In the land of 10,000 apples, the relative lack of local cider is confounding. Until recently, the cider market has seen only modest growth when compared to the meteoric growth of breweries (and now, distilleries.) Local cider drinkers can now choose between multiple local ciders and can even visit a production facility. But even so, few Minnesota ciders in distribution have demonstrated real staying power on shelves or converted any superfans.
Leidel’s, an excellent dry craft cider out of LaCrescent, was popular about a year ago but faded from shelves quickly. With a tart and refreshing new product, Number 12 Ciderhouse also promises to be successful with dry cider lovers, but availability has been spotty at best. Those who appreciate something sweeter have perhaps the best luck: Loon Juice, made by Four Daughters Winery in Spring Valley, seems to be the most consistently available new cider, in both bars and liquor stores.
Fans of bottle-conditioned farmhouse ciders, like those made by Wisconsin’s Maiden Rock, will find solace in Keepsake cider. Earlier this summer, GYST Fermentation Bar in the Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis offered a sneak peek at three Keepsake products. Jim Bovino is GYST’s head fermenter and kitchen manager as well as a founder of Keepsake. He gained his cider-making expertise at Finnriver Farm and Cidery in Chimacum, Washington. Along with co-founders Tracy Jonkman and Nate Watters, Bovino sources apples from Keepsake’s own Woodskeep Farm in Dundas, Minnesota.
Bovino blames the lack of local cider in part on a deficit of appropriate apple varieties. “Many people think that they don’t like cider because they’ve never really had a good one,” he says. “Much of what’s available is made from concentrates or apple essence, sweetened using refined sugars, pH corrected using malic acid, and generally adulterated to resemble soda more than a fine beverage.”
Keepsake ciders smell, taste, and appear authentic with their murky haze and brilliant but natural colors. Very little residual sweetness is left in the glass, and each of the three choices, available in bottles and on draft starting next week, has some funk as a fermentation byproduct of the natural yeast on the skin of the fruit.
Bovino is hopeful that consumers will take to local ciders and embrace them in the way they have artisan cheese or craft gin. “While it will take some time for cider-apple production to keep up with the increasing demand, the trend seems to be toward more authentic products rather than simply the same old ‘alco-pop,’” he says.
Keepsake Cider is available at South Lyndale Liquors for $15 per 750ml bottle. It is also available on draft at GYST Fermentation Bar, Restaurant Alma, and The Bachelor Farmer.