The Midwest is widely considered to be one of the premier areas of the country for farming apples. With hundreds of varieties grown annually, it’s no surprise that the region’s hard cider culture has taken the nation and the beverage world by storm. From right here in Illinois all the way to Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin, there are almost too many notable cider options to choose from. Fortunately, we’ve done the work for you and have narrowed the list down to eight signature brews you can’t miss this fall and, more importantly, we’ll tell you where to get them!
8614 North US 127, St. Johns, Michigan, 888-562-4337
Uncle John’s Cider Mill is a Midwest institution and one of the most recognizable hard cider producers in the region. Located in St. Johns, Michigan, Uncle John’s has been a purveyor of fruits like pears, peaches and mixed berries since 1918 and added cider production to their repertoire back in 2003. Owner Mike Beck (the son of Uncle John himself) uses only the best locally grown apples and age-old fermentation techniques to create his signature ciders. Their traditional Hard Apple Cider is always a winner as are their more playful flavors like Apple Cherry, Apple Pear and Apple Apricot. Here in Chicago, you can find Uncle John’s ciders at The Northman, Fountainhead, Montrose Saloon, The Globe Lounge and Acre.
14921 Cleveland St., Spring Lake, Michigan, 616-842-4337
Grand Rapids’ Vander Mill Cidery came to be back in 2006 and over the course of the past 10 years has expanded from a small, family-run cider mill to a major Midwest hub. Founders Paul and Amanda Vander source all of their apples from the Dietrich Family Apple Farm just a short drive outside of Grand Rapids and aim to put creative twists on classic cider preparations. Outside of their home base of Michigan, their ciders can be found in Indiana and Ohio, and at Chicago spots like The Gage, The Franklin Tap, Harry Caray’s, Smith & Wollensky, Frontera Grill, Bohemian House and The Purple Pig.
17985 Armada Center Road, Armada, Michigan, 586-784-9463
Voted one of the best bars in America by Esquire magazine in 2015, Blake’s Hard Cider is now a household name in the hard cider world. The Armada, Michigan-based cider company has been growing apples for 69 years and maintains a collection of more than 40 apple varieties, which they then turn into 19 different hard ciders. Their motto “Passionately Crafted for Our City” says it all, highlighting their commitment to locally sourced ingredients and proudly reflecting the diverse agriculture of Michigan. You can find their signature ciders at these Chicago spots: The Windy City Inn and Armanetti’s Franklin Park.
1072 288th Ave., Burlington, Wisconsin, 262-878-5345
Less is always more when it comes to cider at Aeppel Treow Winery and Distillery in Burlington, Wisconsin. This unique, small-scale producer creates delicious cider and perry (the pear equivalent of cider) using heirloom varieties of apples and pears and minimally processing them so as to let the natural flavors of the fruit shine through. Relative to the other brews on this list, Aeppel Treow’s ciders are much lighter in body and flavor, making them a perfect choice for a warm, early fall day. You can find their cider and perry at their tasting room and numerous spots within Wisconsin.
1839 200th St., Fairfield, Iowa, 641-451-4323
While it may be one of the younger cideries on our list, Jefferson County Ciderworks has garnered an extensive cult following throughout their home base of Iowa. Founder Jesse Narducci explored the many ins and outs of the culinary world in San Francisco before heading back to Fairfield, Iowa, two years ago to pursue his true passion for hard cider. Narducci now grows more than 110 apple varieties on his land and specializes in preserving special and rare heirloom apple varieties. Given their small size, Jefferson County is not yet distributing outside of Iowa, but their products can be found at an extensive list of restaurants, bars and other craft beer destinations throughout the state. At only around a four-hour drive from Chicago, Jefferson County is more than worth a weekend visit!
W12266 King Lane, Stockholm, Wisconsin, 715-448-3502
Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery grew out of owners Herdie and Carol Baisden’s collective interest in apple farming. After purchasing an apple farm in the late 90s, the two decided to try growing apple varieties common in southwestern England. With numerous years of research and experimentation under their belts, the couple finally opened the Cidery of their dreams in 2008 and has since become revered for their English approach to cider making. Living by the motto “Flavored by Wisconsin,” Herdie and Carol aim to provide their customers with an authentic taste of their home state. You can find their brews at numerous bars and restaurants in both Wisconsin and Minnesota.
12040 Garrett Bay Road, Ellison Bay, Wisconsin, 920-854-3344
Island Orchard Cider came to be after owners Bob and Yannique Purman traveled extensively through the coastal French regions of Brittany and Normandy. Inspired by the local French creperies that are famous for pairing sweet/savory crepes with a bubbly, dry cider, Bob and Yannique decided to bring French-style cider back home to the states. The two set up shop on a beautiful farm atop a hill overlooking Lake Michigan in Door County, Wisconsin, and now offer four unique cider varieties at their Tasting Room and a number of bars and restaurants within Wisconsin. You can’t go wrong with their traditional Brut Apple Cider or flavored options like Apple Cherry and Pear.
6757 Tribal Ct., Long Grove, Illinois, 773-213-9059
Local gem Prima Cider is no stranger to the world of cider-making, churning out a wide selection of brews since 1981. Founder Richard Bertsche began crafting cider in his basement before expanding to an underground cellar in Long Grove. Prima sources their rare apple varieties from several states including Wisconsin, Michigan and, of course, Bertsche’s home state of Illinois, making for a truly authentic taste of the Midwest. Since day one, Berstsche has aimed to show customers the complexity of cider flavors, focusing more heavily on the savory rather than the sweet side of apples. Check out Prima’s incredible offerings at Chicago restaurants including Au Cheval, Pub Royale, Das Radler, Bangers and Lace, GT Fish & Oyster, La Sirena Clandestina and Gilt Bar.
Maddie LaKind is a personal chef, caterer and writer living in Ravenswood. For more information about her services, visit her website, madonfood.com.