Cider in the North: Two cideries add new flavor to Duluth’s Lincoln Park Craft District

The future home of Duluth Cider // Photo courtesy Duluth Cider

The future home of Duluth Cider // Photo courtesy Duluth Cider

Two more cideries will soon be added to Minnesota’s roster, and both will be located in a city that as of yet is without a cidery to call its own: Duluth.

Not only will Duluth Cider and Wild State Cider both be in Duluth, but they’ll be located some 500 feet from each other on West Superior Street in Duluth’s Lincoln Park Neighborhood, home to Bent Paddle Brewing Company, OMC Smokehouse, Frost River, and the soon-to-open Ursa Minor Brewing (conveniently located smack dab between the two in-progress cideries). Lincoln Park has been developing rapidly over the last few years, and its large number of craft-focused businesses have earned it the nickname the Lincoln Park Craft District. It’s already a destination for people looking for locally made, one-of-a-kind food, drink, and goods, and the cideries will make it that much more of a draw.

Here’s what you can expect from the newest additions to Minnesota’s growing cider scene, which plan to open in late August or early September (Duluth Cider) and late 2018 (Wild State Cider).

Duluth Cider

Valerie and Jake Scott // Photo courtesy Duluth Cider Company

Valerie and Jake Scott // Photo courtesy Duluth Cider

Jake and Valerie Scott and Christian Fraser met while attending college at the University of Minnesota–Duluth in the late 2000s. The friends were homebrewers and experimented with making cider in addition to beer. After graduation, Jake and Valerie got married and, in 2014, moved to the Boston area. There, Valerie worked as the taproom manager for Far From the Tree Cider in Salem, Massachusetts. The more involved they got with cider, the more the Scotts dreamed of opening a cidery of their own. So, about a year after moving out east, they took the first steps toward making their dream a reality.

For two years, Valerie shadowed the owners of Far From the Tree to learn the ins and outs of owning a small business and making cider full-time. The couple knew they wanted Christian, who still lived in Duluth, to be their production manager, and he began looking for potential spaces for the trio’s future cidery. Christian also flew out to Boston twice to work with the cidermakers at Far From the Tree and learn the ropes of making cider on large scale.

By 2017, a space and plan for Duluth Cider was in place. The Scotts moved back to Duluth and, together with Christian, have been working on renovating their Lincoln Park space, which once served as the stables for the post office and features blond-brick walls and a handsome wood-paneled ceiling. Over the last several months, they’ve reached out to several Duluth-area small-business owners to get their advice, including Bent Paddle, Vikre Distillery, Duluth Coffee Company, and Castle Danger Brewing. “They’ve all been really generous with their time and insights and knowledge,” Valerie says. “We’ve gotten tremendous support from the Duluth business community.”

A Duluth Cider tap handle // Photo courtesy Duluth Cider Company

A Duluth Cider tap handle // Photo courtesy Duluth Cider

Duluth Cider will be making a blend of modern and heritage varieties using a 15-barrel system. “We want to make cider for everyone, whether you’re into traditional and dry styles or sweet,” Christian says. They’ll experiment with different hops, yeasts, and wild fermentation, all while maintaining the apple character of the ciders.

The apples used will all be sourced from Minnesota. “We want to keep things local,” Jake says. Even if they eventually branch outside of Minnesota to also source from Wisconsin’s Bayfield area, “we’ll always have majority Minnesota apples” and focus on “unique, regional blends.”

The cidery has hired the same design firm used by Bent Paddle to outfit their new taproom, and plans to make the 115-person capacity space to feel “rustic, yet modern, and comfortable,” with warm tones, four-person tables, and a stage to host local musicians. “The Duluth music community is a huge part of what makes Duluth unique,” Jake says. “We’ll use the stage as additional seating area when it’s not in use, but plan to host events and live music.”

Duluth Cider will only be serving their ciders at the taproom at first, but plan to deliver kegs to local establishments as soon as they can, with packaged products to follow.

Duluth Cider, 2307 W. Superior St., Duluth; duluthcider.com 

Wild State Cider

Adam Ruhland, left, and Andrew Price, right, of Wild State Cider // Photo courtesy Wild State Cider

Adam Ruhland, left, and Andrew Price, right, of Wild State Cider // Photo courtesy Wild State Cider

Adam Ruhland has been following Minnesota’s cider scene for a long time, even though he only recently announced his plans to open a cidery of his own. He was at the meeting a little over two years ago when the Minnesota Cider Guild was officially formed (before that it was the Upper Mississippi Cider Association), and has close ties with many of the cidermakers around the state. “Sociable [Cider Werks] has been very helpful in helping me anticipate potential challenges, and I’ve known Jason at Minneapolis Cider Company and Jeff Ziegler at Urban Forage for years,” Adam says. All three places have a key thing in common with what Adam plans to do with his cidery in Duluth: they all operate (or will soon operate, as is the case with Minneapolis Cider Co.) urban cider taprooms.

Having an accessible space is key to introducing cider to more people and, as a result, remedying the misperceptions that still surround the beverage. “There’s still a lot of education that needs to be done with cider, especially in this region,” Adam says. “Mass-produced ciders have been amazing for makers like me in that they’ve introduced people to what cider is,” but there’s still a long way to go.

After talking about opening a cidery for several years, Adam, who still works full-time in marketing, says he and longtime friend Andrew Price were finally able to get everything in place to make it happen earlier this year. After months of searching for the right space, the duo landed on the former Parsons Electric building on West Superior Street. Once the lease had been signed and financing secured, Andrew gave notice at Voyageur Brewing Company in Grand Marais, where he’d been working for three years as the assistant brewer, and began refocusing his recipes and energy on cider.

Andrew doesn’t totally plan to abandon beer though—at least, not exactly. “I’d like to experiment with beer yeast strains in addition to making dry-hop ciders and drier styles,” he says. “Cider is still the Wild West,” Adam adds. “It’s like craft beer 10 years ago—there are no set styles yet. Everyone’s working on it, but there are all these different models out there that are still being figured out.”

As for the model Wild State Cider will pursue with their ciders, Adam says the styles will be “creative with lighter carbonation, not syrupy and sweet, and use fruit, hop, and spice additions.” He and Andrew plan to use as much Minnesota fruit as possible (and will always use enough to satisfy the Minnesota law stating that a licensed winery, the category under which cideries fall, use a minimum of 51 percent local fruit), but will also source from other states to acquire cider-specific apple varieties that don’t grow locally. “To make cider year-round, I might need to get juice from Michigan or other cold-storage states,” he says. “But it’s my goal to use juice from as close [to Minnesota] as possible. Ultimately, it will come down to finding the best juice at the time we need it.”

The interior space of Wild State Cider // Photo by Ellen Burkhardt

The pre-construction interior of Wild State Cider // Photo by Ellen Burkhardt

Wild State Cider is going big right off the bat with a 6,000-gallon capacity system. The building, too, is big: more than 9,000-square-feet in size, in addition to a large parking lot and additional outdoor space. For the first phase of the cidery, Wild State only plans to utilize about 4,000-square-feet, including the production area and taproom. As for the vibe, Adam says he wants it to feel fun and welcoming, and is working with a designer on branding as well as the interior design.

The building has been empty for two years and isn’t much more than a concrete warehouse as of right now, so there’s a lot of work to be done to get it in shape for its next life as a taproom. Given the uncertainties of construction, equipment delivery times, and all the other hoops that a start-up operation must jump through, Adam and Andrew say they hope to open in late 2018, but won’t give a set time frame. As for the cider, they plan to distribute to restaurants and bars in addition to serving at the taproom right away, and will add packaged products as soon as they’re able to.

Wild State Cider, 2515 W. Superior St., Duluth; wildstatecider.com 

Ellen Burkhardt About Ellen Burkhardt

Ellen Burkhardt is the managing editor of The Growler. When she's not writing, editing, or interviewing, chances are she's on the road, seeking out good food, drink, conversation, and fodder for her next story.