Short’s Brewing Company is branching out… literally, and the fruits of their labor can now be enjoyed as ten delicious renditions of Northern Michigan cider known as Starcut Ciders. Starcut Ciders is rooted in the bountiful orchards of Antrim County, the springboard for Short’s Head Brewer, Tony Hansen, who’s working with local farms to create a breadth of cider profiles. To learn about the vision behind Starcut, MyNorth’s Dani Knoph reports back from the launch party and catches up with Hansen.
Dani: Folks from near and far filled out Short’s pub to celebrate the launch this past weekend. Seeing 10 ciders on tap made a statement about this new branch of the company. How’d it feel to see Short’s fans drinking cider?
Tony: It felt great to see the pub full of people drinking Starcut Ciders. My initial feeling was relief, then a sense of accomplishment. It really took a lot of hard work and planning to make the release party happen, but it was all worth it to see how much fun people were having while tasting and talking about cider. One of the highlights for me was to have some of our apple farmers there to give their seal of approval and assure me that we had done their apples justice.
Dani: It’s wonderful to see Short’s, a company known for staying true to local business, sourcing apples from area experts. What farms & varieties are you working with?
Tony: We’ve sourced apples from Jeff Dewey, Friske’s, Altonen’s, Boal’s, King’s, and Goodnature. All of which are within 15 miles of where we make and serve our cider. So far, we’ve used over 20 apple varieties in our blends, but we’re always looking for more, especially traditional or heirloom cider apples. Some of my favorite varieties we’ve used are Jonathons, Northern Spys, Ida Reds, and Rhode Island Greenings.
Dani: What apple varieties surprised you the most during fermentation?
Tony: The Rhode Island Greenings from Boals were a real shock for me. I initially planned on using them as a small addition in blends to add a little tartness and acidity. But, after trying an isolated test batch of 100% Rhode Island Greenings cider, I felt compelled to serve it as a single variety cider. I really thought it had an intense dryness that champagne lovers would appreciate. Also, the acid levels were very high, which I thought would cater to sour beer fans.
Dani: The magic behind Starcut’s name was born out of a quintessential childhood moment; when a halved apple reveals the seed-studded shape of a star. Going back to your younger days, your family had fruit trees and gardens that inspired your exploration. Can you describe what it was like that very first time you fermented a beverage?
Tony: My first adventure with fermentation was exciting. Partly because it was done in hiding from my parents! I had no idea what I was doing, but I was determined and compelled to do it anyway. I remember being very impatient and constantly checking the smell and flavor before the juice was done fermenting. There was a lot of anticipation, waiting for the the final stages of fermentation to be done, then deciding if it was good enough to share with others. To be honest, not much has changed for me since that first time, other than hiding it from my parents.
Dani: When did you know that the craft-beverage industry was your calling?
Tony: I was in my mid-twenties when I decided it was time to pursue brewing professionally. It began as a hobby for me, but was slowly consuming all of my free time. I reached a tipping point where most of my time was spent thinking about it, so I decided to go for it. I had an overwhelming amount of ideas and drive to create more flavors than I could ever do at home in my spare time.
Dani: Northern Michigan is making a mark on the map for craft beer and wine, and with all the beautiful fruit orchards we have, it makes sense that cider is the next big thing. Are we going to see more cider on tap or in grocery stores?
Tony: I truly hope that cider does make a mark on the Northern Michigan map. Just like you said, we are surrounded by orchards, and I believe there is an enormous amount of potential there. In my mind, we’re working towards making our region a cider destination. I want people to recognize Northern Michigan apple orchards and cideries as being as important as the vineyards and wineries. We’re going to do our best to produce cider that will make people proud to say it’s Michigan cider, and I hope to see it on tap and in stores everywhere.
Dani: Where and when can folks get their hands on Starcut outside the pub?
Tony: Well, that’s a good question…We want to let Starcut grow naturally with demand. Right now, we’re still in the exploratory and developmental phase, using the pub as our platform to see if people enjoy the cider we make. After gathering feedback from the Starcut release party, it appears people are ready for more! We’ll be ready to start distributing draft cider on a small scale in Northern Michigan early next year, spreading out to the rest of Michigan throughout the year.
Dani: Tony, thanks for taking the time to tell us about Starcut, and congratulations on an exciting launch party!
Starcut Ciders has a brilliant website where fans can enjoy stellar pictures and find out more. Check it out at http://starcutciders.com/!