Over the past few summers, we've had the pleasure of spending time on Northern Michigan's Torch Lake. A week of morning coffee overlooking the lake, afternoons lazing in the crystal clear water or zipping around on a boat, and late evenings throwing horseshoes as the sun sets stunningly behind the lake. Seriously, check this sunset out...
Oh, and Short's Brewing. Not ten minutes from the lake house, in the little town of Bellaire, sits Short's. We've spent a lot of happy hours at the bar there, sampling beers ranging from the classic (Bellaire Brown) to the eclectic (Melt My Brain, a gin and tonic inspired brew, was a favorite).
But Short's doesn't only make beer. Their sister company, Starcut Ciders, ferments Michigan apples into our favorite beverage. Starcut's core lineup of ciders is certainly solid, with Octorock (a semi-sweet cider drinks closer to semi-dry...though that's really splitting hairs) probably our favorite. And that same spirit of experimentation that pushes Short's to release G&T beers is alive at Starcut.
Erraticus 15 comes from Starcut's Erraticus series, a line of wild fermented ciders that aim to capture the spirit of the place in which they were produced...local Northern Michigan apples, wild yeasts, adjuncts that feature regional produce. This version, not surprisingly the 15th release, was fermented with Cayuga grapes from nearby Torch Lake Cellars.
Erraticus 15 is, as promised, wild. From the moment you pour it, you know you aren't dealing with a bubbly, commercial cider. Earthy funkiness peeks through on the nose, the product no doubt of some local yeast. Carbonation is light. Vinegar-y acid dominates upfront, sidra style, with hints of citrus--lemon flesh, mostly--giving way in the middle to the grape.
Cayuga grapes have a special place in our hearts. On our first trip to the Finger Lakes in New York, we discovered a quaffable Cayuga wine from Hunt Country Vineyards, eagerly drinking it from plastic wine glasses beside a fire on a one-night failed camping experiment.
The Cayuga in Erraticus 15, though, isn't that sweet-ish hybrid flavor we expected. Instead, it drinks like an unoaked Chardonnay.
The finish is a little muddled. Cloudy. Like the apples and grapes couldn't decide who should finish things so they both just gave a half-assed effort at the tape.
The acidity of this cider, from start to finish, can be a little intense. Off-putting, even, for some. One of us loves this character (Mike), one of us typically doesn't (Beth). In the case of Erraticus 15, though, the grape character balanced out the acid just enough to keep Beth engaged and enjoying her glass.
Food would definitely be helpful. Since we're talking summer at the lake, seafood would work. An herb-y trout would play off the lemon notes in the cider. Freshly shucked sweet corn can balance the acidity.
If you're looking for a pour that will challenge you and your preconceived notions of what cider can be, or if you are a wine drinker eager to taste how grapes can play with apples, give this one a shot. Starcut puts out a new Erraticus a few times a year, it seems, so keep your eyes open for new iterations in the future (or scour your favorite cider establishment for older bottles...we have a few others in the basement awaiting tasting).