As the American cider scene grows, a craft that was once reserved for orchardists is now finding roots into every corner of the American landscape. From bloggers-turned-ciderists in the Pacific Northwest to urban cider makers in Richmond, Virginia, we recommend that you keep an eye out for these four up-and-coming cider makers.
A fourth generation apple farmer, Andy Sietsema's family has been growing apples in Michigan soil for over a hundred years. But it is only recently, since 2009, that Andy has revived the orchard's interest in hard cider. That was when Andy began cider trials for Sietsema Orchards, planting 20 acres of heirloom apples and figuring out how different varieties would fare in the local climate. "I like to say we are ahead of the curve here in Michigan when it comes to heirlooms." Sietsema tells us, "We have over 120 varieties now, but a lot of those are 1, 2, 3 trees for testing to see how they grow here." They're hoping to see their first significant yield from these trees during the 2013 harvest and—conditions permitting—release one or two more ciders incorporating the heirlooms.
But don't wait for this year's harvest to try Sietsema's ciders. Of the three currently available, Yellow is a traditional dry cider with a crisp finish, while the Red is sweeter and ideal for drinkers looking for a more full-bodied experience. If you like 'em bold, seek out Sietsema's Orange, a bourbon-barrel aged cider with earthy, rustic overtones and more defined tannins.
Blue Bee Cider
Blue Bee Cider breaks just about every preconceived notion of a cidery. Instead of setting up next to the other cideries in western Virgina, this "urban cidery" is nestled near I.T. start-ups in the Old Manchester district of downtown Richmond. "In addition to being the only urban cidery in Virginia," Mailey tell us, "Blue Bee Cider is also the only cidery in the Richmond, VA market. Richmond has a vibrant food scene and a growing craft beer industry. Blue Bee Cider is a unique offering in our local landscape of artisanal food and craft beverages."
Mailey is a graduate of the cider school at Cornell University's Food Science Lab and earned her stripes apprenticing for Albemarle Ciderworks before leasing orchard land along the Blue Ridge mountains and branching out on her own. Mailey has just finished bottling her first two ciders—Aragon 1904 (off dry) and Charred Ordinary (dry)—which will be available for sale this May. Anxious cider-lovers can guarantee a bottle (or a case) by pre-ordering bottles on their site. A still dessert cider, Harvest Ration, will be available in the late fall of 2013 in partnership with Catoctin Creek Distilling Company.
David White and Heather Ringwood
Whitewood Cider Co.
David White is a true American cider evangelist. His blog, oldtimecider.com, has been a tent post for the Pacific Northwest's cider community since 2007, and he has been an active member of the Northwest Cider Association since its inception. But last year, along with his partner Heather Ringwood, David started living every cider geek's dream and launched Whitewood Cider Co.
A true nano-cidery, they're committed to making only the finest American cider, trading quantity for quality along the way. "We are certain to be be among the smallest and hardest to get ciders for some time," says White. In an effort to raise capital for their fledgling startup, David and Heather started a CSA (or CSC, which stands for Community Supported Cider) program and pre-sold this year's cider. Currently maturing in the ciderhouse, Whitewood hopes to release these ciders sometime this spring. If you didn't buy your cider in advance, you will still be able to find some of Whitewood cider at specialty bottle shops throughout western Washington (and possibly beyond). Follow their Twitter account for release updates.
Scott Heath and Ellen Cavalli
Tilted Shed Ciderworks
"I do not think of cider as 'industry' or 'product.' It's this amazing farm-based beverage with a rich heritage, rocky recent past, exciting present, and wild future." These are the words of Ellen Cavalli who owns Tilted Shed cider in Sonoma County, California along with her husband Scott Heath. Nomadic agrarians of sorts, Scott and Ellen spent the last half decade roaming the country in an effort to connect with the land and local food production. Thankfully, after 13 tries, they landed in a small farming village in Northern New Mexico with a neglected apple orchard. Thanks to a bumper crop of apples, Scott began experimenting with homemade ciders and, a few batches later, Scott and Ellen were hooked.
Ellen and Scott relocated with their new son, Benny, to Sonoma County, a region renowned for its wine grape production but relatively unheard of in the world of cider. Through borrowed machinery, DIY ingenuity, and die-hard cider dedication, Tilted Shed cider was born. Scott and Ellen planted 2 acres of cider apples on their land and discovered a few "lost orchards" in the area to source heirloom varietals such as Nehou, Tremlett's Bitter, Muscat de Bernay, Kingston Black, and Porter's Perfection.
Tilted Shed produces four varieties of cider, all in small quantities. The January Barbecue Smoked Cider—yes, I said smoked cider—is available now in the San Francisco Bay area, and the semi-dry Graviva! will be available mid-May with more releases to follow throughout the year.
Do you have a favorite local cidery? Let us know who you think is a "cider maker to watch" this year in the comments below.