Apples to Apple Cider: Minnesota’s craft cider takes root

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Minnesota’s craft cider scene is growing. The sweeter cousin of craft beer contains a similar alcohol by volume, but with the nose-tickling bubbles of dry champagne. While not out of place next to Surly or Indeed’s latest seasonal on draft, cider is actually created in a process that has more in common with making wine than brewing beer. Craft cider seems to tiptoe a line between the two, appealing to craft beer and wine drinkers alike.

Cider makers throughout the state are adding capacity and experimenting with new recipes and flavors, drawing even more drinkers to the next big thing in craft beverages. We chatted with a few on Minnesota’s craft cider makers to get a glance at what’s on the horizon. Here’s a taste of what’s to come:

Sociable Cider Werks

Jim Watkins and Wade Thompson of Sociable Cider Werks // Photo courtesy Sociable Cider Werks

Jim Watkins and Wade Thompson of Sociable Cider Werks // Photo courtesy Sociable Cider Werks

About 15 people are waiting, some with silver-metal growlers in hand, when the Twin Cities’ first-of-its-kind cider house opened for business on a recent Friday afternoon. Co-owner Jim Watkins quickly slides behind the bar to help the thirsty customers forming a line that stretches out the door. Once the growlers were filled and his patrons were happily sipping pints of Hop-A-Wheelie Hopped Apple and Freewheeler Dry Apple Graff, Watkins bellied up to chat cider.

With plans to triple their output to 800 barrels next year, Watkins said demand for craft cider is explosive. Craft beer drinkers expect new and exciting flavors, and Watkins thinks cider plays an important role in quenching their thirst for something new. Case in point: Spoke Wrench Stout Apple, a delicious and smoky, malt-forward cider. It looks more like a stout than a cider, but it’s just the type of experience that Watkins believes customers are clamoring to have.

“You will not find a stout apple cider in any cidery in the country. No one’s doing hybrids. It’s really interesting and it gives us wide flavors to play with.”

Watkins said they’ll also be dabbling more into saison yeast and will be focusing on a barrel-aging program in 2015 “in the spirit of craft beer,” said Watkins.

Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery

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Image via Facebook.com/LoonJuiceCider

Justin Osborne is optimistic about the future of cider. After all, Four Daughters’ Loon Juice—a crisp cider fermented exclusively from regionally sourced Honeycrisp apples—is a hit so far.

It’s the Spring Valley, MN, winery’s first year producing Loon Juice, which sports a 6 percent ABV and sells in comely 5-liter kegs. Justin said it will also be available in six and twelve-packs of cans by Christmas. While supply has struggled to meet demand, Osborne said they are increasing their output so Minnesota’s cider fans won’t have a problem finding it in the months ahead.

“It’s going to be literally everywhere,” he says. “The product has been very well received up until this point so people should have no problem finding it.”

He attributes the demand to Loon Juice’s clean, pure taste.

“In our area, I think cider sales are going to rise quite a bit. This may sound arrogant, but I think a lot of that is because of what we’re putting out there. We’re going for apple purity. We ferment our stuff with all of the same equipment we use in our winery to make high-end wine. I think it’s something that people want.”

Sweetland Orchard

Image via facebook.com/sweetlandorchard

Image via facebook.com/sweetlandorchard

A new bottling line is in the works for Sweetland Orchard. That means more Sweetland’s Scrumpy Original and Northern Spy Hard Cider for the Twin Cities-area. It also means owners Gretchen and Mike Perbix won’t be bottling their ciders by hand next year.

“We’re very excited about that,” says Gretchen, with a laugh.

The couple’s cider production has quickly outgrown apple production their Webster, MN, orchard. Gretchen says they plan to use their homegrown crop of apples to experiment with new cider flavors, which they’ll feature in the batch-numbered series of releases dubbed Roundabout. One of those ciders, a tart-tasting blend of cider they made last Memorial Day with cherry syrup (a product of the Gretchen’s own bumper crop of cherries) and some homegrown rhubarb, will be a seasonal Roundabout feature.

“I had planned to drink cherry sodas all summer long, but we combined the cherry syrup and the rhubarb (into a cider) and it tasted great.”

Future recipes will likely include hops, as well as some barrel-aged and smoked ciders. The latter will be done by smoking apple pumice (the leftovers from pressing apples) using applewood from their orchard. It’s something they’ve never tried before, but as their brand has become more established they now have time to create new flavors and varieties, says Gretchen.

“This was our third year selling with our liquor license so all of our labels are really well-established profiles. Now we can think about experimenting again—and it’s a lot of fun.”

Wyndfall Artisan Cyder

Images via facebook.com/wyndfallcyderathochorchards

Images via facebook.com/wyndfallcyderathochorchards

With a background in homebrewing and a Master of Professional Studies in horticulture from the University of Minnesota, Rob Fisk was looking for a way to meld his two passions. Cider, it turns out, was it.

Rob will be using organic apples from Hoch Orchard in La Crescent, MN, to release three varieties of Wyndfall “cyders” this winter: Homesteader Hopped, Root River Raspberry, and Driftless Dry.

Each of their selections has a dryer profile and is made with ingredients grown at the orchard.

“A lot of cider makers use syrup or whatever they can get their hands on. We have the ability to select apples in the way that we feel like is going to make the best product,” explained Fisk.

He expects to make about 5,000 gallons of cider to be released in bombers and on tap in the Twin Cities this year.

Urban Forage Winery and Cider House

Image via facebook.com/urbanforagewinery

Image via facebook.com/urbanforagewinery

Jeff Zeitler wants his cider to taste like the season. Using locally foraged apples, rhubarb, and other ingredients—he’s making cider that fits with nature.

“Our focus is using what’s local and available to capture the flavor of Minnesota in spring and the fall—to put that in a bottle.”

Jeff and his wife, Gita, have purchased a building on East Lake Street that once housed a pawn shop and hair salon, and are turning it into Minneapolis’s first winery since Prohibition. Jeff, a landscape architect who’s been fermenting since his college days at the University of Minnesota, plans to make fruit wine, honey mead, and of course, cider. Their first two offerings are likely to be a ginger and an English cider. The couple is raising money to buy fermenting equipment on Kickstarter where they are nearly half way to their goal. If they can reach it, Jeff hopes to have Urban Forage up and running by spring 2015.

Even More Cider

Leidel’s Cider created and released their first hard cider earlier this year to create a new source of revenue to keep the family farm, owned since the 1800s, alive. As John Garland noted in a feature on Leidel’s Cider, Hebron is a mix of Haralson, McIntosh, Wealthy and Cortland, among a few other type of apples, that undergoes a four-week fermentation and two months maturing on its lees before being bottled unfiltered. The finished cider sports a light straw color with a lazy carb from a touch of bottle conditioning. Leidel’s also has another 100% brettanomyces fermented cider call Salem.

Milk & Honey Cider is a new cidery based out of Stearns County, Minnesota. Their cider is made from cider uncommon apples such as Newtown Pippen, Arkansas Black, Winesap, and a variety of Russets and Crabs, sourced from Minnesota, California, and Michigan. Milk & Honey plans to grow a selection of cider apples on their land that they will blend with the apples they already source. Their 2013 American Heirloom Cider is a semi-sweet cider made from a blend of 83 named heirloom varieties of apple. It can be found on tap at a handful of location in the Twin Cities Metro and in St. Cloud.

Harbo Cider‘s Splitladder Syder is another locally made hard cider from Welsh Heritage Farms in Lake Crystal, MN.

 
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