The State of Cider 2016: Updates from cideries during Minnesota Cider Week

Milk & Honey Ciders

Milk & Honey 2015 Heirloom

Milk & Honey Heirloom Cider // Photo via Milk & Honey Facebook page

Milk & Honey Ciders of Cold Spring, Minnesota, are crafting award-winning ciders from New Old World heirloom apple varieties. The cidery won four medals at the 2016 GLINTCAP, two of which are recent releases in the market.

“We recently completed a soft launch of two new bittersharp and bittersweet ciders, Kingston Cuvee and Grand Cru, respectively,” says Peter Gillitzer, co-owner and cidermaker at Milk & Honey. “The Cuvee is largely Kingston Black, which is a famous prima donna apple originating from Southwest England […] The Grand Cru is a mix of Dabinett, Yarlington Mill, and Wickson apples. Quaffable, low acid, and tannic.”

While these uncommon and heirloom varieties are harder to find and have “finicky growing habits,” their tannic qualities yield the type of complexity Milk & Honey looks for in a cider. Milk & Honey currently sources its apples from select growers in Minnesota, Michigan, and California, while they wait for their own orchard to reach maturity. This year, they planted a mix of Golden Russets, Redfield, Ashmead’s Kernel, and Kingston Black. Like many other cider orchards, Milk & Honey will have to wait and see if these cider varieties can withstand Minnesota’s cold climate.

During Minnesota Cider Week, Milk & Honey is releasing two ciders in 330-milliliter bottles in liquor stores. The first is 2015 Heirloom, the latest in Milk & Honey’s annual Heirloom series which changes from year to year. This year’s Heirloom is a blend of “the usual heirloom suspects—Newton Pippin, Winesap, Northern Spy—together with some nice tannic Dabinetts, Ashton Bitter, and Major cider apples,” says Gillitzer.

The second release is 2014 Alchemy, an ice cider that is made from University of Minnesota’s Chestnut Crab, cryo-concentrated, and then aged in bourbon barrels for four months. The smaller, single-serving bottles are intended allow people a chance to try several different Minnesota cider offerings.

Keepsake Cidery

Keepsake Cider - BK40

Keepsake Cidery // Photo by Brian Kaufenberg

Nate Watters, Tracy Jonkman, and Jim Bovino of Keepsake Cidery located in Dundas, Minnesota, knew that when they planted 2,400 trees spanning 30 varieties of table and cider apples in their orchard three years ago it was a gamble. Many of the varieties, such as Grimes Golden, Blue Pearmaine, Bulmer’s Norman, and Yarlington Mills, are outside their typical growing zones, but Keepsake Cidery is testing the limits in an effort to craft complex ciders right here made from locally grown apples.

“So far, I am impressed with Yarlington Mills and Chisel Jersey as far as true old world cider apple varieties in our climate,” says Watters, co-founder and cidermaker. “I was looking forward to this year’s crop of dessert apples like Golden Russet, Wickson, Grimes Golden, and Liberty, but we will have to see if any come through the spring.”

Keepsake Cider - BK23

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

The uncertainty stems from the cold snap that descended upon Minnesota in mid-May. While many orchards weren’t greatly affected from the cold snap (all orchards we spoke to were already past the blossom and fruit set stages when freezing temperatures would have the most devastating effects), Keepsake saw significant losses across their varieties. However, since orchardists need to thin out budding fruit on their trees each year to ensure good production in the next growing season, Watters hopes that this year’s exceptional bloom and fruit set will offset the losses.

Regardless of the potential setback, Keepsake and a crew of volunteers planted 1,800 more trees this year out in the orchard’s east block. Next year they plan to fill out the rest of the block then take a few years off from planting to observe which varieties thrive.

“We are saving the land behind the cider house for the tested and proven varieties,” says Watters. “We will probably plant there in three to five years.”

In the mean time, they will continue crafting ciders that highlight the natural flavors of the apples they are sourcing. “I have also been figuring out which U of M apples translate well in cider, and how to use them properly to make a Minnesota cider with an Old World accent,” he says. “It’s been fun, but will take a while to really learn what each variety offers and how to work with them.”

Number 12 Cider House

Number 12 Cider Black Currant Dry

Number 12 Cider House // Photo via Number 12 Facebook page

Number 12 Cider House is one of the newest cidermakers on the scene, having released its Number 12 Sparkling Dry Cider just last April, but they are already making a name for themselves. They took home two medals for their first two cider offerings at this year’s GLINTCAP—a silver for its Black Currant Dry Cider and a bronze for the cidery’s namesake Number 12 Sparkling Dry—and have just released their newest cider in late May.

Number 12 Cider House Chestnut Semi-Sweet

Number 12 Cider House Chestnut Semi-Sweet // Photo via Number 12 Facebook page

“We are just releasing a new product called Chestnut Crab Semi-Dry,” says Cathy Backes, co-founder of Number 12. “It is by no means sweet but it’s our first foray into a product that’s not bone-dry, so we’re excited to see the response.” The semi-dry cider was also aged on medium toast French oak.

Number 12 Cider House was started by four couples in 2015, one of whom owns Deer Lake Orchard in Buffalo, Minnesota, where the cidery operates. Deer Lake Orchard grows 28 varieties of apples and provides most of the apples for the cidery. Any apples that Number 12’s cidermakers needed beyond those at Deer Lake are sourced from other local orchards. “Steve Hance and Colin Post are the brains behind our operation. They are the cidermakers and have been fermenting cider like mad scientists in their basements for years,” says Backes.

Currently, the team is working on creating a taproom at Deer Lake Orchard for patrons to try Number 12 ciders straight from the source. “We will have a limited number of Friday night engagements during the summer, and full weekends in the fall (late August, early September),” Backes says.

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Brian Kaufenberg is the editor-in-chief of The Growler Magazine.

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