This post was posted by thehipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on December 5, 2015.
While the craft beer scene is booming all over the country—from San Diego, to Cleveland, to New York’s Finger Lakes region—let’s all take a moment to acknowledge the meteoric rise of a new craft brew on the block.
Craft cider is the next big thing in the craft beverage scene, and it’s making a name for itself throughout the American Midwest, especially the Great Lakes region.
Turns out there’s a good reason for that: The Great Lakes region is the location of the country’s most diverse apple crop, reports USA Today. In fact, approximately one quarter of all apples grown in North America are produced around the Great Lakes. Cider makers across the Midwest have capitalized on this bounty by producing unique, complexly flavored ciders that set the region’s brews apart.
The Rich History and Current Challenges Facing Craft Cider
Much like the making of craft beer or distilled liquor, cider brewing is nothing new. Hard cider was a staple of colonial America; Colonizers even brought over seeds from Europe in order to grow apples in America, and some of the offspring from those trees are still in production today.
But with Prohibition came the destruction of orchards, and the practice of brewing cider nearly dwindled into oblivion. While cider has yet to regain its previous status at the American table—cider currently comprises less than 1 percent of the U.S. beer market—today’s brewers hope to restore the cider-making tradition and cultivate an appreciation for great cider.
Another characteristic shared by all of the region’s brewers? Patience. Because the flavor and complexity of a cider is dependent on the apples from which it’s derived, brewers are beholden to apple trees, which can take upwards of 15 years to yield viable fruit.
In addition to their reliance on finicky crops, cideries face obstacles in the form of legal challenges. Under current federal tax law, the definition of hard cider only allows for 7 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) or less—anything more than that, and cider gets taxed at the more expensive rate for wine. Similarly, cider can only contain a certain level of carbonation or else risk being taxed at the even more expensive champagne tax. Because craft operations often aren’t able to precisely control the alcohol content and level of carbonation in their brews, these laws have placed financial strain on many small breweries.
To rectify these constraints, the United States Association of Cider Makers has been advocating for the passage of the CIDER Act, which would amend the Internal Revenue Code to increase the carbonation level for hard cider, include pears in the definition of “hard cider,” and change the alcohol content standard.
Ticket to Cider Town, USA
While cider brewers advocate for themselves in the political realm, you can advocate for brewers—and your own taste buds—by visiting any of the Midwest’s best cideries. With cheap flights from all major airports in the US and a plethora of places within a few hours of each other, a cider pilgrimage is not a bad way to spend your next vacation. Here are our hand picked favorites:
- Blake’s Hard Cider Co (Armada, MI). Blake’s is all about restoring the tradition of cider making to its rightful prominence—all while using the finest homegrown apples and other ingredients around. Their Ciderhouse boasts 12 ciders on tap as well as wines and a food menu. Bonus: The brewery is only an hour outside of Detroit.
- Uncle John’s Cider Mill (St. Johns, MI). At this fifth-generation farm, what started as a wholesale fruit and vegetable operation has found a new mission as a cidery. The tasting room is filled with hard ciders and wines for the sampling. After you’ve had your fill, head to beautiful Ann Arbor (less than 1.5 hours by car) and stay for the night.
- Vander Mill (Spring Lake, MI). Started in 2006, Vander Mill distributes its ciders throughout Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Try them in person at the brewery’s restaurant, which serves up house-made dishes inspired by locally sourced meats, produce, and cheeses. The cidery is only a 1.5 hour drive to budget-friendly accommodations in bustling Lansing, MI.
The best part about the Midwestern cider boom? It’s just getting started. We anticipate that many more great developments will fall from the [apple] tree.