It was around 2 a.m. when the moment of truth arrived for the nine guys gathered around a five-gallon keg in Christopher Aamodt’s kitchen. Six months before, Christopher had bottled his first batch of hard cider using the season’s surplus apples. Now he, his brothers and friends were at the precipice of an entirely new venture for the Stillwater-based orchard.
“Looking back on it now, at how excited we were, it was for a good reason,” says Geoffrey Aamodt, one of the three Aamodt siblings that work at Aamodt’s Apple Farm, which has been in their family since 1948. But the brothers weren’t aware of how sweet Thor’s Hard Cider’s success would be in that kitchen at two in the morning. For that first batch, things were actually a bit sour.
“We opened it up, and it smelled horrible. It was just like vinegar,” Geoffrey says. “After that, everything eventually came together beautifully. But I’ll never forget our first time trying it.”
As a healthy apple orchard, Aamodt’s Apple Farm’s success came with a yearly downside—a surplus of apples that would soon go bad. Although they gave many apples away to charities and schools, sometimes that method simply wasn’t realistic. “You can only give so many apples to a school or fundraiser and be like, ‘All right, everyone has to eat eight apples for the next six days before they go bad,’” Geoffrey says.
Around 10 years ago, Christopher thought of a new solution. He bought a small grinder and started making juice. “I was around when [Christopher] was experimenting initially,” says Logan Luebke, assistant cider maker at Thor’s Hard Cider. “I mean, it was a good eight years of experimentation, different varieties, different yeast.” Without prior knowledge about home brewing, Christopher had an uphill battle ahead of him, but Luebke says he hit the ground running to figure it out for himself.
In 2017, Thor’s Hard Cider started with two core flavors, Dry and Semisweet, as well as Ginger Fizz. “The Dry is 7 percent ABV and the Semisweet is 5.5,” Luebke says. “The only difference between the two is, for the Semisweet, we add some fresh juice back into the dry cider that’s been completely fermented to give it a bit of sweetness and take a little bit of the edge off the Dry.”
With these two base ciders as the backbone, Thor’s Hard Cider has developed over 100 different varieties, which rotate seasonally at its onsite taproom. “We brainstorm all the time,” Luebke says. “We take one of those two platforms and flavor it accordingly with fresh juice, fresh spices, different herbs, all sorts of stuff.”
This creativity has led to some of their more experimental flavors, such as the Norse Berry and El Thoro. “Our El Thoro has a huge following,” Geoffrey says, explaining its flavor profile as cilantro, jalapeno and lime. “It’s one of those ciders where we tell people, ‘It’s there for everybody, but it’s not for everybody.’ It’s got a little kick to it.”
Over the last few years, Geoffrey says its Norse Berry has also gained popularity for its notes of dark cherry and raspberry. “But again, nothing’s ever too sweet because we don’t use any sugars. We don’t use any artificial sweeteners,” Geoffrey says. “I’ve heard Andreas—we have another older brother who’s a partner too—and Christopher [explain it], we’ve all kind of explained it this way too: It’s the difference between drinking apple juice and honestly just taking a bite out of a Honeycrisp. Our cider represents that light sweetness but crispy.”
Thor’s Hard Cider has set itself apart by focusing on the purity of its ingredients, resulting in a hard cider that stands apart from its mass-produced counterparts. “When you start with a concentrate or a juice that you have to add a ton of sugar to prefermentation, that’s when you end up with that really syrupy [taste] that gives you the feeling of consuming something that’s not real,” Luebke says. “Some people call it gut rot.”
From the get-go, Luebke says the team at Thor’s Hard Cider knew it wanted to avoid causing that sickly-sweet sensation. The answer was in its Minnesota variety apples. “Every variety of apple has a different sugar content inherently,” Luebke says. “So, we found a way to combine these different varieties to the sugar content that we were looking for before we fermented anything.”
What results is a taste you’re only going to find in Minnesota.
Keeping It in The Family
Aamodt’s Apple Farm has passed through four generations of Aamodts, each adding their own special twist to the company and the goings-on onsite. What was originally a retirement plan for Geoffrey and his brothers’ great grandfather, Thor, grew from a few saplings to over six thousand apple trees in roughly 70 years.
“It’s kind of grown and expanded and then condensed as well over the years,” Geoffrey says. “My brothers and I started [Thor’s Hard Cider] up in 2017. We also have the winery that’s onsite and that’s been here since 1992.” The winery, Saint Croix Vineyards, shares a rustic 1800s barn taproom with Thor’s Hard Cider and was started by Geoffrey’s father Chris and two other founders.
“We love using pretty much every foot of property,” Geoffrey says. “I think that’s what makes us unique over other taprooms in the area, is you can come regardless of planned events. You can come, get the cider, get food and just stretch your legs, just walk around the orchard at any time of year.”
This is the first year Aamodt’s Apple Farm will be open all 12 months, and it has a host of events to keep it busy throughout the seasons, from local music to seasonal events.
For a list of activities, visit aamodtsapplefarm.com
Thor’s Crispy Pork Belly Taco with Honey Crisp and Fennel Slaw
For the pork:
- 3 lbs. center cut pork belly (~1 ½ inches thick)
- 1 cup kosher salt
- ¼ cup freshly ground black pepper
Dry the pork as much as possible with a paper towel. Score the belly fat cap. Generously rub the belly with the salt and pepper mixture. Sear, fat side down, on medium heat until fat is properly rendered and golden brown all the way to the muscle layer. Flip over and cook for an additional 10 minutes on the other side. Transfer to and then wrap in brown butcher paper. Roast in oven at 400 degrees F until there is an internal temp of 205 degrees F. Let rest for about 30 minutes. Slice or cube with a slicer.
For the Honey Crisp and Fennel Slaw:
- 1 small green cabbage, julienned
- 1 large fennel bulb, shaved on a mandolin fennel fronds
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 large Honeycrisp apple, cored and julienned
- ¼ cup walnut oil
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- ¼ cup El Thoro Hard Apple Cider
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
- ½ cup fresh honey
- salt and pepper to taste
Take first five ingredients, mix and set aside. Blend the remaining ingredients together while slowly adding the two oils. Then combine. You can add a few tablespoons of mayo for a creamy slaw. Char some of your favorite Corn Street taco shells, add pork belly and enjoy!