Gretchen Perbix strolls among the 2,000 trees in the rambling orchard that she and her husband, Mike, purchased seven years ago. She rattles off the poetic names of apple varieties with the affectionate familiarity of an old friend: Oriole. Viking. Firecracker. Pristine. Liberty. Shamrock.
All go in service to the couple’s tart, dry and effervescent hard ciders, bottled under the Sweetland Orchard name.
Expect to encounter roughly a half-dozen fragrant variations. There’s a single-variety doozy named for its starring attraction, Northern Spy. A fruity version, redolent of cherries and rhubarb — both harvested from the premises, naturally — is another favorite. All expertly manage to capture the flavor of this picturesque acreage about 40 minutes southwest of downtown Minneapolis.
Visit on weekends through Oct. 29, and get a glimpse of the fascinating cider-making process, enjoy spectacular lard-fried apple doughnuts, sip raw and unfiltered cider and sample — and buy — some of those not-seen-in-the-supermarket varieties. There’s no picking, however; visitors were plucking but then rejecting too much fruit, a heartbreaking prospect for the Perbixes. “Every imperfect apple that’s dropped on the ground is a perfect apple for cider,” says Gretchen Perbix.
Five years after their tiptoe into commercial sales, the farmstead operation’s ciders are in more than 60 Twin Cities bars, restaurants and liquor stores. Business is brisk, in part because the cider, while served refreshingly chilled, is hot. As in trendy.
“We found that out after we started,” Gretchen Perbix says with a laugh. “We were just so ignorant. We were like, ‘Wow, so this is a ‘thing’?”
26205 Fairlawn Av., Webster, 651-252-4337, sweetlandorchard.com