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Cideries reach Duluth: How the craft cider industry took off in Minnesota

Wild State Cider will occupy this building on West Superior Street in Duluth. (Clint Austin / / 4
Troy Templer of Munger with Stack Bros. Inc. carpentry division sweeps up insulation and other construction debris at Wild State Cider in Duluth on a recent afternoon. (Clint Austin / / 4
Troy Templer of Munger with Stack Bros. Inc. carpentry division sweeps up insulation and other construction debris at Wild State Cider in Duluth on a recent afternoon. (Clint Austin / / 4
Troy Templer of Munger with Stack Bros. Inc. carpentry division sweeps up insulation and other construction debris at Wild State Cider in Duluth on a recent afternoon. (Clint Austin / / 4

Duluth, despite being well known for its craft-beer scene, lacks a taproom specializing in craft cider — but that's changing.

Two cideries — Duluth Cider and Wild State Cider — have both announced plans to open taprooms in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, just two blocks away from each other.

The United States' growing craft-cider industry has reached Duluth.

But before any cideries opened in Minnesota, state laws and orchards had to catch up.

"About 10 years ago, none of us were around," said Debbie Morrison, a Minnesota Cider Guild board member and owner of Sapsucker Farms and Yellow Belly Cider in Mora, Minn.

Minnesota now boasts 18 cideries across the state.

Gretchen Perbix, president of the Minnesota Cider Guild and co-owner of Sweetland Orchard in Webster, Minn., said cideries took off in states like New York and Washington, where apple production is high, before catching on in the Midwest's lower-producing states.

"I think it's a combination of those trends coming in from the coast and then just where we stand on apple production," Perbix said. "Most of the orchards in this state grow apples for retail sales, not wholesale."

But that's changing. The evolution of Minnesota's winery laws has helped trigger growth in the cider industry across the state which, in turn, means orchards are producing more apples meant for fermenting.

Cider is technically wine, and in Minnesota, that means cideries must follow existing winery laws.

For awhile, that meant only being able to sell cider if you grew your own apples — just as wineries were required to grow their own grapes or fruit.

"Nobody really knew you could have an urban cidery in Minnesota, according to the current winery laws," said Adam Ruhland, owner of Wild State Cider.

That was until Jeff Zeitler managed to open Urban Forage in Minneapolis without an accompanying farm, setting a precedent for other cideries to follow suit, according to Ruhland.

"He tried to get a license to have a cidery that's not on agricultural land and he did it successfully ... and essentially that kind of opened the gates for everybody else," Ruhland said.

Valerie and Jake Scott, co-founders of Duluth Cider, agree.

"That's why you're seeing all these new urban wineries pop up," Valerie said

Cideries can obtain one of two types of licenses: a commercial winery license or a farm winery license.

While most cideries are still farm wineries, meaning the owners also run an orchard or farm, there's a growing number of cideries obtaining commercial winery licenses and selling directly to the customer through taprooms, buying their apples from outside sources.

That's how Duluth Cider and Wild State Cider plan to operate.

But to have a taproom or sell directly to the customer, the commercial wineries must still source at least 51 percent of their apples from Minnesota.

And with a higher number of cideries in the state, orchards must produce more apples specifically for fermenting into cider, not just table or dessert apples.

With a limited statewide supply, it can be tough for cideries to reach that 51 percent figure, according to Perbix, especially if it's a bad year for apples.

"We're definitely bumping up against kind of a ceiling of where apple production is currently in our state ... when I talk to apple growers in the state, they're saying 'Wow, we're going to pick every single apple that we can this year,' " Perbix said,

Minnesota is now playing catch up.

"I think another reason why you haven't seen it is because we're proud of our apple heritage here, but we're actually not that high in terms of production," Ruhland said. "And we definitely don't have any infrastructure for year-round apple sourcing."

On the west coast and east coast, there are nitrogen-controlled apple storage facilities that allow for year-round storage and pressing of apples. In Minnesota, however, apples need to be pressed into apple juice, which is then frozen for storage.

"There's a couple things stacked against us," Ruhland said.

If low statewide apple production meant it took cideries longer to reach Minnesota than the coasts, then the lack of orchards in the Northland meant it took even longer for cideries to reach Duluth, even as a similar industry — craft brewing — spread through the Twin Ports and up the North Shore.

"In the case of Duluth, if most of the cideries are from farms, the farther north you go, the fewer apple orchards there are," Morrison said.

It was only a matter of time before craft cideries reached the Northland.

"It's Duluth's turn," Jake Scott said.

Jimmy Lovrien

Jimmy Lovrien is a reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. He spent the summer of 2015 as an intern for the Duluth News Tribune and was hired full time in October 2017 as a reporter for the Weekly Observer. He also reported for the Lake County News-Chronicle in 2017-18. Lovrien grew up in Alexandria, Minn., but moved to Duluth in 2013 to attend The College of St. Scholastica. Lovrien graduated from St. Scholastica in 2017 with a bachelor's degree in English and history. He also spent a summer studying journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

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