It started with a bike tour of England’s rolling hills, traditional breweries, cider producers pleasantly tucked away behind barn doors and orchards lined with rows of European heirloom varieties. One tandem bike, four pedals and two craft beverage enthusiasts later, Tandem Ciders — appropriately named after said vacation on wheels — was born in Suttons Bay, Michigan.
Owner Dan Young wasn’t always planning on becoming a cidermaker — his beverage-making passion was actually fostered through brewing beer at The People’s Pint in Greenfield, Massachusetts. However, after delving into the apple scene in England, Young was inspired to lay down new roots, of the apple sort, in Michigan.
“We have a strong group here, the Michigan Cider Association, where all of us get together,” says Young, who discovered it didn’t take long to become part of the apple crowd. “We do educational sessions where producers talk about what they’re doing. It’s been great to see [the industry] grow.”
One of the biggest differences between brewing beer and crafting cider? “You can’t rely much on the weather,” points out Young, who often rotates between apple varieties depending on the year’s harvest. “It’s easy to store a bunch of malt, but if you have a bad year of apples…that’s another story.”
Young took on the challenge of weather, working with a variety of Michigan-grown fruits each year. “We try to emphasize the flavor of the starring apple in the cider,” says Young, whose “starring” apple is often around 80 percent prevalent in the cider at hand. “We ferment it in such a way that it enhances the flavor of the apple, but every year is different and we want to be able to put in that 20 percent fruit.”
Tandem’s Sweetheart, for example, is 80 percent Jonathan apples but the recipe for the cider changes depending on what can be added to the that variety to round out the sipper.
“Michigan is the cider powerhouse, the most diverse apple crop in the country,” the cidermaker says about his truly local fruit source. “All of the fruit we use is grown within 40 miles of our tasting room.”
Young believes strongly in the importance of community and supporting neighboring growers. After gathering the fruits and pressing juice, Tandem Ciders has even sold the pressed juice to fellow beverage producers, including breweries who acquire winemaking licenses in order to offer cider to patrons looking for something gluten-free, or just something new.
Currently, the cidery distributes its sippers throughout Michigan, but Young hopes nationwide distribution will be on the horizon for this fall. The cidery also debuted its first canned cider last year, the flagship McIntosh-focused Smackintosh, which was previously only bottled. The Rhode Island Greening-filled Green Man is also distributed in cans now.
Try them all at Tandem Ciders’ tasting room throughout the week, along with unique plum and cherry ciders. You may even catch an event or two, such as the upcoming Harvest Stompede, featuring wineries and cideries along along Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula.