By Amelia Santaniello

WEBSTER, Minn. (WCCO) — It wasn’t too long after the craft beer movement ramped up in Minnesota that we saw an uptick in hard ciders.

At one orchard in Webster, hard cider was, at first, just an experiment. Now, it’s the Best of Minnesota!

It’s interesting how man of us find our place in life, like Sweetland Orchard owners Gretchen and Mike Perbix.

“Well, my elementary school music teacher, Alice McDougal — she and her husband owned an orchard near Hastings,” Gretchen said.

sweetland hard cider WCCO Viewers Choice For Best Hard Cider In Minnesota

Gretchen Perbix (credit: CBS)

Whether you believe in fate or not is certainly your prerogative, but it’s hard not to think that something — or someone — was guiding the Perbixes, a couple of city kids, to Sweetland — right where they’re supposed to be.

But their path wasn’t exactly laid out in front of them.

“My husband actually has a background in chemistry,” Gretchen said. “He was actually thinking about teaching at the community college level.”

Mike — a chemistry major — and Gretchen — who studied information technology — didn’t know it at the time, but their mutual fondness for hard cider would be the key to their future.

sweetland orchard WCCO Viewers Choice For Best Hard Cider In Minnesota

(credit: CBS)

“Actually, before we bought the orchard, he built a press,” Gretchen said. “So we were making hard cider before we even moved here.”

Realizing they had a knack for making cider came around the same time the cider craze came across the pond and started making a splash in the U.S. — and a business was born.

But does Mike’s background in chemistry help in brewing cider?

“Oh, immensely!” Gretchen said. “Pitching yeasts and monitoring ferments is just second nature for him now.”

It didn’t take long for them to show up on WCCO’s radar — back in 2012, they earned the title of Best Cider in Minnesota. Now, they’re back — this time, for the hard stuff.

Sweetland features an array of hard ciders, but not every recipe makes the cut.

orchard generic WCCO Viewers Choice For Best Hard Cider In Minnesota

(credit: CBS)

“When we started, actually, we would just take a single apple variety, like Haralson, and we would juice it, and then we would pitch a bunch of different yeasts into Haralsons, and we tasted a lot of bad cider,” Gretchen said.

The experimentation paid off, and the good hard cider they produced wasn’t around for very long.

“When we first started selling our cider in 2012, we sold out of our supply in about three days’ time,” Gretchen said. “And we found out, ‘Wow, this cider is really a thing, and we might have to scale our plans up a little bit.'”

Although they’ve met with some success and have scaled up their cider production, Sweetland Orchard maintains its simplistic beauty and charm. And they haven’t lost sight of why fate brought them here.

“People come and they taste apples, and they taste cider, and they come take a walk in the orchard and people pack a picnic,” Gretchen said. “We just try and make a really nice, relaxing day for people out in the country.”

Sweetland’s products can be found in select liquor stores in the Twin Cities.


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