With nearly 20 cider houses producing hard cider in Michigan, it seems Ohio , with just three cider-producers, offers a bushel-full of opportunity (and little competition) to anyone wishing to open a cider operation in the state.
Cider has become increasingly popular with American beverage consumers these days – and that has created a 30% growth in the number of American cider-makers over just the last few years. There is no reason Ohio won’t eventually land at the top of cider-producing states – after all, this was prime stomping ground for Johnny Appleseed and there are still plenty of apple orchards here — but if there is a reason that Michigan is ahead of Ohio in cider, it may be because Michigan’s fruit industry is a well-developed one.
“I don’t think Ohio’s fruit growers are where Michigan growers are. It’s pretty bustling up there,” says Janee Houston, a fourth-generation farmer and fruit grower, operating a family-run farm in Rootstown, Ohio. “ Ohio farmers have been more focused on corn and soybeans,” she says. However, her generation is now focused on fruit and the farm’s small winery, Barrel Run Crossing Winery and Vineyard, started with an initial planting of grapes in 2006.
Barrel Run Crossing Winery
Barrel Run now produces a variety of red and white wines in addition to fruit wines. Two years ago, the winery offered its first traditional hard cider, Cattle Dog.
Cattle Dog is made with apples from the farm’s orchard in addition to two other local orchards from time to time. “I don’t use dessert apples for the cider,” Houston says. “They would be too sweet. I use Jonagold and other aromatics.”
The juice is sweetened with “a little sugar” before being placed in tanks to ferment. “The juice is about 10 on the Brix scale,” she says. ”The sugar helps brings the alcohol level up to 8.5%.” While sugar is the sweetener now, Houston says the winery will experiment with using maple syrup as a sweetener in the future.
“Barrel Run’s first batch of Cattle Dog hard cider was 500 gallons was offered on tap at the winery,” says Houston. She adds the winery is just now working with distributors, and hopes to have Cattle Dog in local grocery and convenience stores soon.
“Some people taste it and say, ‘Yes, this tastes just like traditional cider,’” says Houston. Others take a sip and wonder why it doesn’t taste like sweet apple cider. To those customers, she offers one of the winery’s two apple wines.
The family is betting the taste for cider catches on in Ohio. “We have a five-acre orchard, and we’re planting more cider apples,” she says.
Griffin Cider Works
Griffin Cider Works, however, is the state’s first real cider producer. It’s located in Westlake — not far from “Napa Valley East” as the winery-rich area around Madison is often called. Griffin was founded in 2010 by Richard Read, a British ex pat who works in the hematology department of the Cleveland Clinic when he’s not blending new ciders. Read has been making his own home-made cider since the age of 14. “I’m 32 now, so that gives you an idea how long I’ve been doing this,” he says.
Cider-making became more than a hobby, however, when he landed in the States a short time ago and couldn’t find any examples of English-style cider. “The cider I did find was pretty poor,” he says. So, he took $500 and invested it in what is now Griffin Cider Works – but ran into problems when he couldn’t find the right kind of apples to re-create the English ciders he knew.
“English cider apples have high-tannin content. They grab your throat at the first sip,” he says. But not only were there no English cider apples in Ohio; it was difficult to find any local cider apples at all. “If I found some, there weren’t enough of them,” so he created a blend from the few cider apples he found along with enough traditional apples to make his first batch. It was close enough to English cider to convince him to continue.
Read buys local apples for his cider when he can, (from Nov – April) but when there aren’t enough, he buys apples from across the state. The apples are pressed by an outside facility and when the juice arrives at his cidery, it goes into one of several 3,000 – 4,000 gallon stainless steel tanks, kept between 45 and 65-degrees. Generally, Brix levels run 12.3 to 13.5, he says, which produce ciders between 6.9 and 7.5% alcohol. There are two exceptions. “We produce a wine-like cider that’s at 12% and a dry barrel-aged cider that’s 8.3% alcohol.”
Read adds a yeast blend to the cider – a combination of wild and commercial yeasts – that help provide the flavor of the English ciders he’s emulating. Once the cider ferments (it ages up to a year) he adds honey and lemon to two of his ciders (Lemon Blues and Honey Oak) then ages those for up to a year in oak barrels. “I add carbonation, largely to maintain consistency across batches,” he says. Although most of his ciders are carbonated, a few are still and one is nitrogenated.
Most of Read’s ciders are filtered, except for Burley and Burley XB, both unfiltered ciders, and Honey Oak which is only coarse filtered.
Griffin Cider Works is a small operation that produces about 150 barrels a year, distributed primarily in Ohio. Although he is working with distributors who will take his brand to other states, for now, he’s cautious. “I want to first strengthen our hold in Ohio ,” he says. Eventually, he would like to build a cider house where the public can come for tastings. He also dreams of creating a guild of cider-makers who would co-own a specialty orchard, planted with the kind of cider apples he remembers. “I have the connections,” Read says. “I know what to get and who to get them from.”
In Canton, in the eastern part of the state, Meniru Meadery has been producing a variety of honey wines for five years. It’s also been producing hard cider for three years.
“We make six different hard ciders with an alcohol level between 8 and 9%,” says Godwin Meniru, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Junaelo Women’s Clinic.
The decision to launch the hard-cider line sprang from the dry apple wine his meadery produces. “We already had apple juice,” he says, “so we decided to use it to make hard cider as well.”
Meniru uses apples from local orchards when he can get them, but last year’s late frost meant there wasn’t much availability for this year’s cider-making. “You have to plan ahead,” he says, so he buys apples from Ohio and further away when necessary.
Fruit is pressed at a nearby orchard, then honey is added to the juice and placed in stainless steel tanks at room temperature to age. Typical aging is a year to 16 months. Commercial yeast is added to the cider as well as nutrients. Sulfer dioxide is added prior to bottling. No carbonation is added, however.
To make and sell hard-cider in Ohio, producers need a winery license. One quirky state regulation requires cider that is 6.99% alcohol and above must be placed in wine bottles; while cider below 6.99% can be placed beer bottles. Meniru already had both the license and wine bottles, so not much more was needed to begin the meadery’s cider line. He also has the advantage of a tasting room where he educates visitors on the long history of cider in this country and his ciders in particular.
Presently, Meniru Meadery ciders are available only at the meadery, although he will ship to other locations. “We’re just starting out in this area,” he says. He hopes to create other varieties of cider and expand his business, and, like Read, dreams one day of planting his own cider apple orchard.
While it’s true Ohio is off to a slow start in cider production –with such an, opportunity for growth, more cider producers are likely to follow. And Ohio cider-consumers will be waiting for them.