us to the Alphonso mango. Growing up, I remember my dad complaining about American mangos, and when I visited India as a child I understood why — the Alphonso mango was revered like a religion. It was so different from what we could get in America. I immediately saw a comparison with the seasonal and regional way I use apples. Although there are other mango ciders out there, I knew I could develop something different and thoughtful and authentic and extend my use of the concept of terroir into a South Asian-focused cider by using a specific mango variety.
6. What makes the Jalsa different from other mango ciders out there?
When cideries use adjuncts, they will either add them directly into the fermentation, add them after the fact, or combine both. Macro-cideries often add flavoring rather than actual fruit. We didn’t want to use these methods, so we employed the same approach we use with our apples — placing the varietal at the center of the story.
I looked at what makes the Alphonso different and unique. I put the team through a barrage of mango exposure with a bunch of different Alphonso mango products, including chunks, puree, unsweetened puree, and juice boxes like I grew up with, which acted as an important nostalgic trigger. I then gave them different mango varieties at different states of ripeness to explain the difference of texture and experience, and showed them how to eat mango with their teeth the way South Asians do, to show them how the contact of mouth with skin allows the pungency and evergreen bitterness of the skin to come through and balance sweetness of the pulp.
We then created a mood board of how to capture the whole Alphonso mango experience in our cider. We achieved this using four different components — a mango wine with sugar, water, and Alphonso puree from India, a mango puree and apple juice co-ferment, and a cider base made from yeast with an estery expression of tropical fruits. The challenge was finding the fourth component to replicate the skin. Fortunately, I already knew that mango skin contains a compound that is chemically similar to poison ivy, so I needed to find another way to capture its pungency and flavor. The solution was sitting right in front of us: hops! Beers are often described as having mango flavor because of certain hop varieties, so I used Southern Cross from New Zealand and American Cascade to make a hopped cider, then finished it with straight unsweetened Alphonso mango puree to capture the full spectrum of the flavor of the Alphonso varietal and memories.
7. And how did your Juhu Beach collaboration with Diaspora Co. get off the ground?
I was in touch with the Diaspora team at around the same time [as Dhamaka]. My cousin worked there, and I saw the opportunity to create a similar collaboration but from a different angle. With Dhamaka, I was very focused on terroir and seasonality, but with Diaspora it was a collaboration based on shared values. Diaspora imports authentic fresh South Asian spices and supports local communities by working directly with producers to decolonize the spice trade. Because Diaspora sources directly from farmers, they create an agricultural value chain, sharing the same local-sourcing imperatives that we have at Artifact, so I felt comfortable working with them to create an authentic product based on memory and nostalgia.
8. You have crafted Juhu Beach to be served with Diaspora Co.’s chaat masala spice as a Margarita-style rim rather than mixing the spice into the cider itself. (When purchased for external consumption, the spice and cider come in a kit so drinkers can add the rim at home.) Why did you decide to approach the collaboration in this way?
Every other chai cider simply adds the spice into the cider, so I wanted something different that was reflective of the culture and memory that myself and the Diaspora team related to the flavors we chose to use.
Diaspora were in the process of launching their chaat masala, and we talked about our families in Mumbai, which got us thinking of how chaat masala and Mumbai connect to local street food. From here, we came up with the idea of creating a spiced fresh fruit experience reminiscent of Mumbai’s popular Juhu Beach snack, but instead of adding the spice to the cider, we decided to make it recognizable to people with chaat masala rim that looks a bit like a Margarita, paired with a guava cider that is a pure expression of fruit like the Jalsa mango cider.
9. These are the first ciders of their kind in the U.S. What do you think they bring to the American craft cider market?
I think that in general, the promise of craft has always been to offer the customer more — more flavor, variety, story, meaning. You can go out and buy mango and guava ciders; that’s easy, but for us, it was about saying, “Here is a version of these ciders that is made through the lens of somebody whose community has this imprinted into their DNA.” It’s is a multi-generational experience similar to heritage of the Northeastern apple farms we work with. We’ve created fruit ciders in a way that has not quite been done before. The feedback we’ve received has been really positive about the depth, complexity, and intensity of the flavors we’ve created through the work and thought we put into this.
10. Are you planning to make any more South Asian-inspired ciders. If so, are there any particular flavors you’d like to work with?
It’s about inspiration for me — if the right opportunity to work with another collaborator or a particular flavor came up, I’d be open to it. I would love to do something in India; for example, to use our processes to create a Kashmiri single-varietal cider. I also recently spoke to an Indian cider-maker at Wild Craft cidery in Mumbai about working on something with seasonal spice blends, which would showcase different seasonal chai varieties to show that chai is not a monolithic ingredient, and create a cider that is authentic and educational.
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