(above image, design by Kyle Fletcher pulled from Dribbble. You can buy an awesome t-shirt with this design from Good Beer Hunting here.)
This weekend I finally got cider. I had always liked the stuff enough, from the mass-produced Mike’s swill that I drank as a high schooler, to the more artisan versions picked up from the Whole Foods down the way. But I never saw it as transcendent the way I look at beer.
But then I had Virtue Cider's The Mitten. I have had this cider before, many times even, dating back to about a year ago. It's a bourbon barrel aged cider blended with a cider freshly produced from this year's crop. And it's delicious.
There’s a lot of depth in this drink - you taste those apples right up front, and then you sink into the layers of bourbon - vanilla, caramel and oak float across your tongue, perfect complements to the acidity of the apples.
I drank a few small glasses of this at this past weekend’s Naperville Winter Ale Festival, a small gathering in the west suburbs of Chicago, with my friends Michael Kiser of Good Beer Hunting, and illustrator Andrew R. Wright. Chicago’s breweries were well represented there, from Pipeworks, to Solemn Oath, to the perennial festival heavy-hitter, Goose Island. But there were a scant two cideries, as far as I could tell, in Vander Mill and Virtue. Andrew grabbed me a glass of The Mitten and let me know that it was a pretty flawless way to start a day, and he was right. Perfectly light and beautifully complex, it gave you something to think about without weighing you down.
Virtue is the perfect cider ambassador, with a catalog of fantastic offerings. I’ve had a few of them, and the new context of enjoying the Mitten helped me retroactively recall some of their other ciders, like the funky, sour Percheron (made with Brettanomyces!), the tart, lemony Spanish Cidre de Nava, and the wine-barrel-aged Lapinette. They’ve opened my eyes about what cider can be.
And they’re the latest in a long line of Michigan artisans that strengthen this inextricable link between Chicago and Michigan. I grew up near Fort Wayne, Indiana, less than an hour and a half from Dark Horse Brewing in Marshall, Michigan. Just a straight shot up I-69, I never visited the place while I lived there. And while I still haven’t, I feel more strongly connected to the place than I ever did living in northeastern Indiana. It’s so much more well represented here on tap lines, as are places like Founders, Bell’s, and Greenbush (well, Bell’s has a pretty huge presence in and around my hometown - probably even bigger than Three Floyd’s).
Whatever the reasons, I’m happy to have Michigan cider and beer more prevalent in my life. And I can’t wait to have a glass of Percheron with my next Sunday paper.