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An Apple-y Renaissance


Craft beer’s rise has commanded serious publicity in recent years, yet it is a different segment of the alcoholic beverage industry has seen the most prolific growth, hard cider. In the United States, sales growth for this swift-footed category has topped 70% in three of the last four years. Hard cider’s performance slowed to 11% growth last year, but I believe this is due to market fragmentation. Hard cider consumers’ tastes have shifted with the explosion of options. Five years ago, your choices were likely limited to a few large national brands and a handful of imports. Today, there is an overwhelming selection available. Hard cider consumers are now able to search out locally produced, unique, artisanal ciders that offer fresh and exciting flavors un-mimicked by the larger, corporate producers who generally opt for sweeter, fruitier juice.  As Minnesota is orchard country, we are in the thick of this renaissance.
These Minnesota cider-makers have shown us the bouquet of flavors that can be achieved from using good, American grown apples and some yeast. Try some of our France 44 favorites and taste for yourself!
NO. 12 CIDER HOUSE– Buffalo, MN
A dream nearly 20 years in the making, the cider-makers at No. 12 attempted their first batch of cider all the way back in 1997! It was their 12th recipe that brought home the first award and recognition in the community, thus their namesake. Two wonderfully elegant ciders are currently produced. Sparkling Dry is a dry English-style cider with a touch of crisp, acidity. A fruity bouquet and tight bubbles lead to a balanced cider with a slight almond-like undertone. The Black Currant Dry is jam-y and rich on the nose but crisp and dry on the palate. Its appearance is quite entrancing!

A trio of cider-lovers formed this beautiful cidery out in Stearns County. Traditional heirloom cider apples are not easily grown in Minnesota’s climate, but they are working to change that. Until things pick up here, apples are sourced from California, Michigan, and some locally here in MN. Two products are currently available. The semi-dryHeirloom Cider is pressed from nearly 450 different apple varieties. Fruity, floral, citrus, and honey aromatics complement a balanced off-dry palate with soft tannin and acidity. 2015 was a great harvest and this cider shows it! The Alchemy Ice Cider is made from Minnesota’s Chestnut Crab and aged for a good chunk of the year in bourbon barrels. Strong and sweet, rich candied apple flavors meld with notes of caramel and vanilla. A zing of tangy acidity on the finish leaves you begging for another sip.

Just south of the cities, this family owned cidery from the Woodskeep Orchard makes high quality cider from simple ingredients and time honored methods. Ciders are fermented long and slow, they are full of complexity. The Heartwood II dry cider is made from local apples and wine yeasts – dry, fruity, and subtly sour. The Wild Cider is fermented naturally with wild yeasts and a little honey added – complex, earthy, and dry. The Woodskeep Cider has a touch of sweet from locally sourced honey but has enough acid to balance.

This urban cidery tucked into Northeast Minneapolis has a vision. Sociable believes that ciders should be well carbonated, dry, and made from real apples. The two founders hung up their ties to chase the American dream. Sociable has put a slight twist on traditional cider – they produce apple graffs. Great ciders are made from a blend of sweet, sharp and bitter apples. Because of a lack of good bitter apples, Sociable substitutes with hops and sorghum malt. Yes, they’re still gluten-free! The result is ‘decidedly different, delightfully Sociable.’ The Freewheeler Dry is crisp and effervescent – lightly hopped with great structure. Hop-A-Wheelie Hopped Apple uses the Freewheeler base and adds some citrus-y, herbaceous pizzazz with the addition of Cascade and Chinook hops. Spoke Wrench Stout Appleis a stout/cider hybrid – spicy chocolate and toffee notes finish with the crispness of a cider. Road Rash Shandy Apple is the newest summer addition, a dry cider base with zesty lemon juice – bright and refreshing!