Minnesota cidermakers are gaining an international reputation. At the recent Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition, seven cideries from around the state took home 38 medals, including two best-in-class awards.

Known as GLINTCAP, it is the biggest and most recognized cider competition in North America and is held annually in Grand Rapids, Mich. More than 70 cidermakers and certified pommeliers came from across the globe to judge the more than 1,100 entries in the commercial division.

"Minnesota's cider market is still very small compared to the rest of the country," said Steve Hance of Number 12 Cider in Minneapolis. "So, for us to get that kind of recognition really validates the work that we are doing. We know that there are some great cider makers here in Minnesota, and it's not just our opinion."

Number 12 was one of the competition's biggest winners, with seven medals in five categories. It took two gold medals in the Heritage Dry Cider category with its Harley and Homestead varieties.

Harley pours a pale yellow with an unfiltered haze. This high-acidity, effervescent, dry cider features flavors of tart, firm-fleshed green apples and bitter crabapples. The apple is so clear I could almost hear the crunch. Background herbal/minty notes round it out.

Homestead is a straightforward, full-bodied cider with red apples galore. Low acidity and medium tannin give it a peppery spice. Though still dry, it leans a bit sweeter than Harley. Subtle sour green apple comes in as you work through the glass to counter whatever sweetness is there.

Legacy 2nd Edition, my favorite of Number 12's medal winners, took bronze in the Traditional Cider category. This complex, naturally fermented cider features the barnyard and smoke derived from fermentation with yeasts on the fruit. Very dry and bubbly like Champagne, it pops with notes of pears, green apples and lemon peel.

From earthy to spicy

Another big winner was Sapsucker Farms of Mora, Minn. Their Yellow Belly ciders reaped six medals in three categories.

Bronze medal winner Yellow Belly Lemon Basil Cider is a light and lively refresher. The lemon is clear and in balance with sweet/tart apples. The basil came off as earthier and more herbal than basil proper. But it's still quite pleasing. Low tannin and moderate acidity make this an easy drinker perfect for hot summer days.

For those who like things spicy, the silver medalist Cayenne Cider will hit the spot. The aroma and flavor of peppers is apparent, but not so much that the apples are lost. The two hang in a delicate balance. The pepper heat comes in the finish. It's spicy, to be sure, but those who can take moderate heat shouldn't fear it.

Thor's Hard Cider in Stillwater won the most medals — 13 in six categories, including a well deserved Best in Class Gold in rosé cider. Arctic Rosé, which incorporates cold-climate Frontenac wine grapes, is a complex, ever-changing cider. A new experience emerges with almost every sip. When first poured it presents a layered balance of sweet red and tart green apples with a splash of lemon. As you work your way through, hints of tropical fruits, strawberry and red berries appear. As it warms, that fruit transforms into dark red grapes, still balanced with the apples. It's truly a lovely cider.

Thor Cider's Dry took a silver medal. It is exactly what it says it is — bone dry. Medium tannin and acidity make up the body of this cider with little to no sugar left for sweetness. The earthy and spicy character of crisp, dry, bittersharp cider apples is the driving flavor. It's like biting into a fresh-sliced Dabinett apple, only really pleasant. If you like your cider dry, dry, dry, this is the one for you.

The light and spritzy Ginger Fizz also won a silver. It's another cider that illustrates just how well ginger and apples work together. The fresh-chopped ginger is clear, but subtle. It's an undertone that lets the apples shine. Ginger Fizz is semisweet on the palate, but goes out fairly dry.

Wild State Cider in Duluth took home three silver medals and a bronze. Its silver medal-winning Pear is light, bright and very much about pears. Tart, crisp pear mingles with background notes of apple that bring a touch of balancing sweetness. A faint minerality adds complexity. The dry finish lingers on fresh, ripe pears.

Semi Dry, which also took a silver, is exactly what the name implies — a mostly dry cider that veers to the sweeter side. The flavor is a balance of tart green and sweeter red apples with skins joined by hints of lemon and lime. The sweetness increases through the swallow and lingers in the just off-dry finish.

Making an impression

Urban Forage Winery and Cider House in Minneapolis operates on a unique model. It sources most of its fruit from backyard trees and others that would otherwise go unharvested. The method earned them four silver medals at GLINTCAP.

Black Currant Cider is definitely a fruit cider as opposed to a cider with fruit. Apple is there, but currant takes the lead. The juicy red berry flavor is almost like currant jam. It's a sweet cider, but there is a light acidity that keeps it from being cloying.

Fans of sweet ciders will love Urban Forage's Honey Toast Cider. The honey comes through loud and clear, lingering long after you swallow. It's joined by sweet red apples, brown sugar and notes of dried, dark fruits. Try this with a shot of bourbon, Angostura bitters and a lemon peel. It's fantastic.

Dubliner from Minneapolis Cider Co. — which won two silver medals — is a most unlikely contender. A different cidermaker may not have been able to pull off this Irish coffee cider, but cider master Rob Fisk knows how to make flavored ciders that don't stop being cider.

A combination of honey, coffee and brandy give this delicious cider an impression of coffee and cream with a hint of booze. But the coffee character is secondary to the apples. This is still apple cider. Moderate acidity gives way to a semisweet finish that lingers on coffee.

Lastly, Duluth Cider won four medals, including a Best in Class Gold for its wood-aged Big George Cider. Unfortunately, I was unable to source any of the award-winning ciders. I did find Gitch, Duluth Cider's year-round, semisweet offering. Gitch leans sweet for a semisweet cider. The flavor is mostly crisp, red, dessert apples with a faint sulfur component that enhances the apple rather than detracting from it. A light touch of more acidic apple counters the sweetness.

Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at michael@aperfectpint.net.