In Linn County, an orchard and cider company made the cut as one of the 30 best hard ciders in the world. Let's have a taste with Dan Kaercher!
In Linn County, an orchard and cider company made the cut as one of the 30 best hard ciders in the world. Let's have a taste.
On any weekend, just south of Lisbon on Sutliff Road, you encounter a steady stream of traffic stopping at a small farmstead. Bicyclists and motorists alike are finding the way to Sutliff Orchard, a family run brewery that can boast it is the only hard apple cider distiller in the state. During the week, the brewers are busy with apple inventory, fine tuning their cider recipe, bottling and distribution to local grocery stores and retailers. But from April to November, when the weekend rolls around, the orchard is buzzing with activity.
The tasting room, located in the lower level of a century old barn, is a small pub that serves up a light menu, live music and, of course, its hard cider. The place is fast becoming a favorite destination for day-trippers enjoying a drive or ride in the countryside of Linn County. Once inside the tasting room, you feel right at home in this friendly atmosphere.
So, the retail area is fairly new for us. We're open Saturdays and Sundays 11 to 6 down here. The hot summer days and the fall days are really fun.
It's a friendly atmosphere, it's local, it's -- if you look around and see everybody is happy and it's just a really close knit, fun place to come.
Saturdays it's a sleepy little place that we have a couple of carloads regularly throughout the day. Sunday, with the live music, it's been really popular and we started serving some food. So our theme is sliders and ciders on Sunday afternoon.
Although this is primarily a restaurant and bar, Scott is quick to give impromptu tours of his brewery to unveil some of the hard work that goes into each bottle of hard cider.
Scott Ervin: We'll bring them in on the forklift, we'll bring them in here and so we keep, we store them in these bins. A cider apple is usually not the big number ones, it's the number two so it's a smaller apple and maybe not uniform color and this is also the processing area. So these are tanks that we do our final mixing in. These tanks are grundy tanks where they can be pressurized. So we're bottling soft cider today. And when we first started back in 2002 it took us an hour to fill a case of hard cider. So we bought this machine, it's a tabletop counter pressure bottler that does two bottles at a time.
Ervin: So we start out by rinsing and washing the inside of the bottles. It goes through a double evac cycle and then it will pressurize the bottle and then the cider will gravity fill into the bottle.
Ervin: And then it will release the pressure to atmosphere right there.
When Scott Ervin and his family relocated to a small farm outside of Lisbon becoming a hard cider distiller wasn't at the top of the list for this California transplant. The farm already had a small grove of 20 apple trees and, as Scott puts it, there are only so many apple pies and apple crisps one can make.
Ervin: And so we started fermenting the apple juice. We bought a small little hand cranked press with fresh juice in the fall but then also fermenting the small five gallon batches and we fell in love with this drink.
A drink that was once the toast of the Colonial town.
Ervin: Back in the 1700s it used to be really popular in the United States. Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin have all been big cider guys. And as I understand it the United States used to make some of the best ciders.
With the spread of apple orchards west of the Mississippi, hard cider enjoyed continued popularity through the 1800s. However, the country's movement towards more arid climates and the rise of large beer breweries contributed to hard cider falling out of favor. Creating hard apple cider takes patience, persistence and a lot of apples. Sutliff Orchard has added 600 more dwarf trees to the farm's original 20. But Scott still gets many of his apples from neighboring orchards in eastern Iowa to keep up with demand. However, the unique Sutliff taste comes from the apple variety grown on the property, the English cider. Today's abundance of wineries and microbreweries has led to many new products and the rediscovery of old favorites. Hard apple cider is making a comeback thanks to the new crop of brewers. Roll into Sutliff Orchard any weekend from spring to fall to experience the only exclusive hard apple cider brewery in Iowa. Grab a cider, stay for the food and enjoy the music.