With 70-plus taprooms — I've lost count — and more coming, beer breweries dominate the Twin Cities craft beverage scene. But for the past few years, Minnesota cideries have been making quiet inroads. Four cider taprooms are making unique marks on the drinking landscape, offering a range of choices from traditional apple and fruit-flavored ciders to cider slushies, cider-based spirits and even cocktails.
The pioneers: Sociable Cider Werks
Sociable Cider Werks broke new ground in 2013 with the opening of the state's first cider taproom, in northeast Minneapolis. It was also an innovator with its introduction of Graf — a gluten-free cider-beer hybrid.
From the beginning, Sociable wanted to use local apples to make their cider. At the time, nobody in Minnesota was growing the tannic cider apple varieties needed to give cider mouthfeel and structure, so Sociable blends a very small amount of sorghum beer wort into its juice to make up for the deficit.
Sociable is an exemplar of what modern cider is all about. Apples are not the main player. Except for Freewheeler, their flagship dry cider, all their selections are fruity and flavored drinks in which apples are evenly matched or overmatched by additional ingredients. The ciders mostly fall in the semisweet range.
Freewheeler is the driest of the bunch. Midwestern apples, cane sorghum and a small bit of Willamette hops produce a refreshing cider with tart, green-apple flavors and a bright, lemony acidity. This effervescent quaff would pair equally well with a sunny summer afternoon or a crisp fall evening.
I particularly like Hop a Wheelie, a hopped cider strongly flavored with Mosaic hops and guava fruit. Hop aromas pop from the glass with a burst of tropical and floral fresh-hop character. The flavor follows suit. Tropical and floral flavors are joined by lifting lemon and faint blueberry, a character sometimes associated with Mosaic hops. The hops provide an impression of bitterness to the profile that enhances an already dry finish.
The lime-ginger Tandem Tap was also a favorite. Lime and ginger are found in equal measure, balanced with green apple that still comes through. The level of ginger spiciness is just right.
Also available at Sociable are rotating cider slushies, Squoze hard seltzers and nonalcoholic Superior Switchel, a sparkling apple cider vinegar drink.
Location: 1500 NE. Fillmore St., Mpls., 612-758-0105, sociablecider.com.
Hours: noon-11 p.m. Mon.-Thu., noon-midnight Fri.-Sat., noon-10 p.m. Sun.
Food: The cidery hosts local chefs for residencies of up to a year in its food trailer on the spacious patio. North Minneapolis staple Sammy's Avenue Eatery just finished its stay; temporary food trucks will fill in until a new resident is named.
The scavengers: Urban Forage
Urban Forage's Lake Street cidery and taproom in the Longfellow neighborhood sustained looting and minor damage during the unrest following the murder of George Floyd. But they regrouped, survived the COVID closings of 2020 and are up and running at full tilt.
Urban Forage's unusual business model is based on foraging fruit from around the cities. Unused apples, pears, plums and cherries from backyard trees and local orchards and vineyards are pressed in-house to provide the bulk of their juice. They also harvest an array of seasonal flowers, herbs and vegetables such as rhubarb, dandelions, bee balm and hops for making wine or flavoring the ciders and meads that fill out their frequently rotating tap list.
The hopped cider was a standout in my sampling. Flavored with Mosaic and Cascade hops, it has a strongly herbaceous and citrus aroma like freshly rubbed hop cones. The flavor follows suit with green apple taking a back seat to the dominant herbal, floral and citrus hop character. Slight hop bitterness and tannin heighten an already dry finish.
The low-alcohol Ciderkin was another interesting option when I visited. Ciderkin is an English drink sometimes called water-cider that's made by steeping the spent apple pomace in water and fermenting the diluted juice. The Urban Forage example was surprisingly complex with bright lemon and green apple notes lifted by effervescent carbonation. It's semisweet with moderate tannin and an off-dry finish.
Those who prefer a sweeter cider will like Honey Toast, made with local buckwheat and caramelized honey. It is sweet from start to finish, with the character of honey and sugary dessert apples the main event. The caramelization brings supporting nutty and light coffee notes.
Urban Forage has a wine program in addition to its ciders. Favorites here were a grassy dandelion wine and a unique carrot wine. Made from carrots and apples, it tasted like plum wine with the subtle addition of root vegetables.
Location: 3016 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-584-4398, urbanforagewinery.com
Hours: 4-9 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 1-9 p.m. Sat., 1-5 p.m. Sun., closed Mon.-Tue.
Food: The cidery has gluten-free cheese pizza and a cheese tray on its menu.
The modern traditionalists: Number 12 Cider
Apples are the stars at Number 12 Cider in Minneapolis' North Loop, with local and regional cider-apple varieties making up the bulk of their fruit. The lineup ranges from very dry to very sweet. Ciders flavored with other fruits are rare; high-alcohol ciders aged in previously used barrels are a specialty.
Barrel 44 is a big dry cider aged in bourbon barrels. The flesh of dark red apples is the dominant theme. Layers of whiskey-based caramel and amaretto combined with low tannins and acidity give it an impression of sweetness, but there is very little actual residual sugar. It's a deliciously rich and boozy sipper.
Fans of sour beer might like Uncle Fitz, a wild-fermented, sour cider aged on dried cherries in Old Fitzgerald bourbon barrels. It's tart, but not puckering. Notes of pie cherries give the acidity a fruity kick. Funky shades of smoke, tobacco and leather affirm its mixed-culture fermentation.
If you prefer something lighter, Voyage is Number 12's flagship dry cider and my go-to. It's crisp and effervescent with green and red apple flavor supplemented with light citrus. If you pay attention, you might even detect hints of grilled peaches. It goes out dry and refreshing.
Red Bird is a blend of cider with a bold red wine that's new to the Number 12 lineup. It drinks like an apple-forward, dry rosé. Notes of plum, elderflower and a touch of citrus merge with red apple flesh and skin, leading to a dry and tannic finish.
Location: 614 N. 5th St., Mpls., 612-345-4488, number12cider.com.
Hours: 4-9 p.m. Mon., 4-10 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 4-11 p.m. Fri., noon-11 p.m. Sat., noon-8 p.m. Sun.
Food: Little Tomato serves up wood-fired pizza made with farm-fresh ingredients daily. You can order ahead at littletomatomn.com.
Pizza hours: 4-9 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 4-10 p.m. Fri., noon-10 p.m. Sat., noon-8 p.m. Sun.
The innovators: Minneapolis Cider Co.
Minneapolis Cider Co. is looking to bring new excitement to traditional cider with its Pomologie apple-based spirits and a selection of cocktails made with them.
The basis of the three Pomologie spirits — Rose Meadow, Appleseed and Caffecino — is cider fortified with apple brandy. Each one is then infused with a different blend of herbs and spices such as rosehip, hibiscus, woodruff and wild cherry bark to create an apple amaro. Delicious on their own over ice, they're even better mixed into any of the four cocktails available at the taproom.
The Diamond Lake cocktail is described as a cider Old Fashioned. Served in a rocks glass with one big ice cube, this whiskey-like drink leans to the sweet side with some alcohol heat to cut the sugar. Infused spices like cinnamon, clove, sassafras and vanilla give it complex, root beer-like profile. A garnish of bee pollen adds honey aromas and an appearance that makes you curious to give it a try.
The Hiawatha is a sniffer cocktail. Aromatics of lemon, melon and matcha powder jump from the coup glass. It's a little tart and a little sweet with rose, saffron, lavender and other florals giving nice complementary filler notes.
The cider selections range from dry to semisweet. The flavored ciders are still apple-forward, with the fruit and spices working as complements rather than dominating the profile.
Mango habañero was a surprising standout. Mango melds seamlessly with the underlying medium-sweet cider without overwhelming it. It's almost more of an aromatic element than a flavor. The mango is joined by subtle hints of cucumber, lemon and habañero flesh. The heat is just a lingering tingle in the finish. There is a fiery version for those who like more burn.
Borealis is a blueberry and rosemary cider made in collaboration with Friends of the Boundary Waters (1% of its sales goes to support the organization). Inspired by the North Woods, this again is an apple-forward cider with complementary blueberry flavors. The rosemary brings just a background hint of pine.
Location: 701 SE. 9th St., Mpls., 612-886-1357, minneapoliscider.co
Hours: 3-11 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 3 p.m.-midnight Fri., 10 a.m.-midnight Sat., 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.
Food: Minneapolis Cider has teamed up with Breizh Crêperie to offer made-in-house sweet crêpes and savory galettes. Breizh chef/owner Claire Corvaisier is from Brittany, France, where cider is king and crêpes are the food of choice to accompany it. Try the Brie galette — Brie, honey, bacon and arugula — with a can of 1949 single varietal chestnut crab cider. The salted caramel sweet crêpe with banana and a touch of coconut is great with the lemony-tart flagship Brut cider.
Kitchen hours: 4:30-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 3-10 p.m. Fri., 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat., 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Sun.
Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.