This week I thought I’d broaden the horizons of Beerploma a bit and take a foray into local Minnesota craft hard cider! The craft cider niche has been growing rapidly over the past few years, and has finally started to blossom in Minnesota. Why drink hard cider? This is a good beverage for those who are sensitive or allergic to gluten for one thing. It can also appeal to those who don’t like beer (I know, that’s just crazy!) My wife Sarajo really didn’t like beer for several years and started out by drinking Woodchuck Granny Smith Cider and this is still often her go-to beverage for drinking with dinner at home. I’ve been a little slower to come into the fold, but have had many very good commercial examples. The early options included mainly Woodchuck and Strongbow, but started to expand with local company (but not actually made in Minnesota) Crispin, and then Boston Beer Company released their Angry Orchard line. Those were OK, but now we’re getting some real local craft options for hard cider.
Sj and I recently took a field trip to Buffalo, Minnesota to visit Number 12 Cider House‘s newly opened taproom and were lucky enough to get a little time to talk with a few of the owners. The taproom is open weekends only and is located on the front side of the main Deer Lake Orchard building. Without much signage we missed it the first pass-by and had to make another swing through! This time of year the orchard itself isn’t really up and running, but I imagine this place is quite busy in the fall harvest time. On this early Saturday afternoon things were pretty quiet and mellow, which suits me just fine. The apple trees were in full blossom around us, chickens pecked at the ground, goats peeked at us suspiciously, and barn cats lazed about in the rays of sun. A fine spring day to be exploring rural Minnesota and sipping on sparkling cider.
The taproom itself is small but cozy, rife with faded barn woods, aged apple crates and more. Co-owner Halina Post was serving, and later her husband Colin was able to give us a bit more background on the operation. The cider-makers are Colin and partner Steve who have been experimenting with the style since around 1997 on a homebrew scale. I saw a 2012 MN State Fair homebrew competition ribbon hanging up in the taproom for cider: that year saw Tim Roets (Roets Brewing), Ilan Klages-Mundt (Insight Brewing), and Deb Loch (Urban Growler) all take ribbons before they were famous. I got skunked in 2012 but won a few the next year! For the last 3 years these folks have been producing bottled cider and slowly expanding their portfolio over that time.
At the taproom one can order glasses of cider, or try one of two set flights of samples (with the option to make your own flight as well.) The flights come with a little cup of nuts which is a nice surprise. Before I get into the specifics I’ll say that I’m qualified to judge cider as a BJCP judge, but am no expert in the style so I may not do it justice! Sj is a connoisseur so I calibrated with her and we agreed pretty well on of these. I rate beers/ciders on a 0-5 scale: 0 is the garbage-water that drains from a ripped trash-bag, 3 is decent and I’d drink it again, 5 I will hoard upon my back like the Tamatoa the giant crab and dance around singing Shiny.
- Sparkling Dry: This is the flagship cider that Number 12 led with, based upon early homebrew test batches. On aroma I get a pleasant champagne-like aroma and zip. Flavor has some apple character but light and mellow. I get a hint of sulfur at the tail end, but more like an expensive French cider than an English one. Finish is quite dry as advertised. 3.75
- Black Currant Dry: This pours a beautiful deep garnet color with fine bubbles. Aroma of apples, currants, and some tannin. Initially full to medium mouthfeel with bursting berry notes that then fades to a dry woody/tannic finish. Not bitter, but quite drying. This one is stellar and we bought a bottle to take home. 4.5
- Chestnut: Named after the Chestnut Crab apple, not the nut. Up front, Chestnut Crab is my favorite apple so I was intrigued by this one! Aroma is a bit buttery, but not off-putting. Flavor is sweet up front, with a buttery chardonay middle, and dry tart finish. Tastes like there was oak barrel involved here. Really pleasant cider with lots of complexity. 4
- Maple: This is a taproom exclusive and comes off with a mild maple and apple aroma at first. Deep golden color like an American pilsner beer. Sweeter than the others but not overwhelmingly so. Sharp apple and sweet maple dance across the tongue–chasing each other around like randy bunnies in the springtime. 3.75
- Pear Sidra: This is based on European funky methods and will be different than the sweet Ace Pear Cider folks are used to. Aroma is overtly funky with vinegar, gorganzola cheese aromas overwhelming the pear. Appearance slightly hazy. Flavors are sharp and tart at first with hints of vinegar and tannins. Fades to a mild pear flavor. Bright, odd and quite complex. Not for everyone but really fun. 4
Overall we were both pretty impressed with the cider selections here and I would highly recommend the Chestnut and Black Currant to anyone. These would all be great beverages for food and have more in common with sparkling wine than with typical American cider. We had a fine time chasing the chickens around the grounds to test out my new camera, exploring the rows of bee-laden apple trees, and sitting on the sunny deck sipping on amazing ciders. Make a trip of it and make sure to visit Hayes’ Public House in Buffalo proper while you are out there!