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

Sapsucker Farms

Sapsucker Farms 1

Sapsucker Farms // Photo courtesy of Sapsucker Farms

Jim Morrison of Sapsucker Farms in Mora, Minnesota, believes that Minnesota has everything needed to become a premier cider region alongside the Pacific Northwest, New England, and Michigan. The way to get there, according to Morrison, is not to mimic the styles found on the coasts, but to embrace Minnesota’s apple varieties and local climate to craft a style of cider that is distinct.

In that spirit, Morrison and his wife Debbie launched their first cider, Yellow Belly, in February 2015. Yellow Belly was crafted from a blend of table and cider varieties grown at Sapsucker Farms. Like most others, the Morrisons avoided major loss to their apple orchard in May’s cold snap, but there was another crop used in their cider susceptible to the cold.

Sapsucker Farms

Sapsucker Farms’ Yellow Belly and Ginger Yellow Belly // Photo via Sapsucker Farms Facebook page

“Our ginger crop, which is grown inside a high tunnel/hoop house, also survived the freeze with the help of a wood stove heater inside the hoop house,” Morrison says. “The ginger we grow is used in our new ginger-infused Yellow Belly cider, which was just introduced in April.”

A new product isn’t the only thing keeping Sapsucker Farms busy this spring. “We are also planting about 80 new trees this spring, and so far, all of the new trees are doing well,” says Morrison. “Ashmede’s Kernel, Canada Baldwin, Chestnut Crab, Fireside, Frostbite, Golden Russet, Good Land, Honey Gold, Northern Spy, and a local crab that is our special ingredient.

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

When Jim Watkins and Wade Thompson opened the doors to Sociable Cider Werks in Northeast Minneapolis back in late 2013, most of their customers had never tried a dry cider before, or any cider for that matter. And they certainly had never heard of an apple graff—a cider drink made with small amounts of grains and hops to add tannic qualities lacking in the apple juice. Education was a big part of the taproom experience in the early days.

Sociable Cider Road Rash

Sociable’s new Road Rash Shandy Apple // Photo via Sociable Facebook page

Two and a half short years later, customers are asking for the driest graffs they have on tap, and Thompson and Watkins hear it when Spoke Wrench isn’t available for the rabid fans of the stout apple graff. With less of their time dedicated to educating consumers about their offerings, they’ve developed new recipes, some of which will be released as seasonals starting with Road Rash, a shandy apple graff made with fresh lemons, this summer.

Sociable Cider Werks produced 2,500 barrels in 2015 and anticipate they will sell upwards of 5,000 barrels this year. The growth has required Sociable to expand beyond Pepin Heights as its source of fresh cider to a group of four to five producers from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. The move has also given them access to fruits other than apples, which they will incorporate into new ciders, such as the Rusty Chain Cranberry Apple coming this fall.

Watkins and Thompson are also experimenting with barrel aging ciders. They have 35 oak barrels that held various wines and spirits and recently purchased a 750-milliliter bottler for barrel-aged releases. For Watkins, it’s a delicate dance to balance the flavors of the oak and the wine or spirit left over in the barrel, so as not to overpower the apple flavor in the cider, but by blending oaked cider with unoaked cider they will be able to hit the profile they are looking for.

Harbo Cider

Harbo Cider Splitladder Syders

Harbo Cider // Photo via Harbo Cider Facebook page

Tim Harbo of Welsh Heritage Farms Orchard and Pie Shop has been around apples nearly his whole life. The orchard, located in Lake Crystal, Minnesota, was started by his parents back in 1981 when Harbo was just two years old and has produced fresh eating apples and apple products for visitors ever since.

Harbo started Harbo Cider Winery and Cheese Shop on the farm, where Harbo has been quietly making his Splitladder Syder for the past eight years. (That makes Harbo Cider the oldest Minnesota cidery in operation.)

“It’s a very old school still dry cider, much like you would have found more in colonial times in the U.S.,” says Harbo. The majority of the apples he uses come from Welsh Heritage Farms, which grows 18 different varieties of table apples. To add more complexity than any of the table apples could offer on their own, Harbo explains, “We never use less than five varieties when we press, and try to shoot for seven. Our base varieties are typically Haralson, Cortland, and McIntosh.”

Harbo makes three different brands of Splitladder Syders: original Splitladder Syder; Splitladder Gold, infused with Port to add a touch of sweetness; and Splitladder Pink Dragon, infused with red Port to add sweetness and color. Harbo only produces around 400–600 gallons of these ciders per year and they are exclusively on sale at the orchard.

Montgomery Harvest Cider and Wine

Montgomery Harvest Cider and Wine 2

Montgomery Harvest Cider and Wine // Photo courtesy of Montgomery Harvest

Growing up, Scott Wardell’s parents planted an apple tree for each of their six children to tend. Perhaps it was memories of his tree that planted the seed in Scott Wardell’s mind to start an orchard. Whatever the driving force, Wardell and his wife Barb planted their first trees on a small section of a 22-acre site in Montgomery, Minnesota, back in 1999.

Since then, they have expanded their orchard six-fold to 2,000 apple trees spanning 13 varieties, not to mention four varieties of plums and two kinds of pears. Last year the Wardell’s launched a line of ciders, apple wines, and plum wines under the Montgomery Harvest Cider and Wine label.

Wardell, who has a minor in horticulture, sources all of the juice used in his ciders and wine from his orchard. He currently makes two dry ciders—Northern Trek, a sparkling dry cider, and Smoke and Oak, aged in new, charred oak barrels—and two semi-sweet ciders—Prairie Harvest, a blend of cider and local honey, and Maple Run, a blend of cider and local maple syrup.

Wardell also makes a 19.5% ABV apple wine, which he suggests is meant to be slowly sipped after dinner, called Full Monty.

More Cider News

Loon Juice

After finding success with its flagship Honeycrisp-based cider, Loon Juice announced they will soon be adding three new cider products to its offerings: Tea Time, a black tea infused cider; Strawberry Shandy, a mixture of a Honeycrisp cider base, lemonade, and strawberries; and Ginger Mojito with key lime, natural ginger, and mint.

Urban Forage Winery & Cider House

Jeff Zeitler, co-founder and cidermaker at Urban Forage Winery & Cider House, has released a number of different ciders using his resourceful methods of sourcing fruits. Currently Urban Forage, located in Minneapolis, has a dry still cider, a semi-sweet sparkling cider, and a sparkling pear cider (also known as perry) available for sale.

Leidel Cider

The orchards where Mitchell Leidel sources his apples to create Leidel Cider fared tremendously well during the hard frost in May and he hopes they will have a full harvest. However, Leidel Cider’s future is uncertain as they are not sure if they will continue producing cider.

Millner Heritage Winery & Cidery

Located in Kimball, Minnesota, Millner Heritage Winery & Cidery created three different brands of cider. Minnesota Crisp is the cidery’s first carbonated hard apple cider made from a blend of juice of five Minnesota apple varieties grown at Trumps Orchard of Faribault, Minnesota. SECHS in a Bottle (sechs is German for six) is a blend of the same five apple varieties and Frontenac Gris grapes grown at Millner’s vineyard. The newest cider Millner announced is Attila the Fun Fruit Bubbly for the Ages coming this summer.

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

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