Minnesota’s cider boom shows no signs of slowing down. As more cider producers open their doors, existing local cideries are expanding their profiles to appeal to a wider audience. For an alternative to champagne this weekend, consider a sparkling cider.
Number 12 Cider House, from Buffalo, Minn., recently released its Chestnut Semi-Dry cider, made from Chestnut Crabapples. The classic and clean flavor, with its balance of tart and tannic notes, will appeal to most drinkers. The aroma is mildly sulfuric, with pear and honey elements, and the taste is crisp and refreshing with little residual sweetness, not unlike a sweeter cava. A spectacularly clean finish that leaves the palate quickly is one of the most notable features of this cider.
The small operation has been producing successful dry ciders since 2011. Their focus on dry, English-style ciders and bittersharp apples — rather than on the alcoholic apple juices bemoaned by those in search of the real thing — has been paying off. They’ve earned accolades including a silver medal in the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition.
For a bottle with more depth and funk, Keepsake Cidery, from Dundas, Minn., has a remarkable annual release with barnyard flavors and bitterness. Their Wood & Spirits series showcases ciders that derive additional complexity from the use of barrel aging and mixed fermentation techniques.
In a practice similar to that used to make Belgian lambic beers, fresh cider is added to last year’s aged batch kickstarting another fermentation due to the sugar in the new cider. This creates natural carbonation as well as depth of flavor.
But the year-old cider holds additional complexity contributed by a prolonged rest on wooden staves. For Batch 2, released this month, the staves came from Loon Liquors’ whiskey barrels. The blended cider was then aged again, this time in whiskey barrels from Isanti Spirits.
Dominant flavors of horse blanket and hay are sustained throughout, likely due to fermentation from unrestrained Brettanomyces. Both the barrels and the fruit itself offer avenues for inoculation with wild yeast strains. Moderate bitterness increases with warming, but the whiskey character is never fully revealed. Only glimpses of boozy notes are present, enhanced by the power of suggestion.
Keepsake Cidery, which debuted in 2014, has its own orchard, planted in that year. Until the orchard becomes fully productive, the cidery is relying on a blend of heirloom apples from other orchards that use little or no spraying. Keepsake offers a CSA called Cider Club that features 13- or 26-bottle shares.