Harvest time in Michigan returns the cider mills to maximum operating capacity, pushing out the cider and doughnuts for families across the state. A successful harvest also means more apples dedicated to the production of hard cider.
The cider industry has been booming globally. Some estimates have the growth pegged at a 50 percent increase for each of the last few years. The increase in visibility and popularity of ciders can be attributed to multiple factors including: booming apple crops, gluten intolerance, adventurous drinkers seeking new flavors, and the marketing might of mass-market beverage manufacturers (Boston Beer Co.’s Angry Orchard, the Woodchuck brand, etc.).
Cider, like wine and beer, has undergone a renaissance and has a wide variety of palate-busting combinations and taste sensations. Every cider-producing region has a unique take on what cider “should” be.
Some people prefer a sweet cider; others prefer it dry. Purists may claim that cider shouldn’t have any added flavors; others say spices and other fruit additions make cider more approachable and enjoyable.
Michigan law states that when any other fruit is added to cider, it becomes a wine, which is taxed at a different rate than cider.
Why all the confusion? It should be relatively simple. Cider is freshly milled apples fermented into an alcoholic beverage; anything else that is added changes the tasting experience. Much like beer (water, malt, hops, and yeast), cider has a basic formula (apples and yeast). The differences in these ingredients are what make each variety different.
Michigan-made cideries have been taking the globe by storm with an array of styles and flavor profiles. Almost every style of cider is now available from a state producer: from sweet to dry, plain to enhanced, or American to English to Spanish.
The growth of the industry took many people by surprise, including some top producers.
“We’ve achieved our three-year growth plan in one year,” says Bruce Wright of Almar Orchards (manufacturer of J.K.’s Scrumpy Organic Cider). “We didn’t anticipate being a major player … we just wanted to use the fruit we were growing and not lose money by selling it to brokers.”
Wright and farm owner Jim Koan even started bringing other Michigan farmers into the fold. “We’re starting to contract, but only with like-minded farmers using organic methods,” Wright says. “We’ve added a new building with truck docks, more fermenters — and we’ve been able to do it all without loans from banks. We’re in the black after years of struggling to make ends meet. We’ve even brought Jim’s family back into the business after the kids went to college in anticipation of losing the farm.”
J.K.’s varieties will soon be available in cans, and can be found in 40 states and across the globe, including Scotland and Japan.
Michigan has a large number of cideries bringing products to market. The following list is by no means complete, and includes hard cider that can be found in distribution at retailers, bars, and restaurants.
Almar Orchards (makers of J.K’s Scrumpy)
Hard cider has been made on this family-owned farm in Flushing for well over 100 years. Brands include J.K.’s Scrumpy Farmhouse Organic, J.K.’s Northern Neighbor Farmhouse Cider, and J.K’s Cuvée Winterruption.
1431 Duffield Rd., Flushing
Blake’s Orchard and Cider Mill
Open since 1946, Blake’s established a cider house in 2013. Blake’s also offers “pick your own” orchards and farms, with apples, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, peaches, pumpkins, assorted vegetables, and Christmas trees. Their hard cider brands include: Catawampus, Beard Bender, and Flannel Mouth.
17985 Armada Center Rd., Armada
Tandem Ciders is a relative newcomer to the distribution world, although they have been making cider on the Leelanau Peninsula for years. The intention is to produce ciders that reflect the beauty of the apple — all of their ciders are produced by hand in small batches. They include: Bee’s Dream, Smackintosh, Early Day, The Crabster, Pretty Penny, Cherry Oh, Ida Gold, and Pomona (a dessert wine).
2055 N. Setterbo Rd., Suttons Bay
After taking over the family farm in the early 1970s, John and Carolyn Beck have grown their business from a traditional cider mill into a cidery and winery. Uncle John’s offers 10 varieties on draught in their tasting room (open May through December), as well as their famous pear cider “Perry.” Their Apple Cherry cider is now available in 16-ounce cans.
8614 U.S. 127, St. Johns
Opening their doors as a mill in 2006, Vander Mill began distributing their cider in 2008. Their ciders contain no preservatives or added sugars. They’re in more than 600 retail outlets and 400 pubs and restaurants in Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio. They offer four varieties of cider, including: Hard Apple, Blue Gold, Totally Roasted, and Ginger Peach.
14921 Cleveland St., Spring Lake
Virtue Cider is the brainchild of co-founders Greg Hall (formerly of Goose Island Beer Co. in Chicago) and Stephen Schmakel. After selling Goose Island, Hall and Schmakel decided to focus on craft cider, and set up shop in southwestern Michigan. Virtue uses modern craft fermentation and aging techniques to produce ciders that embody Old World farmhouse styles. Their styles include traditional English dry, Normandy farmhouse, and Spanish sidra. Current offerings include: Red Streak, The Mitten, The Ledbury, Lapinette, Sidra de Nava, Percheron, Cidre Nouveau, and the Estate Series, which is created from a single batch of apples from partnering farms.
2170 62nd St., Fennville