Minnesota’s guilded age of cider

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2016 Minnesota Cider Fair at Minnesota Harvest in Jordan // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

Jim Morrison of Sapsucker Farms could barely keep up with the nearly 1,000 people who attended the Minnesota Cider Guild’s first-ever Cider Fair on Sunday in Jordan. He was surprised by the sheer number of people looking for a sip of his Yellow Belly Hard Cider, but also at how many times he heard someone claim that they could not believe cider could taste this way, or that it was their drink of choice.

“This has been really affirming, this many people coming out and having cider,” Morrison says over the constant rumbling of chatter.

These proclamations from hundreds of cider drinkers inside the rustic barn at Minnesota Harvest Orchard were common. The newly-formed Minnesota Cider Guild is made up of nearly 12 cideries (10 of which were in attendance on Sunday) consisting of voting member cideries and general member cideries based in Minnesota. The Guild hopes these kinds of events promote cider in multiple ways, and really wants to educate more people in the state on what Minnesota cider is all about.

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2016 Minnesota Cider Fair at Minnesota Harvest in Jordan // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

The event itself, hosted on the 300-acre Minnesota Harvest apple orchard, wasn’t your typical fest. A large campfire kept people warm, live music played just outside of the barn, peacocks and other animals roamed about, and hundreds of apple trees made it all feel a little magical.

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Number 12 Cider House at the 2016 Minnesota Cider Fair // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

“To have it focused on just cider is huge,” Peter Gillitzer of Milk & Honey Ciders says of Cider Fair.

And of course a diverse range of apples and cider were on display. After all, there’s an eclectic mix of cider in the market, similar to local wine and craft beer. For example, Keepsake Cidery poured Wild, which is all about wild and spontaneous fermentation, whereas Wyndfall Cyder had Homesteader on hand, a cider dry-hopped with centennial hops, giving it just a hint of bitterness and a faint citrus aroma.

“Promoting Minnesota cider and cider culture is, in a nutshell, what we’re doing,” Rob Fisk of Wyndfall Cyder and a member of the Guild says. “Cider sort of has some identity issues. It’s a new category that’s gaining a lot of steam, and it’s like, what can we [as the Guild] do to educate consumers, bar managers, retailers? Things like that.”

Fisk says chatter on forming a guild went on for close to a year. During those conversations it was apparent that the group needed to make it a priority to not let Minnesota cider be defined by larger, national brands or trends coming from the United Kingdom or West Coast.

Additionally, the Guild is hoping to focus on research.

“Every industry needs to develop at some point, and I think that those of us who are making cider—Minnesota-based cideries—agree that some kind of organization would be good so that we can promote Minnesota cider, but also develop the industry, mostly through research,” Gretchen Perbix of Sweetland Orchard says.

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2016 Minnesota Cider Fair at Minnesota Harvest in Jordan // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

Aside from Guild activities, Perbix authored a successful grant proposal that will likely impact cider in Minnesota.

The $32,165 grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture will fund the planting of 12 different varieties of cider apples, including Foxwhelp, Kingston Black, Ashmead’s Kernel, and more, at eight different sites across the state. Ten trees of each variety, split between different rootstocks, will be planted at each site, that range geographically from Preston in the south, to Duluth.

“Of the cidermakers in town, there’s a subset of orchard-based cideries, and for those folks, I think this grant is important. As well as for the orchards in town that would like to have, really, anything to do with the growing cidery industry,” Perbix says.

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Minnesota Harvest in Jordan // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

Most apples grown at Minnesota orchards are for eating, not cidermaking, and that’s a problem for cideries looking to stay local and explore new flavor profiles.

“We would like access to different varieties so we can make different ciders—ciders that are more akin to wine, I suppose would be an apt comparison,” says Perbix. “We’re looking for the apples that have more tannins, more polyphenols in them.”

After these apple trees are planted, Perbix plans on conducting a second stage of the grant where the fruit can be evaluated.

“This grant really is to assess the hardiness of the trees,” Perbix explains.

The new Guild, a successful first-time tasting event, and the implementation of the grant will all be a boon to a slowly but steadily growing industry in Minnesota.

“Maybe we’re no longer the stepchild between beer and wine,” ponders Morrison.

If the strides the industry is making are any indication, Minnesota cider is about to be as ubiquitous as the state’s craft beer.

Photos by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

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