Ask Andy Sietsema what makes a good cider, and he’ll tell you it comes down to selecting the best fruit and yeast before fermentation.
He’ll also tell you it should be dry, as cider was intended to be before too many producers ruined it — and consumers’ palates — by adding in sugars to produce overly sweet beverages.
Much like the craft beer industry started in rebellion to the sameness of domestic lagers, craft cider makers have taken aim at the bland alcoholic apple juice that passed for cider in the U.S. for decades.
With the rise of artisan cider makers and their crusade to educate consumers about the complexity and interesting qualities of cider, drinkers are slowly coming around. They’re often lured in by flavored or hopped semi-sweet craft ciders, and develop into connoisseurs of dry funky varieties, much like beer fans have flocked to sours in recent years.
“It’s good to see dry cider is starting to catch on,” Sietsema said. “Consumers are starting to shift and lean more to drier styles.”
For Sietsema Cider’s Traditional Dry hard cider, which Revue rated as the top dry cider in a recent tasting, that means starting with a selection of MacIntosh and Northern Spy apples (when available) and also adding in some heirloom varieties. To the pressed juice, he adds a select German champagne yeast and lets the fermentation process work its magic.
With his flagship dry cider, he expects it to have an aroma similar to white wine while also picking up some apple notes.
“We try to make it as consistent as possible, but apples taste different based on the season,” Sietsema said.
The Traditional Dry cider, available in signature yellow cans from retailers across the Lower Peninsula, is the company’s No. 1 or No. 2 seller, depending on the market, he added.
Sietsema hopes to get his product in front of even more people with a planned satellite tasting room at 70 N. Main Street in Cedar Springs, across the street from the popular Cedar Springs Brewing Co. The expansion will provide more visibility for the company and play off the craft beverage destination appeal in the northern Kent County community, he said.
The 1,350-square-foot tasting room will offer 12 taps to start, and a rustic ambiance that seats 25-35 people, plus possible outdoor seating. The company also will offer cider to-go in growlers and crowlers. The new location will feature a small kitchen for heavy appetizers and quick eats.
Sietsema said he hopes to open the Cedar Springs location before the start of summer after securing all the pertinent permits.
“We’ve been at this for about five years, and this will be a big change and a big boost for us,” Sietsema said. “We want to give people a reason to come in and drink good cider. We want to add something to Cedar Springs and give people another reason to enjoy the community.”
Five Revue staffers tasted these seven Michigan-made ciders and rated them loosely based on the Beer Judge Certification Program scoresheet for ciders. The brands were not hidden from the tasters during the sampling. Scores are an average.
Sietsema Cider LLC, Ada
Poured a slightly hazy, pale yellow color with a small burst of carbonation. The bouquet put the focus on apples, along with some white wine notes. The flavor featured a nice balance of farmhouse qualities and tartness, with a dry mouthfeel and medium body. We liked its refreshing qualities, drinkability and overall balance.
Virtue Cider, Fennville
Pours very clear and pale with noticeable (and welcome) bubbles. The aroma explodes from the glass with a distinct whiff of white wine bordering on champagne. That it’s barrel-aged shines through in its oaky characteristics. The cider finishes über dry with just the right amount of complexity.
Farmhaus Cider Co., Hudsonville
Another very clear cider, with a slight amount of carbonation. Nicely aromatic, featuring the apples and some acceptable buttery notes. The taste is equal parts tart, crisp and acidic, with some apple skin flavors and a dry finish. It features a medium bitterness and slight sour characteristic.
Blake’s Hard Cider Co., Armada
Features a clear, pale appearance with little carbonation. The highlight of the bouquet is an oaky aroma with some farmhouse funk, but not a ton of complexity. The medium-bodied cider showcases tart and buttery apple flavors along with a dry finish. Smooth and crushable.
Vander Mill LLC, Grand Rapids & Spring Lake
A totally acceptable, mostly-still, medium-bodied cider with balanced fruity flavors. It was wholly inoffensive, yet seemed sweeter than most of the others tasted.
Pux Cider Co., Conklin
A nice amount of carbonation gives way to strong alcohol and barnyard flavors that divided our tasters. It’s very dry, leaving your tongue tingling. Although polarizing, try it if you like something unique.
Painted Turtle Hard Cider, Lowell