Making The Mitten

Our head cidermaker Seth walks us through a bit of history and inspiration for our longtime favorite and award-winning bourbon barrel-aged cider, The Mitten.

This was one of the first ciders we made when we started making cider back in 2012. We had three ciders that we wanted to roll out to consumers. First one was RedStreak, second was Ledbury, which was a spring release, and the third one was The Mitten, our bourbon barrel-aged cider that we released in the wintertime.
The idea behind The Mitten was largely inspired by Greg's influence with bourbon barrels and beer, with Bourbon County Stout. Goose Island and Greg were pioneers in barrel-aging beer.
Moving this idea into cider, we quickly discovered that bourbon and bourbon barrels in general go really, really well with cider. Blending it with fermented cider and non-fermented cider was a pretty easy win for us. It came together pretty easily. With bourbon, the caramel and the vanilla notes go well with the overripe apples in the juice character that you get.
Each year when we make The Mitten it is a blend of first-use bourbon barrels, all Kentucky bourbon barrels, and second-use barrels. With first-use barrels you get much more of the spirit character which everyone is a big fan of. But also with utilizing the second-use barrels you get more of the oak character. You get more of the char, the oxidized, the caramel, the vanilla, more from those second-use barrels than the first-use barrels, which is why we use both. You get more of a balanced cider when you use first- and second-use. These first-use barrels are aging anywhere from 3 to 6 months; the second-use barrels, they sleep for a year. So those get emptied that first year, they get refilled, and then we don't touch them again until we make Mitten the next year. So it's a blend of both of those.
It's a winter release for us, generally has come out late in the year - or very very early in the next year - for us. At the time of its release, Mitten is one of our fastest-selling ciders, and one of our most popular ciders in general. It's complex, yet easy to dissect. You get so many different characters in the cider from the apple, the barrel, the blend of native and cultured yeast fermentations. Complex, yet pretty simple. You can dive into it and pick apart the things that make it well-rounded, or just enjoy it. It's a really easy-drinking, well-rounded cider.
We like our barrels to be at least eight years old. That allows them to have been able to really draw in the flavors of the bourbon as well as getting the more mature character of the bourbon instead of the hot character fresh off the still.
New barrel day is great. Other than when we are pressing, you can't beat the aroma of new barrels. It fills the entire cider house.
It's got the best parts of some of the things we're most excited about.

You can find The Mitten on draft in our Tasting Room, for sale in our Bottle Shop, or at several retailers in Michigan and Illinois.