Gretchen Perbix always wanted to own an orchard. Her fondness grew at a young age, as her elementary school music teacher owned an orchard that she often visited. After Perbix met her husband Mike, they decided to pursue her dream of owning an orchard and cidery. He first tried making a cider press and was only able to press one time before it failed. Eventually, they found an orchard to buy, and luckily, it came with a press.
It was on this fruit tree farm in Webster, Minnesota, that Sweetland Orchard was born, and the couple began producing and selling cider in 2012, a time when Perbix says cidermaking was nonexistent in the state. The orchard started with 50 varieties of apples when they bought it, and they have since grown the farm to nearly 70 different apple options. The nearby University of Minnesota has a very prominent apple breeding program that dates back to 1888, with many of the apple varieties found at Sweetland were produced through the university’s program.
And the cidery’s line-up stays true to its state. The apples headline the labels featuring unique varieties bred and curated at the university. After producing a traditional apple-focused cider, Sweetland’s next flavor was a rhubarb cherry, an easy pick for the cidery as rhubarb is typically Minnesota’s the first springtime crop.
While the Midwest might be hitting freezing temperatures in parts now, Perbix says it is not impossible to grow apples in the region’s harsh climate. She feels their growing practices are very common to the East Coast, recognizing the need to be educated when selecting varieties, as an entire orchard could be wiped out with a harsh winter’s blow.
But Perbix and team try to advantage of their cold Midwestern winters. They feature an ice cider, The Borealis, captured in a thin bottle that imitates an icicle. To make “ice cider you need cold weather, which Minnesota has in abundance, and dessert apples, which Minnesota also has in abundance,” says Perbix. She compares ice cider to a dessert wine; a little bit sweeter and with a higher alcohol by volume.
The grower-maker also says she believes the Midwestern cider community is growing. When the couple began their journey in 2012, they were one of the only producers on the Minnesota map. The community of cideries now stands at 16, now with the Minnesota Cider Guild put into place last year. Last week Sweetland shipped off its first case of cider out of state. The orchard-cidery has established its local presence, but Perbix says they hope to do some more long-distance shipping in the future.
More ice cider is on the horizon for Sweetland — Perbix states they may not be able to compete with the ciders that branched out of more popular brewing companies, but they can find their niche in something like ice cider. “It’s something not a lot of people know about, and they get really excited about it,” says Perbix.