Every year, our area orchards abound with apples of every variety. Pies, applesauce and sweet cider are all wonderful nods to the beginning of the autumn season. But they won’t get you through a long winter’s night the way a nice hard cider will. From sweet Scrumpy varieties to more refined Perry, the tradition of crafting world-class hard ciders is alive and well in Michigan.
The Flushing area is blessed to be home to one such cider maker that has been in production for well over 150 years. JK’s Farmhouse Ciders is currently producing five varieties of its estate-grown hard cider and bottles ciders plus one new nonalcoholic brew known as a “switchel.” They have seen the trends in cider come and go over the years and have always remained true to form: a family-owned, traditionally produced, organic hard cider.
With the popularity of the craft cocktail movement and the current trend of gluten-free eating and drinking, hard cider has seen a resurgence in local pubs and restaurants. “Our family has been making cider at this farm since the 1850s. The only difference is now we are legal,” says Jim Koan of Almar Orchards and JK’s Farmhouse Ciders. “Over the years many trends have come and gone but cider will remain.”
Their most popular cider, JK’s Scrumpy, is a simple farmhouse-style cider fermented from the naturally occurring wild yeast from the orchard. It has a sweet taste and a very full apple flavor. This version of hard cider originated in West England and takes its name, Scrumpy, from local slang meaning “rough.” This style of cider is truly an apple grower’s cider because it is often made up of the blemished apples that wouldn’t otherwise the make the cut at market and from the natural yeast present on the surface of the apples. It’s generally sweeter in taste and more reminiscent of what we are used to drinking on crisp fall mornings along with cider mill donuts. The hands-off, natural style of fermentation can often mean a high alcohol content.
“THE YEARS MANY TRENDS
HAVE COME AND GONE
BUT CIDER WILL REMAIN. ”
– JIM KOAN –
With a long tradition of wine making, it’s not hard to believe that the French are also known to have mastered the art of cider making. Specifically the regions of Normandy and Brittany are home to many ciders that are complex in flavor with tannins, bitterness and sweetness all delicately balanced. On the west side of Michigan, in Fennville, there is the treasure of Virtue Ciders. Virtue is the brainchild of former brewmaster of the Goose Island Beer Company, Gregory Hall. While Virtue currently highlights several varieties and styles of hard cider, the Michigan Brut is a standout among traditional European-style ciders. Its complex blend of heirloom apples is hand pressed and aged in French oak barrels and creates a flavor profile reminiscent of Champagne.
If you’re looking for a sweeter, more complex flavor, try a Cyser on for size. This traditional mead made with honey and apples can range from dry to sweet but will always have complexities that you simply don’t get from apples alone. Vander Mill, located in Spring Lake, MI, has an entire series of beverages dedicated to the art of Cyser making. The popular Cyser Van Doom is both rich in flavor and high in alcohol. Finished in bourbon barrels and then Imperial IPA barrels, this interesting marriage of both cider and mead makes for a very good drink.
With all this libation, it’s important to note how well food pairs with one of Michigan’s finest ferments. “I know the common answer must be pork but it works. Apple orchards and pigs just go together,” according to Koan. “Our pigs also eat the crushed apples which have started to ferment in the summer sun. So it’s common to see drunken pigs wandering the orchard, fantastic.”
From braised pork shoulder in hard cider, to a syrupy glaze of cider and honey to brush on grilled pork chops, it’s hard to beat this combination. It’s never too late to experiment with a new hard cider or two, and don’t forget that apple smoked bacon can make for a brilliant pallet cleanser between glasses.