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Milk & Honey Ciders

St. Joseph, Minn.


By Maria Surma Manka

“Sometimes we have to tell people it’s not champagne,” said Peter Gillitzer of Milk & Honey Ciders. He’s not joking. Gillitzer and his business co-owners Adam Theis and Aaron Klocker—who’ve been friends since elementary school—knew that educating customers would be a fact of life for their Central Minnesota business. The three believed that cider was underrated and underutilized and launched Milk & Honey Ciders to bring back a historically significant beverage.

“American farmers had orchards and would make and drink cider,” said Gillitzer, who handles the business side of the operation. “People don’t know about it anymore, but it’s really a part of this country’s history and roots.”

Indeed, the Mayflower reportedly had provisions for cider making, and John Adams and Thomas Jefferson regularly drank the beverage. (Adams is rumored to have had a tankard of cider each morning to help settle his stomach.) But as waves of new immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe arrived with a penchant for beer, followed by the heavy hammer of Prohibition, cider manufacturing in the United States largely collapsed. — until now.

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We pressed Gillitzer to tell us more.

• Beverage Backgrounds While the owners held down corporate jobs in the Twin Cities before they started Milk & Honey, none were total newcomers to beverage making: Gillitzer has a background in agriculture and Theis worked in beverage production. Klocker was in aviation engineering, but was a cider enthusiast and had taken classes where he learned how to make cider and perry, which is a drink made from fermented pears.

• Inspired Branding The name “Milk & Honey” was chosen to evoke unattainable perfection. In mythology, apples, milk and honey symbolize the easy life because they require no human intervention; it’s instant food straight from the tree, cow or hive.

• Locally Grown The St. Joseph orchard produces apples that are blended with other varieties from Minnesota, Michigan, New Hampshire and Washington.

• Bubble Up Cider is essentially fermented apple juice. In the fall, the apples are picked, pressed, and yeast is added to eat the sugars (which creates a byproduct of CO2 and alcohol). The cider is ready for market by the following spring or early summer.

• Press On Apples are pressed with nearly the same technology that’s been around for generations: They are ground, placed on material similar to cheesecloth, and the juice is pushed through the cloth using a big hydraulic press.

• Going Dark Cider is aged in a large, dark room kept at 40 degrees. Depending on the type of cider you are producing, it’s stored in stainless steel or poly tanks, bottles, kegs, or oak barrels that were formerly used to age whiskey or bourbon.

• Apple Geeks A great cider apple has a good body and tannin structure. It’s also assessed according to its aroma, sugar content, pressability, and how well it blends with other apples. “Our whole team is enthusiastic about cider and can talk about apple varieties, cider culture and history,” said Gillitzer. Favorite varieties include, but aren’t limited to, Newtown Pippin, Winesap, Chestnut and Northern Spy.

milk-and-honey_3.jpg• Terms and Conditions The Milk & Honey team avoids the term “hard cider,” because they don’t want customers to confuse it with the unfiltered apple juice you buy at grocery stores. “What we make is cider; it’s what the rest of the world calls it and we want to stick with that. We’re proud to evangelize it.”

• Social Setting The tasting room in St. Joseph has been a hit with the local community. It features live music and food trucks in the summer, and visitors (including pets and kids) are encouraged to explore the 11 acres.

• Crowd Pleaser Of the four Milk & Honey ciders currently in production, Heirloom is a consumer favorite. It’s a middle-of-the-road choice between the sweeter, mass-market American cider and the less-sweet version that’s usually sold in Europe.

• Growth Strategy With financing through the Initiative Foundation’s loan programs, Milk & Honey Ciders purchased additional tanks and bottling machines to expand operations and introduce more blends.

 

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