Ripe for Drinking: Michigan's Growing Hard Cider Industry

Michigan is turning into the Big Apple of hard cider, made from fruit that’s grown here


About 40 apple varieties are grown at Uncle John’s Cider Mill in St. Johns (left); Draught Hard Cider on the production line (right).


Michigan’s increasingly popular craft-beer movement has a sweet aftertaste. Boutique brewing is opening doors to other locally made products — hard cider among them.

“It’s fortunate for us that the craft-brewing industry is doing so well,” says Paul Vander Heide, who began producing hard cider in 2008 at his Vander Mill in Spring Lake, Mich. “It’s really helping push the consumer to try different things.”

Mike Beck, owner of Uncle John’s Cider Mill in St. Johns, near Lansing, says hard ciders are attractive as an alternative to beer and wine.

“There are a growing number of people with celiac disease [who can’t drink beer],” Beck says (pictured below next to one of the steel fermentation tanks). “They want to have a more beer-like experience and wine doesn’t do the job for them; there’s no pop or fizz to it.”

Much like beer, ciders can range in alcohol content from 2 to 9 percent. They also can be fortified with distilled spirits or aged in bourbon barrels, which will boost their alcohol content.

Beck has been making hard cider since 2001 and has witnessed how rapidly the industry has grown. “It has been growing 25 percent per year ever since,” he says. “Now the national sales are starting to match local sales … hard cider is catching on nationwide.”

Until recently, what most people thought of as hard cider came from major multi-national producers, such as Woodchuck and Strongbow, who turn out sweet, mass-produced factory ciders made from apple-juice concentrate. Most cider makers say these producers have been a bit of a double-edged sword for craft producers, raising awareness to the product but giving people the entirely wrong impression. “The most important thing is that Michigan craft producers are using Michigan fruit and they’re pressing and fermenting real cider,” Vander Heide says. “It’s not a concentrate game like it is for the big guys.”  

Dan Young, who, with his wife, owns Tandem Ciders in Northern Michigan’s Suttons Bay, says they try to let their “ciders be an expression of [the particular] apple, whether it’s dry, like our Farmhouse cider, or like Smackintosh, [in] which we leave a lot of residual sugar behind … we’re just trying to get an expression of that fruit.” The Smackintosh, which is Tandem’s most popular, is made primarily from common McIntosh apples and is lush and subtly sweet, like the fruit itself.

Although ciders can be aged in oak barrels, fermentation is done in steel tanks. The liquid needs to be fermented with yeast in a sterile environment so it won’t turn into cider vinegar. From apples to store shelves, the cycle takes six to nine months, meaning this year’s crop will be next year’s beverage.

Vander Mill makes a variety of traditional, heirloom, mixed-fruit, and specialty ciders, but their most original offering may be Michigan Wit, a spring and summer seasonal cider. It’s “the beer-drinker’s cider,” he says, very dry, and fermented with Belgian ale yeast, orange, and coriander, making it very similar to a Belgian wheat beer. “We’re trying to show that cider … can really be quite complex and enjoyable,” Vander Heide says, adding, “[Hard cider isn’t supposed to] taste like apple juice, just like wine doesn’t taste like grape juice.”

Look for Uncle John’s, Tandem, and Vander Mill hard ciders at markets and wine shops throughout Southeast Michigan.


A Cortland apple is from one of Uncle John’s Cider Mill’s old-growth trees on the back of the property (left); One of the steel fermentation tanks (center); Cider is aged in oak barrels (right).

photographs by paul hitz

Edit Module
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

The Village Market

The Trattoria inside Plymouth's Cantoro is like a visit to a small Italian town

Old Favorites

Reilly Craft Creamery scoops out traditional flavors — but their vegan vanilla gelato is a hit, too

A Finer Diner

A coney island blossoms into Flowers of Vietnam on the weekends as a southwest Detroit chef works to bring his neighborhood a creative dining experience

A Different Dog

A wizened look beyond the coney to metro Detroit’s alternative hot dog offerings

Sunday Dinner, Five Days a Week

Supino Pizza owner pays homage to his family through La Rondinella’s authentic Italian regional dishes
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. Top Docs List 2016
  2. Curing Implicit Bias
    How thoughts and perceptions health care providers unconsciously harbor can affect health care...
  3. Tip of the Mitt Shakes Up the Michigan Wine Map
    State gains first new AVA in nearly three decades
  4. Champion For Children
    Dr. Mona gained fame as a ‘water warrior,’ but her long-term crusade is fixing all of...
  5. Clearing The Air
    Living in Wayne County’s polluted ZIP codes has been linked to asthma and other health...
  6. Saluti to a Giant
    St. Julian’s David Braganini helped cement Michigan’s reputation for excellence
  7. Our Cups Runneth Over
    Michigan brewers continue to win international acclaim, but local consumers are the real winners
  8. The Ultimate Michigan Wine Bucket List
    Wine-related must-dos throughout the Mitten State