For some, the art of fermentation is a discovery made later in life. For Dan Young, it has guided him at every turn. Young can’t remember a time when fermentation wasn’t part of his life; from the cider left on the cellar steps to ferment to the family’s active involvement in home brewing.
“When I was a boy my uncle and grandfather both used to homebrew and make homemade wines,” said Young. “All pretty rough stuff to be sure, but I was introduced to fermentation at an early age.”
Following high school, Young enlisted with the Navy. Stationed in California, he was introduced to one of the kings of craft beers, Sierra Nevada, igniting a desire to study fermentation.
“I went to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and received a degree in Food Science and got a job at Long Trail Brewing Company,” said Young.
With education and experience behind him, Young and friend Alden Booth opened a microbrewery in 1996. The People’s Pint in Greenfield, MA was one of the first microbreweries in western Massachusetts, attracting the attention of college students studying in Amherst. One of those students, Nikki Rothwell, attracted the attention of Young.
“There was a beautiful woman who came in every Friday. Nikki was getting her PhD in Entomology at UMASS and would head to Greenfield to get out of the college town,” Young explained.
It’s here Young’s story takes a twist. Rothwell was offered a job in Leelanau County, MI at the Northwest Horticultural Research Station south of Suttons Bay, nearly a thousand miles away from the People’s Pint. It was a position she couldn’t refuse, so Young was persuaded to leave ‘the Pint” for a new adventure in northern Michigan.
By 2004, the duo had married and relocated. Though he was entertaining thoughts of opening another brewery, Young was struck by the fruit-growing region, specifically Michigan-grown apples. Young had participated in a homebrew club during his college years, affording him opportunities to experiment with hard cider. And the idea of locally sourced fruit appealed to Young.
“When Alden and I opened The People’s Pint we took great pride in using locally sourced proteins and vegetables and it always kind of bugged me that we had to import our beer ingredients. Moving to Leelanau County, I was struck by the amount of fruit grown here and really began to embrace cider.”
Young explained it was a push from Michigan State University that finally helped him settle on cider. “They started a hard cider initiative in 2004 to encourage people to start hard cider businesses,” he said.
By that time, Young and Rothwell had taken a trip to England, touring the countryside on a tandem bike. During that time, they discovered public houses dedicated to hard cider. The couple contemplated bringing this cider-centered, pub-like tasting room environment to Leelanau County. In honor of their adventures together, Tandem Ciders opened its doors in 2008.
While sourcing fruit primarily from both the Leelanau County and Old Mission Peninsula, Young also planted some older cider varieties on land behind the cider house. “We select apples that ferment well and maintain some of their apple flavors. We don’t have a whole lot of locally grown true cider apples yet, but have had great success with old Michigan standards such as McIntosh, Rhode Island Greening, Northern Spy and Jonathan,” he said.
At the time Tandem opened, northern Michigan was growing in popularity for its wine and craft beers. Hard ciders were new on the scene. “At that time, we spent a lot of time explaining what cider was and how it’s the same and different than wine,” said Young. “Now that cider has gained popularity and other cideries have opened near us we have cider tourists.” Today Michigan is home to dozens of cideries.
Respect the apple
Young said he had to adjust to the nuances of cider making, which differed from brewing beer or fermenting grapes for wine.
“In brewing you follow much more of a recipe and you have a lot more control over the process. One can change the amount of malt and the mashing temperatures to achieve certain end results,” said Young, who added ciders are far more about the seasons.
“Rain at harvest dilutes the sugars in an apple, a cool year will mean less tannins — in this way cider making is much more like wine making. The big difference between grapes and apples is sugar content. An apple having less sugar, makes less alcohol which makes it harder to hide fermentation faults. It’s a learning process.”
Young’s advice to anyone interested in making cider: “Respect the apple. Use good, sound fruit, ferment cold and slow to keep those apple flavors and aromas around and be real wary of adjuncts.” He added, “A little sugar, spice, fruit, or oak can be nice, but in my opinion, as soon as it steals the show from the apple, it’s too much.”
For inspiration, Young relies on his involvement with home fermenters, who, said Young, “can experiment with different yeasts and smaller batches of apples.”
While Tandem has grown over the years, the tasting room and facilities have remained much the same. Young said he is pushing for growth in distribution. Today, Tandem offers its signature Smackintosh, made with locally sourced McIntosh, Rhode Island Greening, and Northern Spy apples, and Greenman made entirely of Rhode Island Greening in 16 oz. cans with a full line of other hard ciders available in 750 ml bottles.
For the past five years, production has increased steadily and last year, Tandem produced approximately 30,000 gallons of cider.
“We plan to introduce our Sunny Day in 16 oz. cans this year,” said Young. “Our big plans for expansion are with production. Our growth in the future will be distribution. We plan to keep the tasting room pretty much as it is, with small improvements each year.”
This strategy is likely due to the huge success of the quaint tasting room, which allows both locals and out-of-towners to feel welcomed as regulars. Tandem is more than a cider house; it echoes the old world style of both the ciders and the public houses of yesteryear.