There’s a je ne sais quoi to hard cider and mead that separate them both from the pack. They exist in this liquid twilight, neither beer nor wine nor liquor. Cider is light and sweet like a wine, but with the ABV and carbonation of a beer. Mead, made from honey, is its own beast entirely, smoother and richer than wine, almost boozy at times. And for whatever reason, breweries and wineries outnumber cideries and meaderies by a longshot. But more and more people are realizing the merit of an excellent craft cider — not Woodchucks, but the good stuff, well-balanced and full of interesting flavors. And every year, we have more mazers (mead-makers) than the one before.
So if you’re looking for something special, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s our guide to all the fermented apples and honey you could ever want.
Acoustic Draft Mead
119 N. Maple St., Traverse City
As its name suggests, Acoustic is a little on the lighter side. Its musically-themed meads come in at an average 6-percent ABV. Combine that with the light carbonation in every bottle (hence the word “Draft”) and Acoustic’s selection drinks more like a beer or cider than most meads. To live it up, try the Electric Bzzz, made with apricot and orange zest.
1251 Century Ave. SW, Grand Rapids, arktosmeadery.com, (616) 350-0412
Arktos has made quite the splash in West Michigan with its eye-catching bottle design, tasteful nuance and bear-centric mythology. The mead itself has garnered multiple awards in just a few short years, offering an ever-expanding selection of flavors: coffee, blackberry, pumpkin, etc. All these can be found at the Grand Rapids tasting room, where goblets line the bartop and mead flows from nitro taps.
Bardic Wells Meadery
8844 Water St., Montague, bardicwells.com, (616) 837-8035
Coming from a long line of beekeepers, the owners of Bardic Wells know their honey start to finish, inside and out. A mead lover myself, I strongly recommend hunting down the Traditional Mead. It’s balanced, smooth, unpretentious, and unusually affordable. Bardic is the first ever licensed meadery in Michigan, if that tells you anything.
Bee Well Meadery
3533 Derenzy Rd., Bellaire, beewellmeadery.com
Bee Well keeps growing as the four sibling owners work to spread their mead far and wide. The tasting room in Bellaire is coming up on a one-year anniversary, open Thursday through Sunday. Make the trip to try out some Hopped Honey or Antrim Apple Pie, straight from the source. They have cider too!
Black Dragon Meadery
While it has yet to settle down into a tasting room (distribution only), Black Dragon is worth seeking out. Paul Peterson, aka Pete Wylde the MeadMaster, has won 18 awards for his meads since 2009. Coming in 2017: Peach Mead, Black Mead, White Mead and more. Bottles are available for purchase at facebook.com/blackdragonmeadery.
Farmhaus Cider Co.
5025 Stanton St., Hudsonville, farmhauscider.com, (616) 920-1867
Farmhaus blew up fast, opening in 2015 with a Cidergarten and beginning to distribute statewide in just two years. The couple-owned cidery aims for simplicity, with styles like the Halbbitter, which is described as fresh, bright and semi-sweet, and the Trocken, which is unfiltered, dry and tart. Look for the signature tallboys at your local store.
Painted Turtle Hard Cider
paintedturtlehardcider.com, (616) 644-3047
Painted Turtle came on the scene just last year, and it’s clearly here to stay. The Apple Crisp, Blueberry Bliss and Java Vanilla ciders have made a splash, being packed full of flavor without going overboard. While there’s no tasting room, look for the cute little reptile on the tallboy cans at your local party store.
1051 Harding St., Conklin, schaeferciders.com, (616) 780-7257
PUX is brand new, just beginning distribution this spring. And yet, right out of the gate, the cidery has a wide variety of flavors, including barrel-aged tart cherry, a hopped cider and a single-apple varietal. Schaefer Ciders, who makes PUX, is still working on putting a taproom together, but for now you can find the stuff at area retailers.
Ridge Cider Co.
351 W. 136th St., Grant, ridgecider.com, (231) 674-2040
Located off M-37 near West Michigan’s famous apple ridge, Ridge Cider Co.’s tasting room is big and full of wood. It features a range of top-quality ciders and servers that are passionate and knowledgeable about the products. We advise you to try the Porch Sittin’, a cider with prominent cinnamon and a hint of vanilla.
Robinette’s Apple Haus & Winery
3142 4 Mile Rd. NE, Grand Rapids, robinettes.com, (616) 361-7180
Passed down through five generations, Robinette’s has been making cider since 1971, which means they’ve had plenty of time to get it right. In 2006, they started making it with alcohol too. Now, you can swing by at any time of the year to taste six wines or hard ciders for just $3.
8540 2 Mile Rd. NE, Ada, sietsemaorchards.com, (616) 676-5584
At Sietsema’s, the story starts with preserving heirloom apples, which give the company’s hard ciders a unique flavor profile. In the fall months, the tasting room offers draft hard ciders and bottles for purchase, along with traditional non-alcoholic cider mill fare (read: doughnuts). Sietsema’s hard ciders are popping up in restaurants and stores (including Meijer) across West Michigan, but we advise you to stop in and see where it all originates.
St. Ambrose Cellars Meadery
841 S. Pioneer Rd., Beulah, stambrose-mead-wine.com, (231) 383-4262
St. Ambrose’s affordably-priced selection is out of control in the best way possible. Draft mead, still mead, honey wine, it’s all there in an outrageous variety of flavors. If you’re a big fan of sour beers, this is the meadery for you — try the Wild Ginger, a sour mead with ginger. The owners keep their own bees, so they know their stuff.
121 N. Bridge St., Bellaire, starcutciders.com, (231) 498-2300
Starcut Ciders, made by Short’s Brewing Company, was born in 2014 out of a desire to utilize the apple orchards of northern Michigan. Starcut features both unique and traditional ciders. Keep your eye out for Immortal Jelly, a cider inspired by Soft Parade and fermented with raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and strawberries. It’s slightly sour, slightly fruity and totally delicious.
Distribution only, Lowell, sunshinemead.com
Right now, Sunshine’s sticking to distribution, but its two meads are worth checking out. The Hakuna Matata, infused with vanilla bean and tea flavors, provides an unusual twist for the beverage. For a more traditional metheglin (spiced mead), pick up the Autumn Sunset.
This time last year, Sunshine was just getting off the ground. Now the distribution-only meadery has at least seven meads under its belt, including Monarch, made with Macintosh apples, Monterrey cherries, star anise, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon.
The People’s Cider Co.
600 Maryland Ave. NE, Grand Rapids, thepeoplescider.com, (616) 322-7805
People’s Cider is still at work on its Leonard Street location next to Long Road Distillers, but there doesn’t seem to be any rush — the cidery is doing just fine with its current setup east of Downtown Grand Rapids. Catch People’s on local tap lists around town or at the Fulton Street Farmers Market.
Uncle John’s Cider Mill
8614 US-127, St. Johns, ujhardcider.com, 312-909-6581
One of the oldest apple farms in the country, Uncle John’s hard cider is simple but well-refined. Classic flavors like Cherry, Blueberry and Apricot make the cider easily accessible, but with enough options to offer some variety. Look for the cans in stores or make the trip to St. Johns, north of Lansing.
Vander Mill Cider
505 Ball Ave. NE, Grand Rapids, vandermill.com, (616) 259-8828
Vander Mill is a powerhouse, likely the largest hard cider producer in the Midwest. The new Grand Rapids taproom reflects that, with an indoor deck overlooking the massive new production facility that quintupled the cidery’s capacity last year. While you’ve definitely heard of mainstays like Totally Roasted and Blue Gold, hit up the taproom (or select stores) for specialty ciders like the Loving Cup, made with peppercorn and hibiscus.
Virtue Cider Co.
2170 62nd St., Fennville, virtuecider.com, (773) 868-6878
Virtue’s ciders are legit and true to the dry European style. The Glouchestershire Old Spot pigs — common to Old World cideries — add to the traditional vibe at the farm and cider mill. Stop in for a tasting or to buy a bottle or five of these Michigan-centric ciders. The Mitten, a bourbon barrel-aged cider, remains a fan-favorite.