Located in Leelanau County in Suttons Bay, Tandem Ciders has been a big player in putting Northern Michigan Cider on the map. MyNorth’s Eliza Foster chatted with one of the owners, Dan Young about Tandem Ciders and the misconceptions related to cider, as well as his suggested pairings and the English Ciders that he calls his favorites.
So the name Tandem Ciders comes from the trip that you and your wife took across England, where you sampled all sorts of cider. Can you tell us about those ciders? Which were your favorites?
In 2003 Nikki and I rode our bike around southern England for a month. We visited a few real small Mom and Pop cideries that were making cider using traditional methods, such as pressing the apples through straw and fermenting in wooden barrels. Their ciders were quite interesting. Some of the best we had: Sheppy’s Cider, Wilkins Cider, and Burrow Hill Cider.
Is there a large difference between the way that cider is made in England versus the way that you produce it?
The big difference between English ciders and US ciders are the apples. In England they grow apples specifically for cider and the apples are much more bitter and much more tart and that comes through in the cider. Cider makers in England often let natural yeast from the environment ferment their ciders, where here we more often add cultured yeast.
How is cider making different from brewing? How many apples go into a typical batch of cider?
Cider making is much more like winemaking, in fact we are licensed as winemakers. There is no boiling or heating that takes place as in beer. With beer there is much more control over the process, it’s easier to follow a recipe. With cider each year is different, the growing season has a huge impact on the quality and quantity of apples which influences the cider.
What time of the year does most of your production take place?
Most of our hard work is in the fall and early winter when the apples are pressed and fermented.
Do you make non-alcoholic cider?
We currently do not make non-alcoholic or sweet cider.
There are some people that don’t like hard cider claiming it is “too sweet” is this true? Are all hard ciders “sweet”?
Those people haven’t tried enough cider. Saying that cider is sweet is like saying beer is bitter. Yes, some cider is sweet, especially some of the more mass produced ciders, and some folks really enjoy that, but there are also some great dry and off-dry ciders available. Our Crabster is bone dry.
What kinds of apples do you use? Do you get them locally?
We buy all of our apples from growers in Leelanau County or Old Mission Peninsula. We use apples like McIntosh, Northern Spy, Greening and Idared which are pretty common. There are a couple of growers that are planting cider apples for us with names like Nehou, Mattias, and Hudson’s Golden Gem. We’re very excited about these apples.
How have Northern Michiganders reacted to cider?
Northern Michiganders have reacted quite favorably to cider. I feel like a lot of people didn’t know what they were missing until they tried it. You can see the look sometimes when people try our cider, it’s like, “ah, now I finally have a drink I love.”
Can you put more than just apples into cider? (i.e. raspberries, cherries, blueberries, etc.)
I am somewhat a purist and think cider should be made from apples, but once in a while I get convinced to add other fruits and I’m always pleasantly surprised. We have added strawberries, cherries (of course), and this year we’re going to try plums.
What are some suggested pairings to accompany your hard cider?
Cider is pretty versatile. There is pork which pairs quite well with cider. I think cider is great with spicy foods like Mexican or Indian cuisine, it really works well with the heat and spice. Cheese and cider—can’t beat it. I used to always say cider goes well with everything except a big steak, but we were recently in the cider region of Spain and were served thick, rare, T-bones with cider and it was fantastic.
What’s your favorite cider that you sell? Which one would you serve to someone that has never tried cider before?
That’s like asking a parent who their favorite child is. It’s always changing as the ciders change and mature. I think our Smackintosh is a good cider to start someone off with, it’s a bit sweet which brings out the apple flavors that first-timers expect in cider.