michigan hard cider awakening

as a child during the brief years we lived in west virgina, we had an apple tree in the yard.  i don’t remember eating that many apples off the tree, most fell to the ground, making a pile of brown rotting flesh swarming with yellow jackets.  it was still captivating to me to have apples growing in yr own yard.  my mother had a garden at a friends farm, and we would often go harvest out of the garden, or pick berries on the hill, but this was different, it was like gifts raining from the heavens.

the apple tree sat up on a small rise between our yard and the neighbor’s yard.  one day when returning from a trip we discovered that the apple tree was gone.  the neighbor, who disliked that it “made too much of a mess” had cut it down.  my sister and i were heartbroken at the loss, why would anyone cut down such a precious gift.  i don’t think either of us ever forgave her, but it left me with a fascination for apples.

moving to southeast michigan was a revelation in apple culture, a ring of cider mills surrounded the city, churning out gallons of cider and tiny donuts that were gobbled up while still hot.  hikes in the country often reviled old abandoned orchards still field with a few deformed but tasty apples hanging from their branches.  the varieties unrecognizable, forgotten like the trees themselves.

for a few years s and i would go to local apple orchards a gather “deer apples” off the ground and press them ourselves, experimenting with single varieties ciders, blends, yeasted and naturally fermented ciders.  some turned out good, some ok and some are in the process of turning to vinegar as i write this.  losing access to a press, orchardists becoming more skeptical of our requests for “deer apples”, and a lack of access to good quality apples had us cut back on cider production.  we still like to make it when we can, this year we pressed a few gallons from the neighbors tree – a wild fermented batch that tastes like a combination of cider and lambic – flawed in some people’s mind but pretty tasty to me.   it will need to be drunk soon, or face turning – not a terrible fate as i love cider vinegar too.

with all these apples, one of the best beer cultures in the country, and a quickly developing wine culture, you would think that hard cider would be taking off too.  while several producers have been making ciders in michigan for a number of years, they have always seemed an uninspired product, simply pressing apples best suited for sweet cider and throwing in some yeast, maybe some sugar and calling it good.  for good quality hard cider though you need apples very different, acid, tannin and sweetness all need to be around to create something balanced and with proper mouth feel.

a recent trip to the leenauna pennisula had us out driving the back roads where we stumbled across klichermans’ christmas cove antique apples.  when i saw a sign for antique apples we had to stop.  s and i jokes about a series of shellaced apples in cases, but as it turned out, it was the real deal, hundreds of apple varieties packed into a pole barn, and surrounded by thousands of soda bottles and tin signs.  we purchase some sweet cider – which was unlike most cider i have had, not cloying sweet, with plenty of bite, acid and tannin to create a nice balance.  we also purchase a couple of quarts of apples, including lady apples which s turned into some lovely caramel apples (using our honey to sweeten them) asking if they had hard cider in addition to there sweet cider, i was informed, no, but they did sell some to tandem cidery which was not too far away and had a tasting room.  that was enough to set the direction of our journey, and we were off in search of tandem cidery.

driving though the rolling hills, it was obvious that we had reached tandem cidery  when we saw a white barn with a tandem bicycle mounted at the top. the tasting room is open most afternoons and offer free samples of four of their draft ciders, bottled ciders are available to sample for a dollar. i was pretty impressed.  this is not that mass marketed cider tasting mostly like sweet alcoholic apple juice with sulphur.  this is real cider.  most were on the dry side, they had plenty of tartness, tannin and flavor.  plenty of variety of flavor between the different brands.

the tasting room is pretty small, maybe 15 stools and a couple of benches.  a dart board, and jar of pickled eggs were about the only other additions.  it seemed warm, and with plenty of locals in for a pint of cider.

s and i went home with a bottle of the “pretty penny” made with over 30 apple varieties from klicherman’s orchard.  a few weeks later when we sampled it, it was even better than remembered, and seemed like a good reward for getting plastic up on all the windows. in addition to tandem, there are several other cider companies opening including , northern natural and good neighbor, both of whom focus on organic products.  

i samples northern natural, and it was a good basic cider – plenty drinkable, though not nearly as much so as tandem.

i’m happy to see quality ciders being produced in michigan.  i expect to see more of this as folks catch on to what a lovely product cider can be if made correctly.

have you heard of other good michigan ciders?  other brands that you especially like?

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2 responses to “michigan hard cider awakening

  1. Other Michigan ciders that I’ve heard of are J.K.’s Scrumpy/Northern Neighbor, and Uncle John’s.

    I’ve only tried J.K.’s so far, and love it. It is sweet but not overly so, a bit tart, and very appley. It claims to be organic, not preservatives/sulphites, and is unfiltered with apple/yeast sediment in the bottle. Good Stuff.

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