5 locally crafted hard apple ciders

As the saying goes, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and this fall we’re embracing that mantra by sampling hard ciders from local purveyors.
five apple ciders from different purveyors: The Cider Farm, Hidden Cave Cidery, Brix Cider, Restoration cider, Mershon's
Left to right: The Cider Farm's Cyser, Hidden Cave Cidery's Lavender Lemongrass, Brix Cider's Rye Whiskey Barrel Aged Cider, Restoration Cider's Door County Cherry, Mershon's Artisan Cider (September 2021)
Photo by Nikki Hansen

As the saying goes, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and this fall we’re embracing that mantra by sampling hard ciders from local purveyors.

From Branch to Bottle
The Cider Farm team is responsible for every step of the cider-making process, including growing all the apples themselves at an organic orchard in Mineral Point. Husband-and-wife duo John Biondi and Deirdre Birmingham (she runs the orchard) started making cider commercially in 2015, but started planting trees in the orchard years before that in 2006. Most of the apples are English and French cider varieties. Biondi says the apples are not made for eating but are “cultivated strictly for the making of alcoholic beverages.” The Cider Farm has the largest collection of organically grown true cider apples in America, and they make the ciders more wine-like and dry as opposed to sweet. While the orchard is in Mineral Point, The Cider Farm serves its ciders at a tasting room in the same building as Brennan’s Cellars. The business offers special release flavors that are among its most popular, so joining its Cider Club is a great way to snag a bottle of limited-time-only offerings. Of the year-round flavors, Biondi says the Classic Dry — a blend of five English cider apples — and Cyser are the most popular. 8216 Watts Road, 217-6217, theciderfarm.com

Creative Cidery
Walker Fanning has dedicated the past four years to growing apples and making his own cider. Fanning launched Hidden Cave Cidery in May 2018 after gaining industry experience the prior year working as an orchard manager tending to more than 10 acres of trees. In the beginning, Hidden Cave Cidery’s wares were produced within Old Sugar Distillery, but in June it branched out on its own with a Middleton tasting room. Fanning aims to create unique flavors using Wisconsin apples and other specialty ingredients. One of the standout offerings is the Chocolate Hazelnut Hard Cider, which Fanning says is one of a kind. Using Wm. Chocolate’s single-origin 75% dark chocolate from Ghana and a blend of golden russet and gold rush apples — Fanning says those two apples make for the best champagne-style ciders and have a complex flavor profile — the cider is an unexpectedly delicious treat. For something slightly less adventurous, try the most popular variety, Lemongrass Lavender, which features Mount Horeb’s Gentle Breeze Honey. At the new tasting room, Fanning is also experimenting with cider cocktails. 2500 Pleasant View Road, Middleton, 213-7396, hiddencavecidery.com

Small-Batch Sips
Marie and Matt Raboin experimented with ciders even before they planted their first tree at their orchard, which recently moved from Barneveld to a farm near Mount Horeb where they’re starting a new orchard. The duo began making ciders commercially in 2016, but it wasn’t until 2019 that they opened a cider pub in Mount Horeb dedicated to serving locally made and grown ciders. Brix Cider creates small batches of ciders using different blends of apples from its own orchard, along with 100 cider apple varieties from more than 21 farms in Wisconsin within a 75-mile radius of Mount Horeb. The tap lines featuring 11 ciders and one beer are constantly rotating. Larger amounts are bottled for local retailers, with smaller batches available only at Brix, so you’ll likely see something different if you pop in for a visit. Brix specializes in dry ciders, but does create semisweet offerings from time to time. 119 S. Second St., Mount Horeb, 437-2749, brixcider.com

Fruit-Forward Flavors
Restoration Cider Co. prides itself on the real apples and fruits in its ciders. Paul Asper — who co-owns the business with his wife, Lisa Koop — says a lot of other big-name cider brands use cheap apple juice concentrate filled with sugar and artificial aromas and colors, so when it comes to making his cider, he tries to focus on the quality of the ingredients. “The apple blends smell and taste amazing when they arrive, and the complexity carries through fermentation to the bottle,” Asper says. The Driftless Apple  is a great sipper, but Door County Cherry and Normandy Pear are favorites for many. One of the best ways to enjoy Restoration ciders is to order a variety pack featuring all six fruit-focused options, which also include blackberry, pineapple and cranberry flavors. The veteran-owned business also donates a percentage of its profits to stream-restoration projects, another passion of the owners. While Restoration does not have an open taproom (though a collaboration taproom project with a brewery may be coming soon), the ciders are available for contactless pickup and home delivery and are carried at local restaurants and stores. 507-383-5150, restorationcider.com

Sweet As Honey
When he realized there weren’t many local options for cider, Joseph Baird decided to make his own. After perfecting the recipe in a home setting, Baird opened Mershon’s Artisan Cider in 2014 in Stoughton. The original cider — using locally sourced, fresh-pressed apple juice and wildflower honey and no other added ingredients — is the top-seller. Besides being naturally gluten-free, all of the ciders lack added concentrates, flavors or preservatives. During the autumn and winter months, Baird suggests switching to Mershon’s Snowed In Cinnamon, a cinnamon, apple and honey cider that can be served warm as a mulled drink. Mershon’s moved to a new location — a former cinema cafe — in December 2020 and fully opened in March. 124 W. Main St., Stoughton, 235-6832, mershonscider.com

Maija Inveiss is an associate editor of Madison Magazine.