As this crisp, pleasant, all-too-short time of year rolls around again, productivity is in the air. Kids go back to school, adults go back to regular work hours, we take our last trips to the cabin and start making dinner in the crock pot instead of on the grill, and suddenly every store smells like some sort of cinnamon-spiced Yankee Candle. As much as we're all sticking to schedules and vowing to get stuff done, we still need an end-of-the-day way to unwind. In summer, we do that with a beer. In fall, we do it with a cider. Here are a few of our locally made favorites.
6. Sweetland Orchards Scrumpy Sweet
Last year we named Sweetland in Webster, Minnesota, one of our favorite pick-your-own destinations for fall apples, not just for the fresh-fried sugar-topped doughnuts and hard-to-find apple varieties, but because owner Mike Perbix's small-batch hard ciders were only available for sale on site. That was then. Now Perbix and his wife, Gretchen, are expanding the strong cider arm of their business and making the original and sweet versions of their Scrumpy available at some select bars and restaurants around the Twin Cities. Sweetland's Scrumpy Sweet is the sweetest cider on our list, but is far from cloying or syrupy. The fruity essence from a blend of different Minnesota-native apple varieties comes through pure and a little perfumey, with a naturally resinous finish that makes this cider both distinctive and highly drinkable.
Try it if you like: A beautiful, fruity wine like Barbera d'Asti or Dolcetto, tarte tatin, a Wisconsin-style brandy Old Fashioned.
On tap now: At the orchard's mini taproom, Republic Calhoun Square and 7 Corners locations, and the Birchwood Cafe.
5. Leidel's Hebron Cider
An undoubtedly funky cider from La Crescent, Minnesota, Leidel's Hebron is brewed with an ingredient that will be familiar to lovers of oddball sour beers like Surly Pentagram: Brettanomyces, a strain of yeast that produces barnyard-like flavors and curious tartness. Leidel's cider doesn't go to the extreme with these notes. Instead the sweet and hard edges of the apple juice are lifted by the yeast, ultimately making a hazy, earthy, low-carbonation cider that fans of experimental brewing will love.
Try it if you like: Granny Smith apple pie, sour beers, Kombucha, plain Pinkberry yogurt.
Available: In 750ml bottles at Surdyk's in Minneapolis, Ace Spirits in Hopkins, and Princeton's Liquors in Maple Grove.
4. Four Daughters Winery Loon Juice
In early August we announced that Four Daughters, a Spring Valley-based winery, would be making its first foray into the cider business with a fully gluten-free Honeycrisp apple hard cider called Loon Juice. Minnesota United FC fans (the soccer team's logo bears the namesake bird with outstretched wings) and other cider enthusiasts snatched up the five-liter mini kegs as soon as they hit stores, but Four Daughters is working on getting more stock to more places in the metro area throughout the fall. Can't wait? Make a day trip to the winery where samples flow freely. This one is crisp, subtle, almost thirst-quenching in its carbonation levels and leans more to the dry side in the finish.
Try it if you like: Wheat beer, grassy Sauvignon Blancs, pear and bleu cheese salad, parties on pontoons.
Available: Merwin Liquors in Minneapolis and Falcon Heights (call to check stock). On tap at Sweeney's Saloon in St. Paul and Mackenzie Pub in Minneapolis.
3. Sociable Cider Werks Freewheeler
Freewheeler isn't exactly new to the scene this fall, but it's become more regularly available at establishments outside its home base. Sociable's flagship apple graff, a sort of beer-cider hybrid, is made from adjunct brewing materials and a blend of Haralson, Honeycrisp, and SweeTango apples. It appeals equally to beer drinkers who think cider's not for them and cider lovers who think all our local beers are too aggressively hoppy. In other words, this is a drink for everyone. Freewheeler is likeable and well-balanced, but the graff's defining characteristics come from its noticeable heft. Sociable tends to make ciders with fuller, more complex body than most of the other bantamweight ciders to which we've become accustomed. If you want an even more robust, totally unique cider experience, head to the taproom to get a pint of the Spoke Wrench (formerly known as Broken Spoke), which mellows the crisp cider component with a near-equal amount of spicy, chocolatey stout.
Try it if you like: Champagne or steelier Rieslings, spice cake, night hikes.
On tap now: All over the place, but specifically at Mattie's on Main, 7th Street Social, Eli's East, Icehouse, and the Rabbit Hole.
2. Crispin Lion Belge
Crispin may have expanded well beyond our local scene, but we still feel we can claim them as hometown heroes. Just think, they never would have had the inspiration for their first ciders without Minnesota's famously fresh orchard produce. But none of those apples actually made their way into this particular cider. Lion's Belge is a still, unfiltered cider made entirely of pear juice. The flavor is subtle and elegant, with a Christmas-y, food-friendly finish of orange and bright coriander.
Try it if you like: Witbier, Chenin Blanc, Marzipan and other almond desserts, napping in a hammock.
Available: In bomber bottles at the Wine Thief and First Grand Avenue Liquors, both in St. Paul.
1. Maiden Rock Honeycrisp Hard Cider
Between A to Z Pizza Farm, its eponymous pie company, and Maiden Rock Winery, Stockholm, Wisconsin, has become an unlikely foodie destination. But happily you no longer have to make the drive in order to get a bottle of Maiden Rock's Honeycrisp Hard cider. Twin Cities restaurants have clued in to the popularity of local cider in general and been enchanted by Maiden Rock's unique regional English-style ciders in particular. Their still cider varieties including Somerset, a semi-sweet, and Lake Pepin, a semi-dry, are worth seeking out if you happen to be in the area, but we're quite taken with this more familiar, super-smooth, semi-dry one. In contrast to Loon Juice, the other fully Honeycrisp-made cider on our list, Maiden Rock's version is a little more challenging and more layered. Because of its "Farmhouse" style, it has noticeable yeast in the finish with tart and sweet flavors alternating throughout.
Try it if you like: Honey in your tea, Amaretto sours, baking bread, higher gravity beers like Belgian dubbels and trippels.
Available: At Lyn 65 in bottles at the bar, in four-packs at France 44 Liquor & Cheese Shop, and on tap at Nightingale.
Send your story tips to Hot Dish.