Photos by Caitlin Abrams
The barn at Sweetland Orchard in Webster, Minnesota
If you think the craft beer boom has been something, get ready for the coming-on-strong craft hard cider boom. Minnesota is an apple-loving state, after all, and the resurgence of craft hard ciders comes directly from the ground up. Small family farms near the Twin Cities are bottling some exciting libations that can be bought directly on a sunny September afternoon visit or at your local liquor store.
Mike and Gretchen Perbix might just be the first family of craft cider in town. Their simple operation has become an inspiration for lots of growers, and there’s hardly a cider fermenting that they don’t know about. That connective tissue will someday grow into a real cider-maker’s guild, but for now they’re a little busy. The 20-acre farm and orchard sits south between Elko and New Prague, just a hop-skip down I-35. The young couple bought it in 2010 and quickly became known as a great day trip for crowds looking for pure orchard goodness. You won’t find any crazy hot air balloon rides or jumping goats, just a genuine farm with a dog and chickens, a big old barn where you can buy snacks, and a rolling orchard on a slope that makes for great memories.
And then there was cider. The couple started selling hard cider in 2012, capping big 750ML bomber bottles of dry Scrumpy and Northern Spy. They found a following and began supplying restaurants. Dan Kelly’s Pub opened with a signature collaborative barrel-aged cider, and now there are two versions of Scrumpy Sweet for the Ball Park Cafe at the Minnesota State Fair. You can find four-pack cider bottles in liquor stores, and Scrumpy Original is a great place to start; it’s not too sweet, not too dry, just a drinkable and fresh tasting sip. But get out to the orchard on an autumn Saturday and try Whippersnapper, a young hard cider that’s only available on the farm.
A little farther south, near Dundas, is Keepsake Cidery. Nate Watters and Tracy Jonkman searched statewide for good land, and ended up on a plot at the end of a gravel road with a big house; they call it Woodskeep Farm. The house sits grandly atop the hill with cascading trees, trained on wires and anchored by poles that Watters painstakingly put in himself. Last year, they planted 2,400 apple trees and have readied the next plot of soil to plant 3,000 more, encompassing more than 30 varieties. “It’s really all about the apples and the kinds we choose to grow. For as great an apple state as this is, there needs to be more varieties grown, and that’s something the cider makers are bringing to the scene” says Watters who is the full-time grower (and also grows garlic because he can’t quite kick the farming habit) while Jonkman still works a full-time job. Their other partner in the business is Jim Bovino of GYST Fermentation Bar and California Street Farm.
When you consider Watters’s roots as a farmer, and specifically a CSA farmer, it makes total sense that they’d be offering their bottles via a Cider Club. Much like a CSA, the club helps fund their operation up front so they can be better prepared for the harvest. Put up $360 and you’ll receive 26 bottles of beautifully dry cider each year. You’ll also get access to the orchard, which isn’t currently open for tours, during one of the many events they have planned this year. These are exciting experimental ciders, so if you need to try before you buy in, pop over for sips at GYST, Alma, or The Bachelor Farmer, and find bottles at South Lyndale Liquors.
Loon Juice Cider
But what about those Honeycrisp apples we love to love so much? While many makers believe the variety isn’t ideal for ciders, Justin Osborne, a chemist at heart and a winemaker by trade, disagrees. At his Four Daughters Vineyard down in Spring Valley, just south of Rochester, he’s busy proving everyone wrong with the production of Loon Juice hard cider made from 100 percent Honeycrisp apples picked at a family friend’s orchard in Elgin.
When the sweet and tart cider debuted last year, the limited production 5L mini-kegs found a rabid following of drinkers who clamored for more. This year, Loon Juice debuted its cans, which makes for easier toting, and a new 11,000-square-foot cider house that will focus on high-volume cider production.
The experience is worth the drive: Some experimental ciders are available at the tasting room housed in a gorgeous visitors and event center. Both wine and cider are available for purchase on site, and there’s also a full-service restaurant open daily. Plan your visit for September 12 and you’ll be able to get in on the grape-stomping fun.
No. 12 Cider House
If this lust for hard cider continues, we’re going to see a lot more tasting rooms at our favorite orchards. Witness the rise of No. 12 Cider House from Buffalo’s Deer Lake Orchard, closest to the metro. Deer Lake has long been a destination orchard for family fun, with wagon rides, a corn maze, an animal area, and pumpkin patch. But now, for the adult-fun portion of your afternoon, you’ll find a tasting bar in the red barn, ready to pour a sip of cider.
No. 12 is named for the 12th recipe attempted in 2011, and the one that really started the momentum for cider producers Steve Hance and Colin Post. Made from a variety of about 10 local apples, this cider is dry, complex, and refreshing with a tart bite plus a lush amount of sparkle. It’s more like a British cider, and its clarity and acidity make it a great companion to food. Which is why, with a bottle tucked under your arm, you shouldn’t skip picking up that apple pie or farm eggs from the orchard on your way out.
Hit the Road
Find your favorite cider by test-driving 10-plus brews at these four places:
- Sweetland Orchard 26205 Fairlawn Ave., Webster, 651-252-4337, sweetlandorchard.com
- Keepsake Cidery 4609 135 St., Dundas, 206-604-3076, keepsakecidery.com
- Loon Juice Cider 78757 Hwy. 16, Spring Valley, 507-346-7300, fourdaughtersvineyard.com
- No. 12 Cider House 1903 SW 10 St., Buffalo, 952-412-7879, number12ciderhouse.com