Craft Cider Is Making it Big in the Midwest

This post was posted by thehipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on December 5, 2015.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Protect Your Data During the Year’s Busiest Travel Weekend

This post was posted by thehipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on November 25, 2015.Screen-Shot-2015-11-25-at-7.33.55-PM-945x512If you ever travel with a smartphone, laptop, or tablet, your data is at risk of being lost or stolen. Whether it’s the result of a bag disappearing, a drink being spilled, or a cybercriminal hacking your online accounts, data loss can have both minor and major consequences, from losing travel photos to outright identity theft. And with the busiest travel weekend of the year right around the corner, it’s important to keep your data as secure as your belongings — even on the way to grandma’s house.

Unless you’re ready to leave the electronics at home and stick to chronicling your journey with pen and paper alone, it’s time to take data protection seriously. Here’s how to maximize the chances that data stays safe wherever you are.

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Before Traveling

  • Back up digital files. Anything that’s already stored on your electronic devices (especially important files and photos) should be backed up to an external hard drive prior to your departure. That way you have everything you need even if the worst happens and the data gets lost while traveling. While you’re at it, take an inventory of your data so you’ll have a sense of whether anything looks off (or is missing) upon returning home.
  • Run updates. Make sure you’re running the latest version of devices’ operating systems and antivirus software. Also, run antivirus scans prior to departure.
  • Initiate password protection. Combine this with an inactivity timeout on any electronics that you’ll be bringing along (so people can’t easily log onto your device if they find it unattended). On all devices, be sure to create strong passwords.

While Traveling

  • Only use secure internet connections. Free or public wireless services are all but guaranteed to be insecure; assume data isn’t safe over these connections, and refrain from entering any sensitive data (also remember that paying for Wi-Fi doesn’t guarantee the connection is secure).
    The safest networks are those that are password-protected, and the safest websites are those that start with https://. Using the web browser’s “incognito” or “private browsing” mode can help ensure that personal data doesn’t get saved, but it’s no guarantee of security (likewise for deleting cookies and browsing history after logging off).
    Also, be sure to disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on all devices whenever they aren’t in use. Want to learn more? Check out the Federal Trade Commission’s guide to Using Public Wi-Fi Networks.
  • Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Installing a VPN can help protect your data as it’s transferred between different devices. VPNs are especially handy for business travelers who may need to send and receive sensitive documents while on the road.
  • Disable cookies and auto-fill. These are the features that automatically enter login info and passwords on websites. Be sure to disable this function before traveling—it would only make it easier for electronics thieves to access your personal data.
  • Don’t upgrade software on public Wi-Fi. Cybercriminals have started to create fake “update” notices that allow them to install malware on travelers’ devices. If the Wi-Fi network isn’t secure, don’t accept any operating system, app, or software upgrades.
  • Don’t perform online transactions involving money. Whenever possible, avoid accessing online banking, Paypal, or anything that requires you to provide credit card information. And be sure to only use bank ATMs, which are less likely to be hit by identity thieves using card readers.
  • Create a travel-specific email address. Whenever possible, use a dedicated email address just for the trip; this will help you avoid logging into personal or work accounts while traveling. Be sure not to share or store personal information on the new account.
  • Keep your devices on you at all times. And when they’re not in use, turn them off. If you must leave a device in a hotel room or hostel, make sure to lock it up.Screen-Shot-2015-11-25-at-7.33.43-PM-1024x678

When You Get Back

  • Change passwords. Update passwords on all devices as well as frequently visited websites.
  • Take stock. Review bank activity, credit card activity, and health insurance claim activity to confirm that everything looks accurate, and continue keeping tabs on these accounts for at least the next few months.
  • Run security scans. Run antivirus and anti-spyware scans on all devices. If malware is detected, follow the antivirus tool’s direction for addressing the issue.

It doesn’t matter if you’re exploring Santa Fe’s culture, adventuring in Paris, road-tripping around Ireland, or piling in the car for turkey and family reunions — a little prep, a lot of proactivity, and follow-through upon returning home will all help ensure that your data remains your own no matter where in the world you are.