It’s October, and the North is filthy with apples. Sweet and juicy eating varieties like the hallowed Honeycrisp and SweeTangos, multimodal northern spies, tannic heirloom varieties and crab apples. Nearly all of them are eligible to be squashed in a cider press and fermented into dozens of delicious, if dizzying, iterations of the apple buzz, and with a newfound reverence for the brew arts, people are drinking Northern Michigan cider like never before.

The cider-style gamut runs from searingly acidic to sticky sweet, with variables from barrel aging, hop or fruit infusions and yeasts of every conceivable strain. As it stands, there’s no universal scale for understanding cider, so this month we’ve broken down the field into the three most common categories, along with some solid local examples, so you can get down to the business of sipping. Also, find more than a dozen hard ciders from various producers at Taproot Cider House located at 300 E. Front St. in downtown Traverse City.

Make sense of the cider sugar level with this scale from the Beer Judge Certification Program.


Farmhouse Cider

Also known as “natural” ciders, farmhouse ciders are undiluted, usually barrel-fermented, and have a more aggressive apple character and complex aromas imparted by yeasts, esters and sulfur. Typically dry, farmhouse ciders are naturally carbonated.

Local Farmhouse samples: Left Foot Charley, The Cunning Ham; Starcut Ciders, Erraticus; Suttons Bay Ciders, Copperhead.

Draft Cider

The draft style represents most commercial ciders on the market. Apples are pressed, and the juice is fermented dry in large vessels then blended with unfermented juice and/or water to sweeten the cider and lower its alcohol. Draft ciders usually have a clean, bright apple character, can be dry or sweet, and are naturally carbonated or dosed with CO2.

Local draft samples: Black Star Farms, Hard Apple Cider; Tandem Ciders, The Crabster.

Specialty Cider

This is a fast and loose catchall category to accommodate various levels of delectable weirdness that exist outside the neat boundaries of traditional apple-based brews. Enter sparkling hops, honey, maple syrup and all manner of adjunct fruit juices in a fun universe of flavor chemistry that still starts with apples.

Local specialty samples: Verterra Winery, Chaos Ciders Blackberry Hard Cider; 45 North Winery, Citra Cider; Tractor Pull Hard Cider (at Chateau de Leelanau) Caramel Apple; Green Bird Organic Cellars, Chai Cider; L. Mawby, sparkling cider, Bright.

Take a look inside Suttons Bay Ciders and see their gorgeous view overlooking Grand Traverse Bay in this MyNorth Media video.

More Northern Michigan Cider

Photo(s) by Dave Weidner