We Minnesotans instinctively raise our hackles whenever a national publication rolls out their “Best Of” lists. Either the North Star State is completely overlooked (ignorance!) or the editors and voters attribute something so nonsensical to Minnesota’s rich culture that there is a state-wide collective shake of our heads in disgust (see the NYT’s grape salad debacle).
But every once in a while, they get it right and actually recognize and adequately rank us on the national stage.
Such was the case on Friday, March 26, when USA Today announced that the winner of its Top10 Readers’ Choice Poll for Best Cidery in the U.S. was none other than St. Joseph, Minnesota’s Milk & Honey Ciders. Cider lovers in our great state have long known that Milk & Honey are making some of the most exceptional cider in the entire Midwest, but it seems that their sterling reputation is reaching new ears and mouths around the country.
Selected as a nominee in the poll by a panel of experts and USA Today’s editors, readers then voted Milk & Honey the top cidery in the U.S. ahead of brands like Diskin Cider in Nashville (No. 2), and Waldschänke Ciders + Coffee in Denver (No. 3).
Perhaps readers were swayed by Milk & Honey’s dedication to crafting traditional style ciders with Old World methods that elevate the apple or by the cidery’s warm, inviting taproom and orchard in St. Joseph, but either way, the result bodes well for America’s orchard-based cideries that treat their cider as fine wines rather than as the sweet, adjunct laden beers that are dominating the brewing industry.
In a tip of a cap to the fine folks at Milk & Honey Ciders, here are three exceptional ciders that you ought to add to your fridge, post-haste.
Cider of the Woods
This bourbon barrel–aged cider is perhaps our favorite cider that Milk & Honey makes. It’s semi-dry, which means that it still sports a bit of residual sweetness that helps fill out the body of the cider, and the bourbon barrel adds both a light vanilla character, but also a woodsy structure that makes it a robust drink. While there is a nip of whiskey in the flavor, it’s just enough to enhance the apples and doesn’t cover up the fruit. A great choice for lovers of French and English keeved ciders that feature a bit more tannin, sweetness, and a fuller body than fully dry ciders.
Chances are, you’ve probably never heard of an ice cider, much less tasted one. But we can confidently say that once you try it, it will become a staple of your liquor cabinet. Ice cider is essentially a cider that has a heartier ABV achieved by freezing the water in the apple juice to concentrate the natural sugars. Milk & Honey’s Alchemy is made from a blend of Winesap and Northern Spy apples through this method of cryoconcentration and then bourbon barrel–aged for seven months to its final 13.4% perfection. It’s richly sweet, apply, with sharp high notes that will make you want to dump out that old port dessert wine and convert to ice cider evermore.
While many of Milk & Honeys ciders are a blend of cider apples sourced from Minnesota, Michigan, and the East Coast, once a year they produce a special estate cider that is made exclusively from apples grown at their orchard and naturally fermented with the wild yeast that grows on their apples’ skins. It’s the ultimate expression of the cidery’s orchard and of the growing season. This year’s Estate Cider release is from the 2019 apple harvest and it is wonderfully complex thanks to the mix of apples including Golden Russet, Kingston Black, Calville Blanc D’ Hiver, Chisel Jersey, and others.