Boxstore Bird Fall Music Series

This fall, we’ll be welcoming Boxstore Bird into the Sociable Cider Werks taproom for an intimate series every Wednesday night. From 7:30PM to 8:30PM you can head on over to the taproom and hear songs from their new album, “Dirt Makes Pretty,” as well as your old favorites.

Boxstore Bird is heritage Americana, a delightful mix of americana, bluegrass, and storytelling that will hook you with a rare kind of songwriting.

This lyrically driven project was born out of a desire to create a different kind of musical experience–one in which the audience and artist can connect through a song and a story. Frontman Drew Peterson has been writing songs for over 20 years, and his lyrics have the power to pull you in and hold you there in anticipation of the story’s conclusion. He will be accompanied by Mandy Fassett, an incredibly talented musician who will blow you away with her fiddle, cello, and mandolin solos.

 

Barrel Aged All Hallows Eve

Get yourself on over to the Barrel Aged All Hallows Eve party at Sociable. We’ve got a full day of festivities planned, starting with fun for the little ones from 2pm to 6pm, and then, after you drop them off at the babysitters, we’ll be getting rowdy with the release of our Rum Barrel Aged Freewheeler.

HALLOWS EVE FOR KIDS (2-6pm):
Bring the kiddos by for a family friendly afternoon of pumpkin carving, bobbing for apples, trick or treating, smores and some good old fashion alcohol free cider! (Don’t worry, the good hard stuff will still be available for those 21 plus kids too).

HALLOWS EVE FOR ADULTS:
Costume contest, sweet tracks (including the Monster Mash) from DJ Hazy Harold, and the first taste of Rum Barrel Aged Freewheeler.

Food Truck: Red River Kitchen • City House

Stay connected with the Facebook event page for updates.

Boxstore Bird Fall Music Series

This fall, we’ll be welcoming Boxstore Bird into the Sociable Cider Werks taproom for an intimate series every Wednesday night. From 7:30PM to 8:30PM you can head on over to the taproom and hear songs from their new album, “Dirt Makes Pretty,” as well as your old favorites.

Boxstore Bird is heritage Americana, a delightful mix of americana, bluegrass, and storytelling that will hook you with a rare kind of songwriting.

This lyrically driven project was born out of a desire to create a different kind of musical experience–one in which the audience and artist can connect through a song and a story. Frontman Drew Peterson has been writing songs for over 20 years, and his lyrics have the power to pull you in and hold you there in anticipation of the story’s conclusion. He will be accompanied by Mandy Fassett, an incredibly talented musician who will blow you away with her fiddle, cello, and mandolin solos.

 

Minnesota Cider Fair 2017

To celebrate the arrival of fall and peak cider season, the MN Cider Guild is throwing a party: the second-annual Minnesota Cider Fair, taking place Sunday, October 22, at Minnesota Harvest Apple Orchard.

Cideries from around the state will set up shop at the idyllic 330-acre orchard to pour samples and chat with attendees about what’s going on in the world of Minnesota cider.

The day will include unique ciders from more than 12 local cideries, live music from The Federales and Ian Alexy and The Deserters, food trucks, non-alcoholic cider, and family-friendly activities like apple picking, wagon rides and a bonfire.

All-you-can-drink tickets include a souvenir tasting glass and are available for $30 on the event website, mnciderfair.weebly.com. Day-of, single-drink ticket packages will be sold at the orchard and are subject to availability.

Boxstore Bird Fall Music Series

This fall, we’ll be welcoming Boxstore Bird into the Sociable Cider Werks taproom for an intimate series every Wednesday night. From 7:30PM to 8:30PM you can head on over to the taproom and hear songs from their new album, “Dirt Makes Pretty,” as well as your old favorites.

Boxstore Bird is heritage Americana, a delightful mix of americana, bluegrass, and storytelling that will hook you with a rare kind of songwriting.

This lyrically driven project was born out of a desire to create a different kind of musical experience–one in which the audience and artist can connect through a song and a story. Frontman Drew Peterson has been writing songs for over 20 years, and his lyrics have the power to pull you in and hold you there in anticipation of the story’s conclusion. He will be accompanied by Mandy Fassett, an incredibly talented musician who will blow you away with her fiddle, cello, and mandolin solos.

 

Homebrew Recipe: Wyld Cyder

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Illustration by Jeff Nelson

There was an apocryphal bad frost centuries ago in Hessen, Germany that wiped out that year’s grape crop. The distraught winemakers turned to apples and they haven’t looked back since. That region is now the heartland of Apfelmost—a hard cider, fermented with the naturally occurring microbes on the fruit and extant from year to year on the presses or in the barrels of the cider house.

Meanwhile, in Asturias and the Basque region of northern Spain, the beverage of choice for the last several centuries hasn’t been Rioja wine but sidra, produced from native apple varieties and also fermented spontaneously with the wild yeasts on the fruit.

Other cidermaking traditions rely on wild yeast to power the ferment: the keeved and slow-fermented cidres of Normandy, and the powerful, funky, and heady English West Country ciders made from bitter apple varieties.

Taking a cue from these disparate traditions, this month’s project is an adventure in wild cider (or, with apologies to Bill and Ted, WYLD CYDER).

What makes it tick

Unfiltered and acidic, complex and musty; funky up front and whooshing to a palate-scouring dry finish. Fans of gueuze and saison will find a lot to like here, while drinkers only familiar with the much, much sweeter mass-market American hard ciders are in for a Timothy Leary–grade mind expansion.

Many wild ciders are produced from heirloom or landrace cider (not table) apple varieties. But many little farmhouse operations also would have used whatever they had on hand, so there’s no reason not to pick up whatever your local orchard is throwing down.

The alcohol content of naturally-fermented ciders varies with the sugar content of the apples (in keeping with the precepts of non-interference, these wild ciders are not supplemented with any exogenous sugars), but usually clock in at 4–6% ABV.

A recipe to try

Wyld Cyder
Target OG: variable, depending on harvest. Let’s plan for 1.045–1.055

Shopping list

If using fresh fruit and spontaneous fermentation:

  • 5 gallons fresh, unpasteurized apple juice
  • A pack of yeast for backup—see Key Points, next page

If using pasteurized or store-bought juice and lab yeast:

  • 5 gallons preservative-free natural apple juice
  • Your choice of yeast—see “Don’t necessarily g-g-gotta be fresh” in Key Points, below

Key points for key pints

• G-g-gotta be fresh. Source unpasteurized juice with no sulfites or other preservatives from a cider mill, or grind and press your own apples. The untreated fruit will contain a bolus of native microbes that we’ll harness to turn the juice into hard cider.

• Don’t kill the critters. Modern protocol would be to sulfite the freshly-pressed juice to nuke the wild yeasts from orbit and give the lab-cultured yeast a blank slate. Can’t do this with a spontaneous fermentation, so leave the Campden tablets in the drawer.

• Don’t necessarily g-g-gotta be fresh. If freshly-pressed untreated apple juice isn’t an option, just use store-bought juice (preservative-free). You will, however, need to add your own yeast. To approximate the effects of a wild fermentation, consider a commercial mixed culture—Wyeast Roeselare, or a farmhouse or lambic blend (e.g., Wy3278 or WLP670) would be good options.

• Have a backup plan. If the juice isn’t fermenting on its own after 48–72 hours, we’ll need to add yeast. If you don’t already have a spare pack of ale or wine yeast on hand, grab one before you get your juice.

• Cool temp for more aromatics. Traditionally, cider would have been fermented at harvest time when ambient temperatures were turning the corner from summer into autumn. Keeping the ferment somewhere around 60°F, plus or minus a handful of degrees, will suppress the rate of fermentation and therefore how much of the delicate fruit aromatics get carried out of our beverage along with CO2 gas.

¡Vamos Al Sidreia!

Spontaneous program:
Rack the freshly-pressed, no-sulfite juice into a sanitized fermenter; record the SG, then cover loosely with sanitized foil or an airlock, adjust to around 60°F, and let nature take its course. Nota bene—If no signs of fermentation are evident after 48–72 hours (foam, CO2 production, gravity drop) add the backup yeast.

Store-bought juice/non-funky program:
Decant the juice into a sanitized fermenter; record the SG, then cover loosely with sanitized foil or an airlock, adjust to around 60°F, and add the yeast of your choice.

Fermentation and beyond

1. Wild fermentations (or fermentations with a lab mixed culture) can be very slow affairs, especially conducted at +/- 60°F, so remain patient. Once gravity is stable and flavor is to your liking (acidity and dryness tends to increase with time), rack to secondary.

2. Allow to settle and clarify in secondary for a few weeks or months. You can stabilize the flavor profile to a lesser or greater degree via cold storage (microbes will go dormant below about 40–45°F) or a dose of sulfite (to inhibit or kill the microbes).

3. Once the cider has clarified to your liking, package it. Many traditional wild ciders are served still, but kegging will make it easy to serve sparkling. If you bottle a non-sulfite product, use crown- or cork-and-cage beer bottles to accommodate any pressure that may develop as a result of continued yeast activity.

Until next time: Drink it like you brewed it.

Cidermaker Profile: Rob Fisk of Wyndfall Cyder

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Rob Fisk // Photo by Aaron Davidson, The Growler

For most people, the word “spitter” evokes the thought of something unpleasant—angry llamas, perhaps, or individuals who require a little extra talking space if you want to stay dry. Not Rob Fisk. For him, the word means something beautiful, something high quality, something on which he’s built his life.

Spitters are the colloquial term for cider-specific apples. And Rob, owner and operator of Wyndfall Cyder, is adamant about bringing as many of them to Minnesota as possible, to make the best cider possible. “I want to make the highest-end product that I can,” he says. “We can make the best cider in the world in Minnesota with the right apples. The limits are endless.”

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Rob Fisk // Photo by Aaron Davidson, The Growler

We’re sitting in the hot June sun on the patio outside the Apple Lodge at Sponsel’s Minnesota Harvest Orchard, in Jordan, Minnesota. Minnesota Harvest is the new home of Wyndfall Cyder as of late this spring, and Rob has just finished installing his equipment in a large room behind the lodge’s industrial-sized kitchen. He had been operating in conjunction with an orchard in La Crescent, Minnesota, prior to the move, but saw an opportunity for more growth in Jordan.

Minnesota Harvest has been in operation since 1971 and is a popular events venue and pick-your-own orchard. The 300-plus acre orchard boasts some 35,000–40,000 apple trees, and the owners “buy as many [new trees] as they can afford” every year. It’s a sprawling, pastoral setting just 45 minutes from the Twin Cities, and so far is proving to be an ideal location for Wyndfall to put down roots.

In the few months he’s been at Minnesota Harvest, Rob has planted 75 trees of “bittersweets,” or English cider apples—aka the spitters. “They’re so tannic you can’t eat them off the tree,” he explains. “So they’re called spitters, because you’d spit them out.”

The tannins that make these apples inedible are also the key to making the drier, English-style ciders (or “cyders,” as it’s spelled in the U.K., hence Wyndfall Cyder’s spelling) Rob seeks to produce. Table apples are bred for a balance of tart, sweet, and texture, not tannin. Once you ferment out all the sugar, you’re left with a tartness that’s “off the charts,” Rob explains.

Cider apples, on the other hand, have a lot of tannins, like grapes. It’s those tannins that are responsible for a cider’s complexity and nuance. “There are lots of different layers once you ferment the sugar out,” Rob says. “Just like wine grapes don’t taste like grapes after fermentation, cider apples don’t taste like apples—they taste like tons of other things.”

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Sponsel’s Minnesota Harvest Orchard, in Jordan, Minnesota, is the new home of Wyndfall Cyder // Photo by Aaron Davidson, The Growler

Despite the similarities between cider and wine, most drinkers in the United States lump cider into the same category as beer: it’s generally lower in alcohol, has a similar mouthfeel, and is often packaged in similar ways. But that perception is starting to change. “The cider market in Minnesota is changing quickly,” Rob says. “Even in the one-and-a-half years since I’ve been in production it’s changed. But it’s still in its infancy relative to where we’re hoping it’ll go, […] which is to treat it like a fine wine.”

Rob first got into the fermentation game with beer, homebrewing with friends in college. He was studying environmental policy and forestry at the University of Minnesota at the time, and the more he learned about homebrewing, the more he started thinking about switching from beer to cider. “I was loving brewing, but then I started getting into the sustainability aspect of everything, and it was like a light bulb went off,” he says.

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Rob Fisk in Wyndfall’s new production space // Photo by Aaron Davidson, The Growler

That light bulb was Rob realizing the benefits orchards can have on the environment versus corn and bean-type crops. “If we sustained orchards and weren’t plowing all the time, we’d lessen erosion and runoff issues,” he says. “So I was thinking, ‘Okay, how do you do that sustainably and make money?’ And it was obvious: if you ferment the stuff, you can sell it for a lot more than if you’re just picking apples off the tree. Then I realized I could do what I was going to school for and my hobby at the same time.”

He returned to the University of Minnesota to get his master’s in horticulture, taking such classes as organic fruit production from professors like Jim Luby, the breeder of the Honeycrisp apple. While he learned a lot, his focus remained on cider apples and someday opening his own cidery.

Next page: Rob’s path to becoming a cidermaker

Cider wins big just in time for the new year

Hard apple cider

Tucked within the $1.1 trillion spending bill passed in Congress a few weeks ago was the CIDER Act, a much-needed and long overdo update to cider regulations in the United States, according to the Cider Association.

The CIDER Act amends the Internal Revenue Code to create a definition of cider that more accurately reflects the reality of the industry, says the Cider Association, making compliance less costly and more predictable and bringing U.S. cider definitions into alignment with international standards.

The amendments include:

  • Changing the allowable carbonation from 3.92 grams/liter to 6.4 grams/liter (which conforms with the European Union)
  • Changing the allowable alcohol content limit from 7% ABV to 8.5% ABV
  • Allowing the inclusion of pears in the legal definition of “hard cider”

Before the CIDER Act, federal law’s definition of “hard cider” limited the types of cider products which qualified for the excise tax rate, causing confusion and taxes that fluctuated between wine, champagne, and hard cider.

Learn more about the CIDER Act here and here.


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Sweetland Orchard Bottling Line of ‘Scrumpy’ Hard Ciders

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Three varities of hard cider from Webster, Minnesota’s, Sweetland Orchard are now available in four-packs and kegs // Photo courtesy of Sweetland Orchard

Sweetland Orchard, in Webster, Minnesota, has been making hard cider since 2012 and is now bottling and kegging it for wholesale distribution.

Four-packs of Sweetland’s Scrumpy Original (“tart, dry, and unfiltered”), Scrumpy Sweet (“a sweet-tart cider that gets its flavor from from the non-alcoholic cider added to every bottle”), and Cherry Rhubarb Scrumpy (“combines hard cider with rhubarb and tart cherries in a brilliant pink cider”) recently began showing up at area liquor stores in 375ml bottles.

Sweetland makes its hard cider from a blend of 100-percent Minnesota-grown apples. They combine apple varieties like Zestar and Paula Red that ripen earlier in the year with late season varieties like Haralson and Honeycrisp.

The term “scrumpy” commonly refers to locally produced, small-batch cider versus more mass-produced ciders. “Going scrumpin'” can also mean going to pick apples.

According to a press release from Sweetland owners Mike and Gretchen Perbix, the four-packs wouldn’t have been possible without help from their friends and family. Their bottling crew included Sam Falbo, a friend who designed the bottles’ labels and carrying cases “who still refuses payment in any form other than apples or cider,” other friends of the orchard, Gretchen’s mother and brother, and Mike’s parents.

Rooted in Tradition, Keepsake Cidery Looks to the Future

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Keepsake Cidery and the orchard at Woodskeep Farm, Dundas, Minnesota // Photo by Brian Kaufenberg

Photos by Brian Kaufenberg

“This is really out there,” my fiancée remarks as we turn onto another winding country road taking us deeper into farmland on our way to Keepsake Cidery in Dundas, Minnesota. She’s right—the roar of I-35 has completely faded away by this point,  replaced by the sound of rustling trees in the wind, tractors plowing fields, and the sudden whoosh of an occasional car passing the opposite direction on the two-lane road.

The GPS spouts out left and right turns until we find ourselves on a gravel road—a sure sign that we we’re close. We follow a handmade sign that reads “Keepsake Cidery” with an arrow pointing right, and pull up to a gently sloping field with row after row of apple trees and trellises surrounded by a high wire fence.

At the top of the hill, on opposite sides of the road, sit a gray pole barn and a blue and red farmhouse with a large front porch overlooking the orchard. The orchard, a part of Woodskeep Farm, and the pole barn containing Keepsake Cidery are technically distinct businesses, but really all that separates them is the gravel driveway.

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Nate Watters (left) and Jim Bovino (right) of Keepsake Cidery // Photo by Brian Kaufenberg

When we park the car, a tall, lean man with wide sideburns and a handlebar mustache growing amid a week’s worth of stubble comes out of the pole barn to welcome us. He’s wearing a gray Keepsake Cidery shirt and Twins hat, and introduces himself with firm handshake as Jim Bovino, the cider-maker and co-founder of Keepsake Cidery. He’s affable and instantly makes us feel at home.

Another man with rust-red hair and a beard, wearing a sun-drenched t-shirt and work pants, walks up from the house carrying a toddler girl in his arms. He introduces himself as Nate Watters, the owner of Woodskeep Farm & Orchard and co-founder of Keepsake Cidery. He speaks quickly in a subdued voice, and we lean in as if listening to a secret as he asks if we want to start our tour with the apples.

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Nate Watters (left) and Jim Bovino (middle) walk toward the orchard at Keepsake Cidery // Photo by Abbie Defiel

Soon Watters and Bovino lead us to the entrance of the two-acre orchard at Woodskeep Farm, filled with two-year-old apple trees, densely planted in evenly spaced rows—in fact, there are 2,400 trees spanning 30 varieties of table and cider apples packed inside the fences of the orchard, including the Keepsake variety that the cidery is named after.

It’s an experimental orchard, according to Watters, as some of the traditional cider apple varieties planted there are outside of their typical growing zones. It’s unknown how the trees including Grimes Golden, Blue Pearmaine, Bulmer’s Norman, Yarlington Mills, Kidd’s Orange, will fair in the cold Minnesota winters, but the risk is worth it for Bovino and Watters. If the trees thrive, Keepsake will be able to use locally grown traditional bittersweet and bittersharp apples to create a balanced flavor-profile for their ciders.

Asked whether it was difficult to find so many varieties of trees, Watters resoundingly answered, “Yes. It’s very difficult with these rootstocks. Right now it’s so popular to grow high density apples that if you want to do an orchard like this […] you’re going to be waiting three years.” He points across the property to an open field where they will plant 3,000 additional apple trees next year that he ordered back in 2013.

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For Watters, the dream of starting an orchard began back in 2008 with his wife and Keepsake’s third founding partner, Tracy Jonkman, but it never was his goal to produce perfect, unblemished apples like we buy at the grocery store.

“It was never appealing to me to grow a perfect apple because I know what those inputs are; I know what it takes to grow a perfect apple […] To make it work, you have to have a pretty huge orchard,” Watters says. “But I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to stay small, so I was like ‘What can I do that I don’t have to grow this perfect apple and I can find some kind of a value-added product that I believe in?’”

The answer came into focus when Watters met Jim Bovino in 2011. Bovino was moving back to Minnesota after working in Washington State at Finnriver Farm & Cidery, a small-scale cidery where he developed a love of hard cider. Watters’ interest in hard cider came as an extension of his homebrewing and winemaking hobby, and helped fuel his dream of starting the orchard.

Watters spent half a year on an orchard where he gained some apple growing experience, but he’s quick to note, he still has a lot to learn. “I will be blunt, I need more experience. I’m not even where I want to be,” he admits. “This is a risk jumping into it. I do have some experience, but if someone asked me ‘How much experience I should get?’ I would tell them you need to go work for someone for three or four years.”

What the pair lack in direct orchard experience, they make up for with hands-on experience in running two urban farms in Minneapolis. Jim Bovino is a co-owner of California Street Farm, which grows produce for the community and several local restaurants. Nate Watters learned to be a diverse organic farmer in New England where he spent time as a child, and utilized those skills as an owner of Stones Throw Urban Farm in Minneapolis. One handshake with Bovino or Watters bears out their experience—both have the rough, sturdy hands of farmers with palm lines tinged brown with soil.

We walk down to the last row in the orchard where the trees are just beginning to flower. Just outside the fence, six square stacks of what look like pastel-colored file storage boxes are arranged in an evenly spaced line. As we get closer, the high-pitched hum of hundreds of bees darting around the boxes becomes audible. The bees are another key piece of the complex system of a successful apple orchard. Watters brings these bees in from local apiaries to ensure a good fruit set, and also maintains habitat around the farm conducive to supporting native pollinator populations.

Watters, Jonkman, and Bovino will spend the next few years carefully tending the apple trees—pruning, shaping, and guiding branches—before they bear the amount of fruit necessary to produce Keepsake’s line of cider. In the meantime, Keepsake is producing five ciders using apples sourced from local orchards, including Sogn Valley and Chicken Ridge: a dry cider; a medium cider; a wild cider fermented with the yeast found on the apples and in the orchard; an orchard reserve cider; and their Keepsake series.

We walk back to tour the cidery inside the pole barn. The main room is clean and organized into two halves: the cidery equipment for pressing and storing juice, or “must,” sits on one side; on the other, the taproom’s short bar with a draft tower sits next to a small table of merchandise set up for an open house later that afternoon. Bovino points to the back of the room to a garage door that sits shut. Behind the door, he explains, is the “cider cave,” a temperature controlled room where cider is stored for fermentation and bottle conditioning.

Next Page: Consistency Dictated by Nature

Minneapolis Cider Week is June 1–6

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By the numbers, hard cider is the fastest-growing segment of the United States’ beer market. Seeing more than 70 percent growth each of the past two years and a market share that has grown fivefold in the past three years, hard cider is in the midst of a full-blown renaissance.

Minneapolis Cider Week, an annual celebration of all things hard cider, returns to Town Hall Brewery and Republic Seven Corners June 1–6 with specials and educational events taking place throughout the week, all culminating in the Minneapolis Cider Fest tasting event June 6.

Below is a rundown of all the events taking place for Minneapolis Cider Week:

Minneapolis Cider Competition (May 31 entry deadline & June 4 awards ceremony)

Cider makers are invited to submit their homemade ciders for prizes, including a top prize of a Draft Brewer Flex Keg System.

  • The deadline to enter is 5pm, Sunday, May 31, and the entry fee is $6.
  • Entrants must submit two bottles per category entered. Categories include dry, sweet, and other.
  • Submit entries at Northern Brewer and Midwest Supplies locations.
  • Winners will be announced at an awards ceremony at 8pm, Thursday, June 4, at Town Hall Brewery.
  • Register and find more information here.

Cider Dinner and Seminar at Town Hall Tap (June 1)

At 6pm on Monday, June 1, enjoy a cider-paired course dinner at Town Hall Tap featuring presentations from cidermakers Milk & Honey (Minnesota), Sweetland Orchard (Minnesota), and Woodchuck (Vermont). Tickets are $50 and limited, call (612) 767-7307 to reserve yours.

$2 Off Cider Sampler Platters (June 2)

Visit Town Hall Brewery, Town Hall Tap, Town Hall Lanes, and Republic Seven Corners for $2 off hard cider sampler platters all day long on June 2.

Bowling Tournament at Town Hall Lanes (June 3)

Enter a cider-soaked bowling tournament at Town Hall Lanes at 6pm on Wednesday, June 3. A $25 ticket gets you entry into the tournament, two games (with shoes) and appetizers. All hard ciders on tap will also be $2 off during the tournament. Tickets are limited and can be reserved by calling (612) 767-3354.

Cider Class at Republic Seven Corners (June 5)

Hear from a panel of five Minnesota cider producers (Sweetland Orchard, Wyndfall Cyders, Millner Heritage Vineyard & Winery, Sapsucker Farms, and Milk & Honey) and sample hard ciders from each of them at a free event at 6pm on Friday, June 5, at Republic Seven Corners. Call (612) 338-6146 to reserve your spot.

2nd Annual Minneapolis Bicycle Cider Crawl (June 6)

Grab a punch card from one of six participating locations and hop on your bike for the 2nd Annual Minneapolis Bicycle Cider Crawl, 11am–bar close, Saturday, June 6.

Bicyclists must get a punch from each of the six locations and leave their completed punch card at their sixth stop to be entered into a drawing for five gift baskets filled with cider, gift cards, drink glasses, and swag. Participating locations are: Town Hall Brewery, Town Hall Tap, Town Hall Lanes, Republic Seven Corners, Sociable Cider Werks and South Lyndale Liquor Store.

Cider Fest at Town Hall Brewery and Republic Seven Corners (June 6)

Taste hard-to-find ciders alongside favorites from local, national and international producers at Cider Fest, 3–6 pm, Saturday, June 6, at Town Hall Brewery and Republic Seven Corners. Tickers are $25 and include unlimited samples and a Cider Week glass. Food will also be available for purchase. Order tickets online here and check Town Hall’s Facebook event for more details.

The State of Cider 2015

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Sapsucker Farms in Mora, Minnesota, has been making its Yellowbelly Hard Cider since 2007.

The art and science of hard apple cider has been practiced in America since long before there even was a United States. The first English settlers to arrive in New England are said to have promptly requested apple seeds from the motherland upon learning that the crabapples native to the promised land were unsuitable for the making of their favorite fermented beverage.

The first American apple orchards were soon planted in Boston, Massachusetts, in the early-1600s, and wood grafting and other agricultural technologies advanced quickly. American production of hard cider was soon in full swing. Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were known to have made the stuff — and it’s said that John Adams’ “preferred drink before breakfast” was a “a morning ‘gill’ of hard cider.

With an influx of German and Eastern European immigrants to the States in the early-1800s, so came a shift in America’s alcoholic beverage preference. The westward expansion to the Midwest had provided farmers access to soil and conditions more conducive to the growing beer ingredients like barley. Beer quickly became the most consumed adult beverage in the country. While the rapid expansion of beer production put cider into decline in the United States, Prohibition is responsible for the most crushing blow.

When the Volstad Act was passed and Prohibition went into effect, draconian laws restricting the production of even non-alcoholic cider led orchards to stop growing cider apples altogether. In an effort to eradicate the production of hard cider, FBI agents chopped down and burned countless acres orchard, permanently killing an untold number of apple trees and the industry of hard cider in America.

Until now.

By the numbers, hard cider is the fastest-growing segment of the United States’ beer market. Seeing more than 70% growth each of the past two years and a market share that has grown fivefold in the past three years, hard cider is in the midst of a full-blown renaissance.

The reasons for hard cider’s resurgence are many. An increase in options is a big part of it. Until recently the only hard ciders widely available in Minnesota — or the rest of the country for that matter — were imports from Europe and a handful of mass-produced (oftentimes overly-sweet) big brand ciders.

The growth of craft beer has also undoubtedly played a role in hard cider’s new evolution. As consumers have become more interested in quality and flavor in their beer, they have also become more eager to explore their palates and try new things outside the realm of malt beverages. And there’s a new generation of cider makers who seem eager to please.

We are seeing the early stages of a resurrection that shows no signs of slowing any time soon. Minnesota is now home to more than a dozen licensed cider makers dotting our landscape and there are  several more soon-to-open cideries in the planning stages. The best thing about the cider scene in Minnesota right now is the same thing that makes their products so intriguing: individuality. There are urban cideries, farmhouse cideries, vineyards that make cider, make-your-own-cider breweries, cideries focused on foraged ingredients, and the list goes on. Some make dry ciders. Some make sweet ciders. Some only make one cider. Some make a new cider every month.

What’s most exciting about the state of cider in Minnesota though, is the future. Increased options and access for consumers combined with a passionate and creative group of hard cider producers has the state primed to make a splash on the cider scene nationally.

Check out our map below or click the link in the below tweet to hear our own Joseph Alton chat with the 89.3 The Current Morning Show crew about The State of Cider in Minnesota.


Minnesota Cidery Map

A map of hard cider producers in Minnesota (click the icon in the upper-lefthand corner to display a list). Don’t see your favorite cidery listed? Email [email protected] to have them added.

Seattle Cider Company Entering Minnesota Market

Seattle Cider Company's flagship Dry Hard Cider and Semi Sweet Hard Cider // Photo courtesy of Seattle Cider Company

Seattle Cider Company’s flagship Dry Hard Cider and Semi Sweet Hard Cider // Photo courtesy of Seattle Cider Company

A new brand of hard cider from the Pacific Northwest will soon begin competing for the coveted spot of the apple 0f Minnesotans’ eyes–or pint glasses, as it were.

Seattle Cider Company, which is based in its namesake city, touts its exclusive use of fresh-pressed Washington apples and the absence of concentrates and artificial flavors and colorings in its year-round, seasonal, and limited offerings. “We really pride ourselves on our use of real ingredients,” said Caitlin Braam, director of marketing and business development at Seattle Cider. “We wouldn’t put anything in our cider you wouldn’t eat.”

The company’s year-round ciders, which will begin showing up in Minnesota liquor stores in four-packs of 16-ounce cans and on draft in bars in early May, include its Dry Hard Cider, Semi-Sweet Hard Cider, and new Citrus Hard Cider.

Their seasonals, which are packaged in 22-ounce bombers, include Basil Mint (spring), PNW Berry (summer), Pumpkin Spice (fall), and Oaked Maple (winter).

Seattle Cider’s limited releases, which also come in 22-ounce bombers, include Three Pepper, which is fermented with jalapeno, habanero, and poblano peppers, and Gin Botanical, fermented with spent gin botanicals.

To celebrate its launch in the Twin Cities market, Seattle Cider is planning several tasting events May 4–6 (schedule below).

Building with brix

One of the unique ways the company is seeking to educate consumers about its products specifically—and hard cider in general—is through the inclusion of each cider’s brix rating on its packaging.

Wine drinkers will likely be familiar with the brix scale, which is used to measure the sugar content of liquids. Essentially, it translates to how sweet or dry a wine or cider is–the higher the rating, the sweeter the liquid.

Seattle Cider’s products range in sweetness, but are notably less sugary than most well-known ciders currently available in Minnesota. Here’s how they rank: the Dry Hard Cider carries a zero brix rating, the Semi-Sweet clocks in at 2.6, and the Citrus falls somewhere in the middle at 1.3. (For comparison, some of the more well-known hard ciders on the market are closer to a seven on the brix scale.) They all are around 6.5% ABV.

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Seattle Cider Company’s Dry Hard Cider // Photo courtesy of Seattle Cider Company

Braam likens the inclusion of the ciders’ brix rating on cans to how beer companies include IBUs on their packaging. “You want to know how hoppy your beer is going to be,” she said. “And when you pick up our cans we want you to know how sweet or dry our cider is going to be.”

As for the misconceptions many people have about cider, Braam says they’ve grown used to skepticism from beer and wine drinkers when presented with a sample of their cider. “I tell people the key is just tasting it,” she says. “We go to a lot of tasting events and people come up to our booth and say, ‘I don’t like sweet ciders, do you have anything more dry?’ We give them a taste of our Dry and they say, ‘Whoa, not that dry. Do you have something with a little sugar in it?’”

A process steeped in simplicity

Cider is a natural product for the Pacific Northwest. Of all the apples sold in the U.S., about 70 percent come from Washington state – many from the Yakima region, a short two-hour drive from Seattle Cider’s home base. All the apples used by Seattle Cider come from this fruit-ripe region.

Instead of paying the expensive shipping costs to have whole apples trucked from orchards over the Yakima mountain range, Seattle Cider’s apple producers take a blend of dessert apples—Fuji, Gala, Red Delicious—and press them for the cidery before shipping the juice in tanker trucks to the company. When the juice arrives, it is pumped directly into fermenters and the cider-making fun begins.

To flavor the seasonal and limited release ciders, the necessary ingredients are added directly to the fermenting juice, along with a white-wine yeast strain. Braam explains that this process allows the flavors to blend while preventing the taste of the apples from being overpowered.

For example, for the Basil Mint spring cider, which will be the first seasonal to arrive (soon!) in Minnesota, Seattle Cider adds a whopping 118 pounds of fresh basil and mint to the fermenters. “You still get the apple, but it’s complemented by that basil and mint flavor,” Braam says.

For their Citrus, dried orange, lemon, and grapefruit peels are added to the fermenters. Even the limited release, Three Peppers, maintains its apple flavor—although Braam notes that it’s defining feature is a nice, fresh green-pepper nose from the jalapenos and subtle habanero spice on the finish.

Seattle Cider's Three Peppers Hard Cider

Seattle Cider’s Three Peppers Hard Cider // Photo by Brian Kaufenberg

Before bottling or canning, a small amount of pure cane sugar is added as a back-sweetener to give their ciders the right hint of sweetness.

Coming to Minnesota

Seattle Cider began distributing in Wisconsin and Illinois before setting their sights on Minnesota. “There’s a lot of great craft cider on the west and east coasts, and we saw an opportunity to fill a gap and educate folks in the Midwest,” Braam said.

Seattle Cider will be distributed statewide by Wirtz Beverage Minnesota.

“Seattle Cider Company is just what this state has been waiting for and will be the perfect fit for a warm Minnesota summer,” Corey Rung, craft beer brand manager for Wirtz Beverage Minnesota, said in a press release.


Seattle Cider Company Launch Events

Monday, May 4

  • Free cider sampling at Stinson Wine, Beer & Spirits, 2315 18th Ave. NE, Minneapolis, 4–6pm
  • Tap takeover and tasting at Republic Seven Corners, 221 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis, 5–8pm

Tuesday, May 5

  • Free cider sampling at Elevated Wine, Beer & Spirits, 4135 Hiawatha Ave., Minneapolis, 4-6pm
  • Tap takeover and tasting at The Happy Gnome, 498 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 5–8pm

Wednesday, May 6

  • Free cider sampling at South Lyndale Liquors, 5300 Lyndale Ave. S, Minneapolis, 4–6pm
  • Tap takeover and tasting at Town Hall Tap, 4810 Chicago Ave. S, Minneapolis, 6–8pm

Jim Morrison’s Sapsucker Farm and Yellow Belly Hard Cider

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For this farming couple, starting small led to success, one crop after another.


One of Jim Morrison’s favorite memories from childhood involves apples.

“I was sitting out in the woods one day,” he recalls, “and I remembered how when I was a kid my parents would occasionally bring home a one-gallon tub of fresh, unpasteurized apple cider. The really good stuff from a fruit stand.”

With three siblings he was lucky to get one glass, but he thought “it was the best stuff in the world.”

This experience pushed Morrison, a former Navy engineer who is now a commercial pilot for Endeavor Air, to give up small gardening and suburban life in Bloomington and purchase land in Mora, Minn., in 1997 to become a part-time farmer.

“We kind of wanted to get out of the city a little bit, get some elbow room,” Morrison explains, adding that his wife Debbie was always kind of an “accidental farmer.”

“I’ve always enjoyed being around farms, and I grew up near farms,” Debbie says, explaining how the allure of the maple trees appealed to the couple when they first looked at the land.

Five years later Sapsucker Farms was born. Growth was steady over the next decade as the couple slowly added to the farm—a greenhouse for vegetables, honey bees, apples, more maple syrup taps (which have expanded from 35 to over 1,000)—based on what they enjoy.

Once the work reached a boiling point in 2012, Debbie quit her corporate marketing role to manage the farm full-time, with her husband balancing piloting with farming. It still isn’t easy. “I felt like I was drinking in from a fire hose everything I needed to learn so quickly,” Debbie laughs.

That includes learning how to plan complicated growing schedules around fickle weather in order to provide food for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). For the CSA program, Sapsucker grows a variety of greens, fruits, herbs, and a few experimental crops like shiitake mushrooms. They deliver a half-bushel of freshly picked produce to those who pay for the subscription-based service on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

It’s a lot for one farm, but it’s thriving. Part of that is due to the restored native prairie. “I liked the idea of having our open fields and them being in native forms of grasses,” Jim said. Dotted with white, yellow, and purple flowers during growing season, the prairie was born out of the couple’s notion to return the land to the way it was. It serves a practical purpose as well: apple growth.

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Sapsucker’s trees—a mix of cider and table apple varieties—are grown in the middle of the prairie, and Jim theorizes that the diversity of insects brought on by the plant life creates a habitat for balanced growth. This means no chemicals are used and that the farm hosts one of the few certified organic orchards in the state of Minnesota.

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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.