The Great Northeast Make Merry @ Sociable Cider Werks

make merry
old fashioned English

: enjoy oneself with others, especially by dancing, eating, and drinking.
synonyms: have fun, have a good time, enjoy oneself, have a party, celebrate, carouse, feast, ‘eat, drink, and be merry’, revel, roister;
informal: party, have a ball

Minneapolis Craft Market and Frank & Ernest Markets & Events return to Sociable Cider Werks for a series of festive holiday markets in their Northeast taproom this winter season. We’ll be at Sociable Cider Werks from 5–9pm on Thursdays, November 29, December 6, 13, and 20.

Join us to shop handcrafted goods and foods by local makers, because holiday shopping is a lot more fun with a cider in hand!

More details and makers list here: https://www.facebook.com/events/291680534922909/

The Great Northeast Make Merry @ Sociable Cider Werks

make merry
old fashioned English

: enjoy oneself with others, especially by dancing, eating, and drinking.
synonyms: have fun, have a good time, enjoy oneself, have a party, celebrate, carouse, feast, ‘eat, drink, and be merry’, revel, roister;
informal: party, have a ball

Minneapolis Craft Market and Frank & Ernest Markets & Events return to Sociable Cider Werks for a series of festive holiday markets in their Northeast taproom this winter season. We’ll be at Sociable Cider Werks from 5–9pm on Thursdays, November 29, December 6, 13, and 20.

Join us to shop handcrafted goods and foods by local makers, because holiday shopping is a lot more fun with a cider in hand!

More details and makers list here: https://www.facebook.com/events/291680534922909/

The Great Northeast Make Merry @ Sociable Cider Werks

make merry
old fashioned English

: enjoy oneself with others, especially by dancing, eating, and drinking.
synonyms: have fun, have a good time, enjoy oneself, have a party, celebrate, carouse, feast, ‘eat, drink, and be merry’, revel, roister;
informal: party, have a ball

Minneapolis Craft Market and Frank & Ernest Markets & Events return to Sociable Cider Werks for a series of festive holiday markets in their Northeast taproom this winter season. We’ll be at Sociable Cider Werks from 5–9pm on Thursdays, November 29, December 6, 13, and 20.

Join us to shop handcrafted goods and foods by local makers, because holiday shopping is a lot more fun with a cider in hand!

More details and makers list here: https://www.facebook.com/events/291680534922909/

Year in Review: Minnesota Beer & Cider in 2018

Beers on the bar at La Doña Cervecería // Photo by Daniel Murphy

By the end of 2018, the United States will have more than 7,000 breweries and brewpubs in operation. To help that sink in, consider that a decade ago that number was 1,574. And 40 years ago, in 1978, there were just 89. 

This astounding growth in the number of breweries—the vast majority of them independent craft breweries—has been even more dramatic in Minnesota. In 2008, the state had less than 10 breweries and brewpubs. A decade later, the total number has reached over 170, thanks in part to the addition of 29 new breweries and brewpubs in 2018 alone.

The average brewery in Minnesota is skewing ever smaller, with more breweries opening taprooms with plans for limited or no distribution at all. Roughly half of the breweries that opened in 2018 are located in small towns outside of Minnesota’s major cities and aim to serve just their local residents. The other half of new breweries opened in the Twin Cities metro, Duluth, and Rochester, where competition—especially in the distribution market (have you seen the beer shelves at your local liquor store lately?)—is at an all time high. Many of these brewers are opting out of the larger distribution and retail markets by carving out a niche as neighborhood taprooms. 

Gravity Storm Brewing Cooperative in Austin, Minnesota is just one of the small town breweries to open in 2018 // Photo by Louis Garcia

Gravity Storm Brewing Cooperative in Austin, Minnesota is just one of the small town breweries to open in 2018 // Photo by Louis Garcia

Four Minnesota breweries closed at the time of publishing, and two are set to close at the end of the year: Cosmos Brewing closed in February and had planned to relaunch with a taproom, but there’s been no update. NorthGate Brewing officially closed in March after a potential sale fell through. Urban Lodge Brewery & Restaurant in Sauk Rapids was sold in August to the El Loro Mexican Restaurant chain, which plans to continue operating it as a brewpub under the El Loro name. Great Waters Brewing Company, St. Paul’s oldest brewpub, closed on November 18. And both F-Town Brewing Company in Faribault is slated to close on December 31. The owners of Gull Dam Brewing in Nisswa are retiring at the end of the year and are in the process of selling the business and brand name. While the taproom is set to close on January 1, 2019, the brewery may reopen as Gull Dam again pending a finalized sale.

Some of the biggest challenges local breweries faced in 2018 (and expect again in 2019) are the rising cost of raw materials, the ability to source cans, retaining key employees and brewers, growing production to meet demand, and navigating the competitive waters of distribution. Considering this, it’s likely we’ll see more closings in 2019; however, the number of openings will still well outpace closings, and many of the brewery owners we spoke with feel there’s still plenty of growth potential for companies making quality beer and marketing them well. 

Lupulin Brewing in Big Lake is one such success story this year. After blowing its original production projections out of the water, the brewery is expanding in a big way, installing a 30-barrel
brewhouse to replace its original 10-barrel system and keep up with demand for its hazy IPAs. Another success is La Doña Cervecería, which opened in October and serves the Latino community with Latin-inspired beers and a taproom that celebrates Latino culture. 

But 2018 didn’t come up roses for everyone—beer drinkers raised their glasses in a final toast to several beloved craft beer bars and restaurants. St. Paul felt the brunt of the closures, which started at the end of May with the closing of Fabulous Fern’s on Selby Avenue. In June, Ward 6, the scratch kitchen and craft beer bar on Payne Avenue in St. Paul’s East Side, wrapped up its last service after five and a half years, and gastropub The Muddy Pig closed its doors after a 16-year run. O’Gara’s Bar & Grill is closed temporarily and will reopen in a smaller footprint as a part of the new apartment complex being built at the corner of Selby and Snelling. Across the river, Minneapolis lost a downtown mainstay in Grumpy’s Downtown, which opened in 1999 and closed at the end of September. 

Great Waters Brewing Company, the oldest brewpub operating in St. Paul, is closing after service on November 18 // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Great Waters Brewing Company, the oldest brewpub operating in St. Paul, closed on November 18, 2018 // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Each of these bars and restaurants had their own unique circumstances that led to the decision to close, but many owners expressed their feeling that, with increased competition from other bars, restaurants, and brewery taprooms, and creeping operating costs, running a bar and restaurant is tougher than ever before.

Minnesota’s cider scene is entering a new era with the rise of urban cideries in 2018. Many orchard-based cideries have begun to harvest cider-specific apples from trees they planted a few years ago and are creating more complex ciders as a result. Milk & Honey Ciders planted a new orchard at their St. Joseph cidery and taproom to supplement their current orchard in Cold Spring. 

While the majority of the state’s cidermakers are still based on orchards in rural Minnesota, a new crop of urban cider taprooms, including Number 12 Cider and Duluth Cider, and the accelerated progress of cideries like Urban Forage Winery & Cider House and Sociable Cider Werks (which is in the final stages of getting its commercial winery license to make cider in addition to its current lineup of grafs) have brought the oft-misunderstood beverage to more craft drinkers in Minnesota’s major cities. And with two more urban cideries planning to open in 2019, it seems that Minnesota cider is about to have its moment. 

The Great Northeast Make Merry @ Sociable Cider Werks

make merry
old fashioned English

: enjoy oneself with others, especially by dancing, eating, and drinking.
synonyms: have fun, have a good time, enjoy oneself, have a party, celebrate, carouse, feast, ‘eat, drink, and be merry’, revel, roister;
informal: party, have a ball

Minneapolis Craft Market and Frank & Ernest Markets & Events return to Sociable Cider Werks for a series of festive holiday markets in their Northeast taproom this winter season. We’ll be at Sociable Cider Werks from 5–9pm on Thursdays, November 29, December 6, 13, and 20.

Join us to shop handcrafted goods and foods by local makers, because holiday shopping is a lot more fun with a cider in hand!

More details and makers list here: https://www.facebook.com/events/291680534922909/

The Great Northeast Make Merry @ Sociable Cider Werks

make merry
old fashioned English

: enjoy oneself with others, especially by dancing, eating, and drinking.
synonyms: have fun, have a good time, enjoy oneself, have a party, celebrate, carouse, feast, ‘eat, drink, and be merry’, revel, roister;
informal: party, have a ball

Minneapolis Craft Market and Frank & Ernest Markets & Events return to Sociable Cider Werks for a series of festive holiday markets in their Northeast taproom this winter season. We’ll be at Sociable Cider Werks from 5–9pm on Thursdays, November 29, December 6, 13, and 20.

Join us to shop handcrafted goods and foods by local makers, because holiday shopping is a lot more fun with a cider in hand!

More details and makers list here: https://www.facebook.com/events/291680534922909/

Now Open (Or Damn Close): Duluth Cider

The exterior of Duluth Cider on West Superior Street in Duluth, Minnesota // Photo by JaneCane Photography

For enthusiasts of everything craft, Duluth is living up to its name as the Zenith City. Breweries and distilleries are flourishing and have quickly become fixtures of the city’s cultural and nightlife scenes. With all of these great beers and spirits available, it seems only natural to ask: Where’s the cider?

Duluth will soon be able to point to the Lincoln Park Craft District in response, where the city’s first cidery, Duluth Cider, is on track to open in mid-November. Owners Jake and Valerie Scott, along with longtime friend and production manager Christian Fraser, have been working nonstop on furnishing their space on West Superior Street and finalizing plans for the grand opening. “We’re really excited to invite everyone out for Duluth’s first night of [locally made] cider—ever,” Jake says.

The trio met while attending college at the University of Minnesota–Duluth, where they shared a passion for homebrewing. The Scotts moved to the Boston area in 2014 and honed their craft with the help of the staff at Far From the Tree Cider in Salem, Massachusetts, where Valerie worked as taproom manager. Their dream of opening a cidery back in Duluth eventually blossomed into a reality, and they secured the space for what would become the city’s first cidery in 2017.

According to Valerie, the East Coast is home to a burgeoning cider scene. In comparison, the craft cider industry in Minnesota is relatively young. There are signs of growth, though: In the months following their big reveal about Duluth Cider, another cidery—Wild State Cider—also announced that it would be taking root in the city and opening later this year or early 2019, just two blocks away from Duluth Cider on West Superior Street.

“From the beginning of this, we just knew that other cideries were going to follow,” Jake says. “We would love to see a dozen cideries pop up in the next decade in Duluth and introduce more people to what good cider can be.”

Top: The current offerings on tap at Duluth Cider. Bottom: A goblet of Duluth Cider’s cider // Photo by JaneCane Photography

Duluth Cider will have seven ciders on tap for opening day and will be offering tasting flights, full pours, and growlers of all four. There are a variety of styles in the works, ranging from semi-sweet to dry-hopped and dry. “We plan on having something that will appeal to everyone on the spectrum,” Jake says. Seasonal ciders and smaller, more experimental batches are planned for the near future; the Scotts hinted at an autumn chai cider and a berry-mint variety for next summer.

The past few months have been hectic for the trio as they’ve worked to renovate their century-old building (once the stables for the post office, which is still located across the street), develop recipes, install equipment, and do all the other things that go into opening a taproom.

There have been legal hurdles to navigate, as well. Legally, cider is regulated as a type of wine. So, the Scotts approached the City of Duluth seeking a winery license. It was then that they, along with the city officials, discovered that there was no such thing in Duluth—yet. Eventually, everything got squared away.

“I would say it is comparable to running a marathon,” says Valerie of the process of getting everything in order to open. “It really is a daily emotional roller coaster, because nothing is guaranteed,” Jake adds. “It’s a big risk. But it’s also incredibly exciting.”

Duluth Cider’s taproom // Photo by JaneCane Photography

In addition to the Scotts and Fraser, Duluth Cider will have about a dozen employees. Plans for distribution to local restaurants are in the works, and they intend to get the ball rolling on kegging and canning once the taproom is open.

The rustic taproom will be able to accommodate 115 people, sporting a stage for local musicians, which the Scotts consider an important part of the Duluth community. They’ll serve snacks from local vendors in the taproom, and guests can also order food to be delivered to their table from Duluth Grill, OMC Smokehouse, and Corktown Deli.

Duluth Cider’s official opening date is November 14.

Cidermaker: Matt Lynn

Cider: Zenith (dry with hints of oak, lemon, and butter); Gitch (sweet with rich apple flavor and notes of honey); The Navigator (hopped semi-dry with hints of sage and eucalyptus); Chai (traditional cider infused with blend of chai spices); Bliss (semi-sweet with cranberry and herbs); Sawtooth (single-hopped with Saaz hops, semi-sweet); Loral (single-hopped with Loral hops, semi-sweet)

Address: 2307 W. Superior St., Duluth, MN 55806

Hours: Mon–Thu: 12pm–10pm; Fri–Sat: 12pm–11pm; Sun: 11pm–7pm

Online: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Grand Opening: November 14, 2018

First Look: Number 12 Cider’s North Loop taproom is open for business

A glass of Black Market, the rebranded version of Number 12's Black Currant Dry, sits on the bar of the cidery's new North Loop taproom // Photo by Aaron Job

A glass of Black Market, the rebranded version of Number 12’s Black Currant Dry, sits on the bar of the cidery’s new North Loop taproom // Photo by Aaron Job

Cider is flowing in the North Loop as Number 12 Cider’s new cidery and taproom opened last week.

The taproom, located at 614 5th St. N. in Minneapolis, adds to the craft credentials of the neighborhood, which already boasts Inbound BrewCo, Modist Brewing, and Fulton Brewing’s taprooms within walking distance of each other.

Number 12 Cider co-owners Colin Post and Steve Hance released their first cider to the world in the spring of 2015 and had been operating a taproom in partnership with the owners of Deer Lake Orchard in Buffalo, Minnesota. With the new urban location, Number 12 is moving its entire production to Minneapolis and has refreshed their brand in the process. In addition to dropping “House” from their name, Number 12 Cider has a new logo and is introducing a slew of new varieties and blends of cider beyond their core three styles, which are also getting a rebrand: Sparkling Dry is now Voyage, Black Currant Dry is now Black Market, and Chestnut Semi-Dry is now Helix. The taproom has 16 total draft lines; their goal is to have them all eventually flowing with different varieties.

Andrew Dimery, the former head brewer of Lakes & Legends Brewing Company, will manage the production side of the cidery. Here, Dimery is moving a keg // Photo by Aaron Job

The Number 12 team hopes to use the taproom to educate consumers on cider, which is often a misunderstood beverage. “Hopefully, you walk out of here [learning] something more about cider that you didn’t already know,” Post said in an interview with The Growler this summer.

Post and Hance are also angling to make a bigger splash in the distribution market with the upgraded facilities. Eventually, Number 12’s core brands will be available for purchase in four-packs of 12-ounce cans, a change from their current 750-milliliter bottles (which they will continue to use for special, limited-run releases).

With the taproom open seven days a week, producing enough cider to keep up with demand is the main concern for Post and Hance. A few months ago, they hired Andrew Dimery, formerly the head brewer of Lakes & Legends Brewing Company, to manage the production operations of the cidery.

A view of the taproom facing North. To the right the stairs lead to an elevated mezzanine which will offer more seating // Photo by Aaron Job

A view of the taproom facing North. To the right the stairs lead to an elevated mezzanine which will offer more seating // Photo by Aaron Job

Left, the taproom while under construction. Right is the completed bar as it appears when entering the taproom // Photos by Aaron Job

The taproom design is wood-forward, though it has a sleeker, more modern feel than the rustic barnwood aesthetic found at many other taprooms. In addition to bar seating, a mix of booths, long communal tables, high tops, and a mezzanine lounge provides different levels of intimacy for guests. Outside, Number 12 constructed a courtyard patio where they will operate a permanent pizza trailer called Little Tomato. Illuminated tap towers draw your eye to the bar, behind which stands a tall three-panel window giving guests a view of cider aging in oak barrels and bubbling away in stainless steel fermentors on the production floor.

Number 12 is the second cidery and taproom operating under the commercial winery license in Minneapolis, after Urban Forage Winery & Cider House in the Longfellow neighborhood. (Sociable Cider Werks is licensed as a brewery. You can learn more about the nuances in The Growler’s Field Guide to Cider.) With two more urban cideries on the verge of opening in Duluth and one more coming to Minneapolis, it’s clear that Minnesota cider is entering a new era.

Colin Post, right, and Steve Hance sit inside their newly opened taproom in the North Loop of Minneapolis, Minnesota // Photo by Aaron Job

Colin Post, right, and Steve Hance sit inside their newly opened taproom in the North Loop of Minneapolis, Minnesota // Photo by Aaron Job

What: Number 12 Cider

Address: 614 5th St. N., Minneapolis, MN

Hours: Monday–Thursday, 3–11pm; Friday and Saturday, 11am–11pm; Sunday, 11am–10pm

Online: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Good Vibes Jazz Trio

The Good Vibes jazz trio once again makes its annual appearance along with Chromatic Catering. Join us at Sweetland Orchard for a laid-back evening of great jazz with a trio consisting of Phil Hey on drums, Chris Bates on bass, and David Hagedorn on vibraphone.

$5 kids/$10 adults cover. Paella also available for purchase from Gwen Anderson of Chromatic Catering, which is gluten free and available non-/vegetarian. Music begins at dusk and paella begins at 5:30pm. For more info, visit the Facebook page.

Bartender, There’s Cheese In My Drink: The how and why of fat-washing spirits

Photo by Aaron Job

Photo by Aaron Job

Fat-washing spirits.” It sounds disgusting, right? But, when a bacon bourbon old fashioned is on the menu, it sells like hotcakes.

Fat-washing is the revolting terminology for a delicious and popular technique in the cocktail world, and, despite my many emails advocating for a name change, the global bartending community has yet to change the term to “happy-savory-yum-yumization.” So fat-washing it is.

This technique flew onto the cocktail scene in 2007 thanks to famous concept-cocktailer Don Lee, then beverage director at the world-famous New York bar Please Don’t Tell. Lee put a bacon maple old fashioned on the drink menu and it quickly became the bar’s most popular cocktail. Since then, bartenders have used the technique to innovate with flavor combinations previously unavailable to the cocktail community. It has also created an opportunity to make nearly effortless food and cocktail pairings.

Put simply, fat-washing is infusing spirits with a fatty or oily substance. Alcohol can absorb both oil-soluble and water-soluble flavors, and as with any infusion, this technique alters the flavor and texture of the spirit. Bartenders use it to infuse spirits with the taste of milk, avocado, olive and coconut oil, also butter, bacon, ham—even cheese.

The texture change might seem unappetizing at first—I mean, who wants a fatty, oily, greasy cocktail? Well, maybe someone, but I would not hang out with them. When done properly, however, the texture of a fat-washed spirit is actually quite pleasing to the palate—these fats lend a decadent character to spirits, making the resulting cocktails more luscious and luxurious.

For ideal infusion, the fat should be heated and combined with the spirit of choice, shaken well, and rested at room temperature for several hours. Then the mixture is put in the freezer, where the fat rises to the top. Once the fat has solidified, the infusion is strained through a cheesecloth or a reusable Superbag. The resulting product should be a perfectly infused combination of spirit and flavor, with a beautiful texture and no lingering grease.

As with anything, the occasional fat-wash misses the mark and creates a flavor combo that would make Minnesotans exclaim, “Oh, that’s…different.” But talented bartenders all over the Twin Cities are creating fabulous, textural, balanced cocktails with this advanced technique. Go see Katy Dimick and her team at Hola Arepa for a coconut oil-washed rum cocktail called Locked Up Abroad. Trish Gavin has Sweater Weather—a brown butter-washed Scotch old fashioned—at The Landing in Wayzata. And Whitney Evans at Icehouse offers two milk-washed concoctions sure to please.

Try out these amazing infusions and comment below with your suggestion of better branding for this horribly named technique.

Be My Cheddar Pie

A "Be My Cheddar Pie" cocktail // Photo by Aaron Job

A “Be My Cheddar Pie” cocktail // Photo by Aaron Job

In honor of the cider issue this month and the odd Minnesotan tradition of putting cheese on apple pie, this month’s cocktail recreates those flavors in liquid form:

Ingredients

1¼ ounces Tillamook yellow cheddar-washed white rum (Flor de Caña, recommended)
½ ounce lemon juice
¾ ounce vanilla cinnamon syrup
3 ounces dry hard cider

Method

Make the cheddar-washed rum: Melt 60 grams of shredded cheddar and steep on 750 milliliters of white rum for five hours at room temperature, shaking the mixture well a few times. Freeze the mixture until fat solidifies, then strain through a cheesecloth and discard the cheese.

Combine cheddar-washed rum, lemon, and syrup in a shaking tin with ice, and shake briefly. Strain into footed Pilsner glass. Add cider, then top with pebble ice and garnish with a bruleed apple ring.

Wassail! The pagan origins of a Yuletide cider festival

A Wassail ceremony in an orchard // Photo by Bill Bradshaw, @iamcider

A Wassail ceremony in an orchard // Photo by Bill Bradshaw, @iamcider

Reprinted with permission from “Ciderology” by Gabe Cook, Spruce 2018

If you happen to be in the West of England during January, you might catch sight and sound of some rather unexpected activities. Some rather pagan activities. For one month a year, an area famed for its tranquility and gentle nature packs away the tea and cucumber sandwiches and reaches instead for the shotguns and flaming torches.

Wassailing is one of those wonderful British traditions that has just about managed to hang on into the 21st century. Despite modern health and safety regulations, it sits alongside cheese-rolling, shin-kicking, bog-snorkelling and burning-barrel racing as a relic of a bygone age. But in these digitally disparate, hyper-connected, lightning-speed times, there is something exceedingly comforting about gadding about in a muddy orchard in the freezing cold, participating in an event that has old, old roots.

Still critical to the cider-making calendar of the UK, wassail is celebrated on Twelfth Night, the pagan New Year’s Eve, commonly held to be 6 January. In the deepest and darkest parts of the cider world, though, it happens on 17 January, also known as “Old Twelvey”—the true pagan New Year. Twelfth Night has only been celebrated on 6 January since 1752, when Britain controversially moved over to the Gregorian calendar, sparking riots among those who objected to the apparent loss of 11 days.

The term “wassail” can trace its origins to pre-Christian Britain. Anglo-Saxon tradition included a New Year celebration in the halls of the Lord of the Manor, including a mighty feast with a giant bowl of a sort of punch: a mix of cider, ale and mead infused with bountiful spices and crab apples. The Lord would toast those present with the cry of waes hael, meaning “be whole” or “good health”, and the hearty response would be drink hael (I think you can guess what that means).

The idea of wassailing—blessing, toasting, sharing and giving thanks during the Yuletide period—has continued through the centuries. The Victorians seized on its spirit of generosity by endorsing the concept of wassailing from door to door—poorer folk singing songs in return for charitable gifts, rather than begging. This soon morphed into the ever-popular Christmas carolling. And, of course, the much enjoyed winter warmer, mulled cider (often known as wassail and a far more palatable spiced drink than its vinous cousin, IMHO), is a direct descendent of the original spiced cider punch drunk all those centuries back.

But it’s in the orchard that the wassail has really retained its significance and mythical status. The earliest accounts of wassailing fruit trees come from the East of England—in St Albans in 1486 and Kent in 1585. But it isn’t until the 17th and 18th centuries that the wassail truly comes to prominence.

A Wassail ceremony in an orchard // Photo by Bill Bradshaw, @iamcider

A Wassail ceremony in an orchard // Photo by Bill Bradshaw, @iamcider

Every region, village and farm would have had its own version of the ceremony, with unique traditions, symbols and rituals. Wassails from the Welsh Marches (the border country between England and Wales) may be quite different from those further southwest. But generally speaking the event begins with a torch-lit procession around the cider orchard, with revellers crashing pots and pans to scare off insidious forces, often led by a Wassail King and Queen (think Pearly Kings and Queens but with more vegetative adornments and West Country accents). The Master of Ceremony, a figure regaled in black, is called the Butler, and he or she calls the congregation to gather around the largest tree in the orchard, which has 12 small bonfires placed around it, representing the 12 zodiac signs or 12 apostles. In Herefordshire, there is a 13th bonfire within the circle, which upon lighting is promptly extinguished underfoot. The reason? It is known as the Judas Fire and shalt not be allowed to burn its treacherous flame (or something like that!).

The Butler leads the crowd in singing songs appealing to Pomona, the apple goddess, for a healthy harvest. The smallest boy in the crowd, known as the Tom Tit, is then hoisted up high and places cider-soaked bread into the branches of the apple tree—a signifier of good luck. Just to make sure that any malevolent forces have been fully banished, shotguns are fired to rid these lands of them. And finally, a bowl of cider is passed around from person to person, with “wassail” being proffered and “drinkhail” offered in return: “good health” and “cheers.” It’s basically The Wicker Man, but with cider.

The one common denominator of these myriad customs, however, and the true spirit of wassail, is the opportunity for everyone in the community to get together and to give thanks, to share and celebrate these traditions that are such a key part of the landscapes and cultures of cider making regions. In these fast-paced times, it’s great to slow down a bit with a night out in the orchards, singing the songs of generations before and harking back to a simpler age. Although the cider is probably tastier these days.

The Campaign for the Revival Of Wassailing (CROW) is a group of professional miscreants from Gloucestershire who are passionate about this tradition. These folk eloquently describe why the wassail is the tonic for our times:

It creates an atmosphere where we can make amends, end hostilities, forgive insults, heal wounds and let bygones be bygones. It creates an atmosphere where we can make new friends, especially between the old and young and between the sexes. It creates a better working relationship and feelings of unity, of all being as one.

I’ll toast to that. Pomona knows, the world could do with a little more of this right now.

Global Wassail

Although the wassail is essentially an English tradition, as the popularity of cider grows, so does the interest in interpreting these old customs in new parts of the world.

In Tasmania, Australia, award-winning cider maker Willie Smith’s hosts a huge, annual midwinter festival, full of pagan goodness and with a West Country-inspired wassail at the heart of the event.

Back in 2014, a small settlement at the top of New Zealand’s South Island saw its very own wassail, led by yours truly. We lived in a home with modest insulation, a wood burner, an electric heater and no central heating. In NZ that’s called a warm house. In the cosmopolitan metropolis of Neudorf Road, Upper Moutere (population 13—and a few pukekos), you need to find ways to entertain yourself when it’s cold and dark.

This is especially important as Christmas is in the height of summer in the southern hemisphere, meaning there is no midwinter celebration. Now, being a self-respecting British man, there was no way I was going to go a whole winter without creating some spurious reason to eat bowel-bloatingly enormous portions of food and consume an ill-advised quantity of booze. Therefore, along with our European friends and their friends, we decided to stage our own Christmas/wassail/midwinter solstice/pagan celebration. And have flaming torches.

So, it came to pass that on a frosty 21 June, a multi-national contingent (three Brits, two Germans, one Swiss-Belgian, one French guy and a Japanese dude) descended on Upper Moutere to wassail the night away. The group included two cheese-makers, a wine maker, a brewer and a former cider maker. So you could say that we ate and drank well. In fact (hyperbole alert), we think there was no group of people in the whole of New Zealand that evening consuming such locally sourced, fresh and tasty produce. It was lush.

We lit the flaming torches and headed into the paddock next to our house to seek out the little apple trees tucked in the corner. We sang to the trees, placed cider-soaked bread onto the branches and shared cider from the hand-carved wassail bowl that had been shipped over from the UK. Was this the first wassail ever in NZ? I reckon so, but even if it wasn’t, it was pretty good fun.

As a perfect reflection of the intertwining cultures that this area of NZ seems to cultivate, Yas, the Japanese guy, made up and played a song on his traditional, hand-made Moroccan sintir about this old, English tradition. It was simply called “Wasssssssaaaaayyyyooooooo.” Amazing.

This is an excerpt from “Ciderology: From History and Heritage to the Craft Cider Revolution,” a new book on cider by Gabe Cook. 

Keepsake Cidery and Toastie Farm OPEN Weekends

Get off the beaten path and visit Keepsake Cidery’s orchard, cider house, and toastie farm in Dundas, MN. Just a short drive from the Twin Cities and Rochester, Keepsake Cidery offers a unique experience for the whole family. Hard cider, kombucha, and pops to drink with local sourced, house made grilled cheese and rotating seasonal sides to eat.

Apples and pumpkins for sale in the fall. Music and games, hiking trails and tours. We welcome you all!
Check out Facebook or website for special events! www.keepsakecidery.com

The Growler’s Field Guide to Cider

A variety of different cider apples // Photo by Tj Turner

Several varieties of apples grown and used by Minnesota cidermakers to make their products // Photo by Tj Turner

Cider seems like a straightforward drink. We’re all familiar with apple juice and the concept of fermentation, and, at its core, cider is just a combination of the two. But in practice, the beverage is far more complicated. Because what about pear cider? Or rhubarb cider? What are those drinks? And what about those ciders that have hops and grains in them? Are they beers, or what?

Cider’s popularity has exploded in recent years and it’s become a daunting category for consumers. Some ciders are dry and rustic, fermented by wild yeasts and conditioned like wine. Others are sweet and fizzy, packaged in tallboys and marketed like beer. Some are sour and taste nothing like apples. Others taste like a boozy Fuji fresh off the tree. It’s hard to know how any one cider on the shelf will taste.

We’ve seen bar owners resist adding more cider to their taps because they “already have one.” (Can you imagine that being said about beer?) We still hear the drink referred to as “cider beer.” (It’s not beer, legally speaking, but several breweries do make cider–beer hybrids for licensing reasons, so we get the confusion.) The simple fact that many brands and bartenders still have to qualify it as “hard cider” is proof enough of woeful uncertainty. So we’d like to set the record straight.

For our 2018 Harvest issue, we present this field guide into the world of cider. Here in the land of Haralson and Honeycrisp, our orchards and cidermakers are continuing the rich American legacy of producing apple-based alcohol—drinks that are as varied and unique as the people who make them. For a seemingly simple beverage, the history, science, and range of final products bearing the word “cider” on their labels are fascinating.

 

The Birthplace

Despite having a reputation for being as American as pie, apples are transplants from far away. From their beginnings millenia ago in China and present-day Kazakhstan, along the Silk Road to Mesopotamia, on to Europe and beyond, apples—and the various ciders made from them—have played a large role in societies around the world, including in the United States. Read more…

 

 

 

Europe’s varied approach to cidermaking

Many of the practices employed by American cidermakers today are the result of traditions that span hundreds of years and thousands of miles. Let’s take a trip to Europe and delve into the traditional techniques and distinct flavors that have shaped cider as we know it. Read more…

 

 

 

 

It’s all about the blend

Apple varieties number into the thousands. Taste your way through 40 or 50 of them, and you’ll understand what every cidermaker knows: apples vary wildly in size, shape, texture, flavor, and acidity. What’s more, the things that drive an apple’s popularity for eating don’t hold sway when thinking about cider. Read more…

 

 

 

 

The nitty gritty details of making cider

Fun fact: Planting a seed from a certain apple variety doesn’t guarantee that that type of apple will grow. To get a specific apple requires grafting—just one of many steps that must be considered by a cidermaker in order to grow the apples and, eventually, produce the cider they desire. Read more…

 

 

 

 

East Coast, West Coast, and everywhere in between

There are currently more than 800 cider operations in the U.S., including commercial cideries in 48 states and the District of Columbia. From its start here in the 1980s, to international beverage companies claiming cider brands of their own in the early 2010s, cider’s place in the U.S. craft beverage scene is still gaining strength. Read more…

 

 

 

 

Minnesota cidermakers’ approach to their craft

The cidermaking industry in Minnesota is just over six years old. While many cidermakers approach their craft like wine, consumers (and retailers) often treat it more like beer, causing an existential quandary for Minnesota’s cidermakers: Do they package and market their cider like wine, beer, or neither? Read more…

 

 

 

 

Six must-try Minnesota-made ciders

Want to know what we’re reaching for when we crave homegrown Minnesota cider? Look no further. Read more…

The Growler’s Field Guide to Cider, Chapter 5: Cider In America

West Coast cideries, like 2 Towns Cider House in Oregon, are pushing the flavor boundaries of craft cider, just as the West Coast did with craft beer // Photo courtesy 2 Towns Cider House

West Coast cideries, like 2 Towns Cider House in Oregon, are pushing the flavor boundaries of craft cider, just as the West Coast did with craft beer // Photo courtesy 2 Towns Cider House

You’re reading Chapter 5 of 7. For the complete contents of The Growler’s Field Guide to Cider, click here.

Sales of hard cider in the U.S. only equal about one percent of the overall beer market, but that tiny share is expanding quickly. The number of cidermakers in America has doubled in the last four years to more than 800 operations, and there are now commercial cideries in 48 states and the District of Columbia.

Northeast Roots

An employee of Shacksbury Cider in Vergennes, Vermont, collects windfall apples // Photo by Michael Tallman

An employee of Shacksbury Cider in Vergennes, Vermont, collects windfall apples // Photo by Michael Tallman

The craft cider movement was revived in the 1980s in the northeastern U.S., once the spiritual home of cider in America. The region rediscovered heirloom apple varieties on abandoned farmlands, leveraged their abundance of table and dessert apples to make huge volumes of cider, and pushed cider back into the mainstream beverage conversation in the U.S.

Woodchuck Cider launched in Vermont in 1991, and their flagship Amber, featuring the semi-sweet tang of McIntosh apples, was the first great success and cornerstone of modern American craft cider. It was only succeeded in 2012 by the launch of Angry Orchard by the Boston Beer Company. Having laid the groundwork for national distribution with their Samuel Adams beers, Angry Orchard would account for over half of all cider sales in the country in less than two years.

The Northeast is also home to some of the country’s most respected regional players, including those making artisanal farmhouse ciders (like New Hampshire’s Farnum Hill), innovative modern ciders (Bantam from Massachusetts), and those that are doing a little of both (Shacksbury from Vermont). New York currently has the most cideries of any state.

Big Brands Rush In

Noticing this revival, international beverage companies rushed into the cider market in the early 2010s. MillerCoors acquired Minneapolis-based Crispin Cider in 2012 and launched Smith & Forge in 2014, a rich and dry cider aimed at men. AB InBev’s Stella Artois Cidre, a European cider with an almost wine-like dryness, was an instant hit in 2013.

But the real category movers were semi-sweet ciders, led by Angry Orchard’s Crisp Apple. Heineken discontinued its original dry version of the U.K. favorite Strongbow in the U.S. in 2014 to launch two sweeter variations, Gold Apple and Honey & Apple (though they brought back Original Dry this year). AB InBev launched its sweet Johnny Appleseed label in 2014. Large brewing firms also produced a surge of flavored malt beverages hoping to capitalize on the trend for sweetness, like Redd’s Apple Ale (MillerCoors) and Apple-Ahh-Rita (AB InBev).

Wild West

Two Towns Cider House's La Mûre Lambic Style Cider // Photo courtesy 2 Towns Cider House

2 Towns Cider House’s La Mûre was inspired by the historic lambic beers of Belgium. Northwest apples and Oregon-grown Marion blackberries are wild-fermented with Lactobacillus, aged in Willamette Valley pinot noir barrels for a year, and then bottle conditioned. // Photo courtesy 2 Towns Cider House

American cidermakers are largely unbound by the tradition and restraint that characterizes European cider, and nowhere is that more evident than on the West Coast. California, Washington, and Oregon together host over a quarter of the nation’s cidermakers, and just like those states were instrumental in pushing the flavor boundaries of craft beer, so too have they taken liberties with cider.

Many of the West’s biggest cideries have made their name on flavored cider, featuring everything from pineapple and apricot, to turmeric, sage, and gin botanicals. The flavored ciders from Ace Cider (California) and 2 Towns Ciderhouse (Oregon) are well known nationwide.

West Coast cider also takes cues from craft beer. The idea of adding hops to cider originated at Salem, Oregon’s Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, who took note of a Washington brewery adding cider to their IPA. With so much equipment in common with beer making, several cider operations begin in breweries. Seattle Cider, which sprouted as an offshoot of Two Beers Brewing, has grown a 15-state footprint and kegs a tart and saline Gose cider.

CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE TO CHAPTER 6 OF THE GROWLER’S FIELD GUIDE TO CIDER.

What We’re Drinking: September 2018

Photos by Aaron Job

Photos by Aaron Job

Welcome back to What We’re Drinking, wherein The Growler editorial staff look back on recent remarkable beverages. What are you drinking, Growler Nation? Let us know on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Brian Kaufenberg, Editor-in-Chief

■ Summit Oktoberfest

It’s my favorite season of the year: Oktoberfest. As I search for a beer to fill (and refill) my stein with during the festivities later this month, I’m certainly going to reach for Summit’s version of the classic märzen style. With a strong, rich malt character that is bready and toasty, this beer is medium-bodied with a slightly creamy texture and a warm finish that gently reminds you of its 7.1% ABV. Malt is expertly balanced with German noble hops leaving a clean, crisp finish that embodies early autumn.

■ Lupulin Whiskey Nuts Brown Ale
■ Calvados Pierre Huet XO
■ Number 12 Black Currant Dry
■ Millstream Oktoberfest

 

Lauren Sauer, Editorial Assistant

■ Hoch Organic Honeycrisp Brut

Sure, you could travel all the way to France to find some good brut. But if you’re short on time and money (like many of us), you could also get one made right here in Minnesota. Hoch Orchard in La Crescent is producing some seriously good ciders made from their 50-plus certified-organic apples, all grown with a focus on sustainability and biodiversity. This carbonated Honeycrisp Brut is the perfect marriage of sweetness and pleasant acidity to keep it balanced. It finishes off-dry with a touch of lingering sweetness from the Honeycrisp, giving it a complex profile akin to a French brut, with just a touch of Minnesota. 

 Firestone Walker Luponic Distortion
■ Sweetland Northern Spy
■ Modist Foeder Sour #1
■ Bald Man Honey Hush Kölsch

 

James Norton, Food Editor

■ Etienne Dupont 2016 Cidre Bouche Brut De Normandie

If you’ve never before tried cider from Normandy—one of the world’s great cider regions—then: A) fix that problem at once, and B) start with this bottle. Don’t get hung up on the “brut” part of the label—far from being dry and minimalist, this cider leads with lush sweetness balanced by a whisper of yeast and apple-driven tartness. There’s nothing syrupy or one-note about this bottle—it has depth and restraint, and is compelling either paired with food or on its own.

■ Fair State Keller Kazbek Unfiltered Pilsner
■ Lake Superior Kayak Kölsch
■ Russian River Brewing Company Consecration 
■ Flying Dutchman Spirits Sailor’s Rantsoen Rum

 

John Garland, Deputy Editor

■ Maiden Rock Crabby Cider

This Stockholm, Wisconsin, cidery was among the real forerunners of orchard-based cider in the Upper Midwest, and their Crabby Cider is a fine example of a style that shows off the fruit’s natural sweetness in a way that’s still balanced and inviting. The aroma is musty fruit layered with some yeast character. The apple flavor on the sip registers on the green, Granny Smith end of things—the actual variety in play are Dolgo Crabapples, a favorite of Upper Midwest cideries. Good initial sweetness (it’s called “semi-sweet” on the label) gives way to tons of lively acidity so things don’t get too cloying (this cider is not, say, Angry Orchard–sweet). A puckery finish invites an immediate return. Spectacularly well-rounded. 

■ Pryes Main Squeeze
■ Yaguara Branca Cachaça
■ Carlos Creek Winery Frontenac Gris
■ J. Carver Distillery Barrel Gin