Gale Thomas took a gamble when he brewed his first batch of cider.
Although young and living under the rules of Prohibition, he didn’t stop from making hard cider in barrels and selling it quickly to people who drank it fast. Two generations later, his barely tweaked method of brewing still produces quality cider and sells steadily throughout the year.
Today, Gale’s grandson Steve and his wife, Elizabeth, own and operate the Thomas Family Winery in Madison. In addition to their wines, they sell a variety of ciders. Those include Gale’s hard cider—a traditional brew—and a scrumpy, which typically has a less acidic, more bitter taste. A batch of apples from the fall is typically ready around mid-spring, and the winery hosts festive releases for each new brew.
Although Gale never tasted the namesake cider brewed by his grandson, his legacy continues. The Thomas’ most recent cider, a scrumpy called “Liam’s Hill,” was made with apples from an orchard planted in 1998, when Steve found out he was having a son.
“It all started when my grandfather and I went up to our cabin to fish one weekend, but it was too rainy,” Steve says. “So we played cards instead and talked about making cider.”
All of the Thomas’ apples come from a band of orchards near Peru. They soften for several weeks before being ground, fermented and barrel-or-bottle-conditioned for many months, ending up with a seven percent alcohol by volume.
How to drink it
Steve suggests pairing cider, which he considers a “social, snacky beverage,” with light foods like cheese, ham and nuts. The winery’s pub-like tasting room in a restored 1850s carriage house offers a small menu, including their house-made Gale’s hard cider cheddar cheese.
If you’ve taken a bottle home, Steve recommends serving Gale’s Hard Cider with spicy foods, like chips and salsa or curry. The tanginess of cider contrasts with the bite of the spice.