I first noticed Tandem Ciders on someone’s Facebook posting, and with just a little bit of investigation, realized that this would have to be must-visit for Kim and this taster. We’ve found that we have an affinity for artisanal ciders, and the scuttlebutt about this Suttons Bay producer was all positive, so it made our short list of places to stop in.
Owners Dan and Nikki Young met in 2000 over opposite sides of the bar of The People’s Pint pub in Greenfield, Massachusetts. They got real chummy, toured England by tandem bike during the summer of ’03, and thus came the name for their future establishment. It was during that tour that they discovered hard ciders and just how good they can be. After returning to the US, they married, moved to Michigan and worked towards their goal of establishing their own operation in the heart of Leelanau fruit country. Superior apples from area growers are turned into juice with a traditional rack and cloth press, then fermented using traditional styles.
We arrived a few minutes before noon at the Tandem tasting room/cider making facility with the bicycle-built-for-two hung above the front door. We had hoped to get a few minutes with Dan for an interview, but the tasting room filled up so quickly, he was pressed (pun intended) into duty trying to keep up with tasters’ thirsty demands. The ciders are very good, however, and they speak for themselves quite well. Visitors can sit and leisurely sip pints and half pints of draft cider for $4 and $2 respectively, along with snacks such as a Leelanau raclette cheese plate, pickled eggs and peanuts. Regular ciders range between 5-7% alcohol by volume. Dan told me that about 4,000 gallons (1,600 cases) were produced in 2011, and that they hope to double that this year.
We wasted no time in bellying up to the bar and tasting through everything being poured that day.
The Crabster, $12 per 750 Ml bottle: Totally dry and somewhat sour in a pleasant way. Made with Cortland, Northern Spy, Macintosh, Liberty, Red Crabs and wild apples.
Pretty Penny, $12 per 750 Ml bottle: Not quite as dry/sour as The Crabster, with 1% residual sugar, but every bit as delicious, if not even more so. Dan said, “A blend of over 30 varieties of cider and antique apples. At the end of the season, Mr. (John) Kilcherman cleans up his barn and we get all those apples. This cider shows why old school varieties are important and should be propagated.”
Early Day, $12 per 750 Ml bottle, $15 per half gallon growler: Deeper in color than the previous two selections; 2.5% residual sugar, but by no means sweet. Very enjoyable. Made with Fameuse, Golden Russet, Ida Red, Red Delicious, Sheep’s Nose and Cortland apples.
Spring Leaf, $15 per half gallon growler: 2.5% residual sugar and fermented in new oak; the oak complements, rather than dominates. Kim liked this well enough to bring a growler home. Made with Macintosh, Rhode Island Greening and Northern Spy apples.
The Sweetheart, $10 per 750 Ml bottle: 2.5% residual sugar; a pretty little sweet tart. Made with Jonathan, Rhode Island Greening and Red Delicious apples.
Scrumpy Little Woody, $15 per half gallon growler: Made from Macintosh apples aged in American oak with a bit of Pamona (Pommeau); a note of vanilla and the dash of Pamona give this a unique character in comparison to rest of the lineup. Kim brought one of these home too.
Pomona, $25 per 375 Ml bottle: Pommeau is a blend of apple brandy and sweet cider, aged in oak barrels. Kim says it’s “awesomely good,” but it’s a little too high in alcohol (17%) for my tastes. Still, it’s undeniably good for what it is.
These are some of the best ciders we’ve ever had, and the homey little tasting room is the kind of place I’d like to hang around in during the afternoon, playing and singing old and new folk songs. Tandem Cellars will be a regular stop for us whenever we get back up to the Leelanau, and we recommend it very highly.
From Tandem, we drove back to Traverse City, in order to make our obligatory visit to Bryan Ulbrich’s Left Foot Charley. We’ve followed LFC since the very beginning, or almost, anyway, and we’re always impressed with pretty much everything we taste from them, so we were anxious to see what was new and exciting. Kim went right for the ciders, while I did a quick survey of five whites.
2010 Left Foot Charley Pinot Gris Old Mission Peninsula Tale Feathers Vineyard, 13.4% alc., $18.00: Clean, medium color; river stones, green apple and a subtle herbaceous note make this very appealing. Medium body plus, with good acids and length; the minerality and fruit pair harmoniously in the wine’s character. Too good not to bring some home! Find this wine
2011 Left Foot Charley Dry Rosé Grand Traverse County 50%, Leelanau County 50%, Leon Millot and Pinot Noir, 12% alc., $15.00: Leon Millot is an early ripening hybrid grape, and as far as we know, this is our first encounter with a wine that includes it in its makeup. Salmon pink in color, with a strawberry, watermelon and river stone personality. Medium body plus, with good acids and length. Find this wine
2010 Left Foot Charley Riesling The Terminal Moraine Old Mission Peninsula, 12.1% alc., $16: Clean, medium color, with flavors and aromas of rich green apple, a hint of lime and some subtle mineral. Medium body plus, with good acids and length. Excellent varietal character. Find this wine
2011 Left Foot Charley Gewurztraminer Old Mission Peninsula Manigold Vineyard, 13% alc., $17: Clean, medium color, with effusive honeysuckle and litchi aromatics that follow through nicely on the palate with underlying minerality. Medium bodied, with good acids and length. Delightful. Find this wine
2011 Left Foot Charley Riesling Missing Spire Grand Traverse County, 9% alc., $16.00: Pale-to-medium color; very perfumed, medium sweet and delightfully so, with great varietal character. Medium bodied, with good acids and length; this is a real charmer. Find this wine
Of course, I had to try the ciders as well, since we were on a mission (new, not old)!
Left Foot Charley Red Apple Cider, $17 per half gallon growler: Bone dry, but not really sour; quite tasty.
Left Foot Charley Cinnamon Girl Hard Cider, $17 per half gallon growler: The cinnamon complements, rather than dominates the nice, rich apple character; very nicely balanced, and Kim took a growler home.
Like I say, Left Foot Charley is a must-stop for whenever we get up to Traverse City. The wine bar is clean and well appointed, and the staff is always friendly and knowledgeable. I think it would also be a pretty cool place to play some music. Hmm…
Reporting from Day-twah,