When Dan Young steps outside his Tandem Ciders tasting room for the short walk through the outdoor seating area, he finds it’s never a quick trip back inside.
He picks up a plate from one table, some empty glasses from another and is quickly hailed by a succession of people who are filling the seats. “Hey Dan,” they call out as he weaves his way through the relaxed crowd. He stops to talk briefly with some, nods and smiles at others as he heads back through the front door.
At the entrance, locals coming in to fill up their growlers hold the door for tourists carrying four-pack cans of Tandem’s signature Smackintosh back to their car.
If Young ever wonders how a craft beer brewer from deep in New England ended up running an upscale hard cidery in one of the most beautiful spots in Michigan, he only has to look above his front door.
A tandem bike prominently displayed over the entrance reminds him of the young woman from Michigan he fell in love with. And how their early dates on a bicycle built for two helped cement their fascination with hard ciders, which became a business opportunity when he found himself newly married, and transplanted to Michigan on a peninsula absolutely teeming with fruit.
“Our goal has always been making really good-tasting cider,” Young says, looking out over Tandem’s outdoor garden area where tables full of customers are hemmed in by tall curtains of flowers and small fruit trees growing espalier-style.
“The market has gone crazy for cider.”
Tandem has developed a wide range of ciders using dozens of different types of apples. It also has a few that feature plums and pears.
Its most popular is probably Smackintosh, a sweet-tart blend that tastes like a big bite into crisp apple. It’s fermented from a mix of McIntosh, Northern Spy and Rhode Island Greening, and comes in at 4.5 percent alcohol by volume.
Last year, Young’s team produced about 60,000 gallons of hard cider. The 12 creations on Tandem’s tasting room menu are poured inside that quaint white barn just a mile from M-22. Of those, a handful are bottled and the two best-loved blends – Smackintosh and the semi-dry Green Man – are currently canned for distribution across the Lower Peninsula.
Last year, Tandem was one of the top producers of cider on the Leelanau Peninsula, state records show.
In all, Young said his team produced about 60,000 gallons in 2017. The juice of all these crushed and pressed apples – and some pears, crab apples and one type of tart plum – are sourced largely within a two-county footprint that starts right outside the taproom door.
But riding the current cider crest took a lot of work. And it wasn’t a snap decision. For Young, it took a while to turn his craft brewer’s heart toward the more wine-like finesse of cider making. It may have been partly osmosis. His spot is an orchard oasis. In Michigan hand-map speak, it’s known as “the meaty part of the pinky.”
But it also had a little to do with love.
It was 1997 when Young and a friend opened The People’s Pint brewpub in Greenfield, Mass. Two years later, he met Michigan native Nikki Rothwell. She was studying at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. They’d been dating a year when a friend loaned them a tandem bike.
The couple liked it so much they ended up getting their own. “I guess we knew then that we were kind of making a commitment together and if we could ride a tandem,” Young said, with a nod to the trust and teamwork it takes.
When Rothwell earned her doctorate degree in 2003, they rolled the two-seated bike up to their British Airways flight. When they touched down at London’s Heathrow Airport, Nikki and Dan pedaled away on a U.K adventure.
They made a lot of plans while they were riding, talking of the future and sampling hard ciders and craft beers.