Learn how hard cider is made at Virtue Cider in Fennville

Jun 27, 2013

Gregg Hall at Virtue Cider in Fennville
Credit Nancy Camden

Michigan is one of the top three growers of apples in the country making it a great place to produce what in this country we call ‘hard’ cider. In England, France or Spain, it’s simply called cider while unfermented pressed apple is called ‘juice.’

Virtue Cider, a new craft-cider producer is located in Fennville. One of the owners, Greg Hall, was the brewmaster for nearly 20 years at Goose Island Brewery in Chicago.

“Cider was America’s leading beverages, even before we were a country," Hall says. "When settlers moved west, they all brought with them a bag of apple seeds, so that they could plant apples, not so much to eat, but to ferment and have a drink that was shelf stable.”

Virtue Cider ages cider for two or three months in Bourbon and French-oak wine barrels. First, the juice is extracted from the apples in a press. Yeast is added to the juice to ferment the apples into sugar, alcohol and CO2.

“We use different yeasts for our ciders. Right now we’ve got about six or seven active strains in our cellar, fermenting the ciders and providing some different flavors and aromas,” says Hall.

Virtue has twenty-two stainless steel tanks where they ferment the cider and store it until they blend it and age in barrels. The blending and tasting of new offerings is done in the lab, as well as measuring of sugar and acidity. When Hall tastes the cider, he’s noting color and clarity as well. The ciders are both filtered and unfiltered. Most of the ciders Hall produces are in the 5 to 7 percent range of alcohol content, which is a product of the amount of sugar in the fruit.

“Michigan is such a great state for apples," Hall says.  "We use a lot of the traditional varieties like Northern Spy and McIntosh but then, we get into some of the older English and French bittersweet and bittersharp varieties, too. Most of the ciders that people have a chance to try at their local bar or tavern or restaurant are more sweet. We love the English-style dry ciders.”