If you become hungry or thirsty on your journey along Lake Michigan’s coast, you’re in luck.
The reason? Apples.
Michigan’s 14.9 million apple trees produce about 25 million bushels of apples every year, according to the Michigan Apple Committee.
About half of Michigan apples are sold ready to eat (fresh). There’s nothing quite like taking a bite out of a sweet gala or a tart Jonathan. The rest of the apple crop is processed into other products — including alcoholic or hard cider and nonalcoholic cider.
More than 80 wineries and cideries produce hard cider in Michigan, according to the Michigan Apple Committee. Michigan cider makers work with Michigan apple farmers to grow specific cider apple varieties that are needed to produce hard cider. Many of the apple varieties produced in Michigan, such as Cortland, Winesap and Northern Spy (and others), are used to give hard cider a unique sweet, yet acidic taste. Cider makers feel the best ciders present a blend of tannin, acidity and sweetness using a variety of apples. They often come up with their own blends of varieties to achieve a unique flavor.
“The demand for locally produced food and beverages grows every day,” said Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee. “Cider makers based in Michigan are fortunate to have access to a large supply and vast array of locally grown apples.”
Before you visit a cidery, it’s best to check for updated hours and COVID-19 measures.
“We make cider the traditional way and through sustainable methods on our working farm in Fennville,” said Gregory Hall, Virtue Cider’s founder. “Every cider is made with all-natural, locally sourced Michigan ingredients producing crisp and complex flavors without added sugar. Also, this year, we launched our direct-to-consumer platform allowing more consumer access to our small-batch, farm-only ciders. We want to bring the Michigan farm to your door, wherever you may live.”
Virtue Cider has something for everyone. One of its most popular nationally available ciders is Rosé — it’s cider made like wine with floral notes and a dry, crisp finish and only 2 grams of sugar. The Mitten, a bourbon barrel-aged cider, is a favorite among bourbon drinkers, and some of Virtue’s long-time consumer favorites are from its Farm Small Batch series: Lapinette, Percheron and the newest addition, Old Spot.
The taproom is currently closed. People may visit the outdoor area by reservation only. See virtuecider.com/tasting-room for details on reservations and precautionary measures. Additionally, for those looking to explore the 48-acre solar-powered farm and say hello to the animals, Virtue Cider is now offering tours. Those interested should book ahead via the website. Stay tuned on social media (@virtuecider) or on the website for the most up-to-date reopening information.
St. Ambrose Cellars
You will encounter flavors of all kinds and beverages of all kinds at this Benzie County business. With 40 years of beekeeping, St. Ambrose Cellars started making mead, then wine, then ciders and now beer.
Cysers add apples to the basic mead formula. The result is a beverage with the sweetness of mead and the crispness of hard cider. The cysers produced at St. Ambrose Cellars include X.R. Cyser, half hard cider and half mead, and Revolver, a mead cyser with bone dry heritage apple. Traditional-style meads, known as still meads, are uncarbonated meads made from honey and at times with other ingredients.
A long list of draft ciders is available at Tandem Ciders in Leelanau County. Smackintosh (with a tagline, “Pow! Right in the Kisser”) is sweet and appley and the crowd favorite. The Greenman is a semi-dry cider created from a single variety, the Rhode Island Greening, a classic American apple.
Tandem Ciders takes its name from a 2003 tandem bicycle tour of England by owners Nikki and Dan Young.
Vander Mill is always pushing the boundaries of cider making and challenging typical cider profiles.
For instance, try its ciders made with Michigan raspberries and blueberries. Or, taste a spiced cider, such as Totally Roasted (the company’s No. 1 brand), Ginger Zero or Rosé.
And Vander Mill is more than just a cider place. There’s a microbrewery at its Grand Rapids facility, and the company manufactures Full Bar, a line of canned spirits and mixers.
“Starcut Ciders are unique because we use all Michigan apples and we don’t backsweeten,” said Christa Brenner, creative & marketing manager. “All the flavor comes from apples, there is zero added sugar! It’s really hard to pick a favorite from our year-round lineup — Pulsar is bone dry and a great representation of a dry, craft cider. However, when we’re in a brunchy mood, we reach for Mosa — a blend of cider and fresh orange juice — a mimosa in a can. Octorock is in the middle; not too sweet, not too dry, and all good. A perfect fall apple experience. I’m getting thirsty just thinking about them.”