Twin Cities: The next big thing from apple: Hard cider. - Pioneer Press


Visitors can try Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery's creations during a visit to the tasting room at the orchard, which is open Wednesday through Sunday until Dec. 31, Tuesday evenings through October and some weekends in the winter.

For hours of operation and more information, visit

Apple pickers on ladders filled wooden crates with the Ellis Bitter variety as orchard owner Herdie Baisden walked through the rows of nearby trees, clearly pleased with their fruit.

It had rained that September morning in Stockholm, Wis., leaving the apples glistening. Most would soon be juiced, fermented into hard cider, bottled and fitted with a label reading "Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery."

"When we were established in 2000, we planted some of the cider varieties because we knew where we were headed," Baisden said as he strolled toward a group of trees bearing the golden Medaille d'Or apple. "And it was a good thing that we did, too."

Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery now focuses much of its efforts on cider production, which is

Kay Haynes picks Ellis Bitter apples, which will be used for cider, at the Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery in Stockholm, Wisconsin, on September 18, 2013. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)

seeing explosive growth nationally. Baisden's operation -- he has about 5,000 apple trees -- is relatively small compared with the corporate beer companies that dominate the U.S. cider market. What Maiden Rock Winery & Cider has going for it, he says, is its focus on locally sourced artisanal products.

"The range in flavors you find in apples is just as broad as the flavors you find in grapes," Baisden said, adding that it's that variation he explores in the search for a better cider. "You have to think about the particular flavor characteristics of an apple and what that apple can do for you."

Baisden grows some 50 varieties of apples, and about three-fourths of his harvest is used for hard cider. Key to many of his ciders, he says, is the bittersweet varieties, which include the Ellis Bitter and others with such names as Brown Snout and Chiseled Jersey.

"The bittersweets are particularly important because they contribute more tannins to the cider than you can get with regular apples," Baisden said. "Tannin is what gives you more mouth feel."

The business's biggest seller by far is its Honeycrisp Hard, which relies on Minnesota's state fruit, the Honeycrisp apple, rather than the bittersweet varieties that are in limited

A Brown's Apple branch at left has been grafted onto the older branch of a Cortland Apple tree, at right, resulting in trees which bear fruit several years quicker, at the Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery in Stockholm, Wisconsin, on September 18, 2013. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)


Baisden said he plans to have the cider available at the Minnesota State Fair next year, and it's also made its way into local stores.

At Surdyk's Liquor Store and Gourmet Cheese Shop in Minneapolis, about 50 ciders, including Maiden Rock's Honeycrisp Hard and Scrumpy varieties, make up a small but growing amount of sales, said store beer buyer Mark Selner.

Selner said the local market for cider began to expand several years ago when then-Minneapolis-based Crispin Cider Co. entered the scene. Now the store's most popular cider brand is newcomer Angry Orchard, a product of Boston Beer Co., maker of Samuel Adams beers.

"When Crispin first came out, they took off and they were everybody's favorite, and now it's the Angry

Beverage production manager Tony Edlin checks on a batch of Dolgo Crab Apple juice which will be used to make crab apple wine, iat the Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery in Stockholm, Wisconsin, on September 18, 2013. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)

Orchard," Selner said. "Who knows what it's going to be coming up?"


The cider market in the U.S. has changed dramatically in the past couple of years as the top beer companies entered the market, said Chris Shepard, an editor at Beer Marketer's Insights, a family of trade publications covering the nation's beer industry.

Crispin Cider Co., now based in California, was purchased last year by MillerCoors, and Anheuser-Busch launched Michelob Ultra Light Cider and Stella Artois Cidre in the last two years.

The entrance of the larger beer companies in the market has helped pushed cider sales this year to twice what they were a year ago, Shepard said.

"More folks seem to be ... interested in picking it up, trying it out, and also coming back to it," he said.

But Shepard added that cider is still just a tiny fraction of total beer sales in the U.S. -- about 0.5 percent.

"Cider in the U.S. has a long way to go before it reaches ... the share of the beverage market it has in the (United Kingdom), for example," Shepard said. "When you have half a percent share of the beer segment, there's lots of room to run."

And that's creating a lot of excitement for cider makers of all sizes, he said.


Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery isn't getting left out of the cider boom; Baisden expects production to double in 2014 compared with 2012, and grow by an additional two-thirds in 2015.

The business, he said, is on track to become the dominant craft cider producer in the region -- something he didn't expect when he started planting apple trees.

"I am surprised by that because that's not why I got into this," he said.

Baisden moved to the Twin Cities in 1970 to study psychology at the University of Minnesota, where he earned a doctorate, and then spent more than 20 years as an organizational psychologist for a Minneapolis consulting firm.

When he and his wife began thinking about retirement, they found the idea of growing apples appealing. Baisden grew up around fruit in Florida, and he wanted to produce something with his hands after spending much of his life in a service-oriented profession, he said.

"I anticipated that I was going to be able to sit on my tractor, look out over the Mississippi and kind of ... return to the land," Baisden said. "Maybe I might even live longer, I thought, by getting more exercise."

They moved to Prescott, Wis., and began looking for suitable land along the St. Croix River. Their attentions eventually turned south, and they bought an 80-acre farm in rural Stockholm.

The area had many good qualities for apple growing, some they didn't even know until they started farming there, Baisden said.

Last year, for example, was a tough year for many apple growers in the region as a late frost and hail storms damaged crops. Maiden Rock's location managed to save it from both -- the storms all shifted to the south of the orchard and the cold air settled in a valley below, Baisden said.

"We just happen to be in a microclimate, I guess you would call it, that makes things a little better for us," he said. "It's an excellent location."

Along with a number of ciders, the orchard also produces wines using grapes, apples and combinations of the two. One wine is made from Dolgo crabapples, a hardy fruit that makes for a bright red, tart juice and is a favorite of Baisden's.

"It has magnificent juice," he said. "It's almost like pink lemonade, and it kind of tastes that way."

Andy Rathbun can be reached at 651-228-2121. Follow him at

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