When a man from Brooklyn says he’s going to make cider with wild yeast in a shipping container in Shalesmoor, we had questions. Why? Being the main one, this is Sheffield beer city, not cider town. But also, what is wild yeast and why swap hip Brooklyn for Krynkl, the converted shipping container complex on the outskirts of Kelham.
We caught up with Mike, the man behind Exemption Ciderhouse and The Cider Hole cidery and bar, set to open later this year (fingers crossed) to talk cider, Sheffield and beer, obviously…
Hi Mike, firstly, what are you up to? Are you taking cider to a new level?
If you’re a fan of Kopparberg or Strongbow, let’s just say… come to The Cider Hole with different expectations. The cider I’m making on site — as Exemption Ciderhouse — is produced with wild yeasts to create enjoyably wild and funky flavours. To use a beer analogy, this isn’t like comparing lagers and ales; it’s like comparing lagers and ales to the sour beers of Belgium. I was personally inspired by Basque-style sidra — and I think, flavour wise, what I produce is in that realm. But my hope is that when people try it, it’ll be a revelation. I love the ciders I make, and I have started selling them commercially because I know other people will too.
Is it possible to make large quantities in such a small space?
Ha, no! The plan is to have three 300-litre fermenters making three different batches. That’s about 1,500 pints of cider and when we’re out, we’re out. We’ll have plenty of other incredible, hand-selected beverages to serve while we wait for the next season.
Does cider vary in styles like beer does? How many are you looking to do?
So all of my ciders will be broadly similar, but each batch will have its own characteristics — a natural result of the fermentation process. The idea is that people can come in, try a half-pint from each batch, and see these subtle differences. My hope is that it creates a discussion: I want to see some arguments over which batch is people’s favourite!
Where do you source your ingredients from?
My hope, from day one, has been to use 100 percent apples collected from residential trees in Sheffield. We’ll stick with that as long as we can find enough apples. The idea is that I come haul your apples away from your garden and, in return, you get free cider made from your fruit. Awesome, right? If you have apples and want to get involved, email me right now at [email protected]!
Why did you choose Krynkl as its first ‘proper’ home?
I was actually searching for a location in Shalesmoor because the plan to was open a true “hole” in the wall — thus the name. I wanted a tiny crappy industrial space where people would walk in and be like “What the fuck is this?” But then Krynkl is in Shalesmoor, so it came up on my search. As soon as I spoke to David at Krynkl, he was 100 percent on board with the whole stupid idea. One of the first things he said to me was “I want this here” and that kind of enthusiasm just knocked me out. I’m one of those people where if you’ll cosign my crazy plans, you got friend for life. As soon as we signed the lease, my family and I went for drinks at Krynkl and felt right at home. It just makes sense: We moved here from Brooklyn and Krynkl has that kind of vibe. They might regret having us actually! It’ll be fun.
Can people purchase your cider now? Where will they be able to buy your cider once you’re up and running at Krynkl?
Our 2020 season test batch of Exemption Ciderhouse cider was gone by the time it was bottled, so there’s nothing available right now. Once we’re up and running, we’ll have fill-and-go bottles people can purchase for takeaway that will be filled straight from the fermenter on-site. There’s been some discussion about limited bottlings for sale outside of our unit, but I don’t know if we’ll have enough cider for that. We’ll see.
Will you be opening as a bar?
Definitely! Don’t let the name fool you! I’ve worked as a beer journalist for 15 years now. I actually know far more about beer than cider. Cider is just a hobby! The plan is to have a few hand-selected beers, definitely some really good wines: I’ve been obsessed with English whites, so expect a handful of great regional wine. Concurrently, I’ve also launched my own import company, Quality Ferments, and we’re planning to bring in some wild shit: I got a pallet of sparkling Danish rhubarb wine on the way that’s going to blow people’s minds! And, of course, other ciders — hopefully including some from Europe and America. I got tricks up my sleeve. Also, I have to mention that we’re still waiting on the alcohol license, so this is all up in the air for now, but that’s the plan.
When are you hoping to move in? How long will it take for the first batch to be ready?
So yes, speaking of licensing, I’m hoping to open as soon as the license comes through. I think this autumn is realistic. We won’t have any of our cider ready at that point, but I want to give people a chance to come through and say hi if they want. Whatever. We’re going to be pretty laid back. The first batch of our in-house cider won’t be ready until at least March probably. That’s the problem with small batch cider: It’s seasonal meaning we harvest in autumn and it’s not ready until spring and then if it’s good, we’ll run out before the next batch is done. But because of that, downtime is part of the business model, so we’ll have to get used to being open even if the fermenters are empty. We’ll have something fun for you to drink, I promise!
Why do you think there’s so many people making beer in Sheffield but not cider?
I have two theories. One, the cider scene up north is just a bit stagnant and needs someone like me to shake things up a bit and get people excited in different sorts of ciders. Or two, there’s simply not a lot of interest in cider here in Sheffield and I am an idiot who will go out of business in a hurry. I’m prepared for both outcomes.
What is your favourite cider?
Oh man, I wouldn’t be here without so many delicious and inspiring ciders. Blackduck in New York and Shacksbury in Vermont — everything I am doing is right out of their playbook and I can’t praise those guys enough for letting me see how they work. English cider is, of course, incredible; I don’t want to say too much because I haven’t reach out to everyone yet but we want to stock as much of that stuff as we can. But for me, flavour wise and stylistically, it will always come back to the cider houses of Basque Country. I like funky, mouth-puckering ciders that drink like lemon and citrus juice. For years, I’ve been getting a few of my favorite brands sent to my house from Spain for personal consumption. I’m going to bring it to The Cider Hole for sure.
Where do you like to drink in Sheffield?
My local is The Beer House on Ecclesall Road which was Sheffield’s first micropub. Beyond simply being a fantastic beer-focused pub full of amazing people, hanging out there and basking in their success on a regular basis really inspired me: the idea that you could try something new and not only succeed but spawn a whole micropub scene across the city is awesome.
I also spend a lot of time at The Brewery of Saint Mars of the Desert in Attercliffe. The Cider Hole wouldn’t have happened without Dann and Martha: They ran a brewery in America and brought their ethos to Sheffield with a kind of “fuck-the-world, this is our dream” attitude and are just killing it on every single level. I was having a drink at SMOD and told Dann I was thinking about opening The Cider Hole and he said something to the effect of “Yeah, enjoy your life” and I don’t know if he was being sarcastic but that was all the validation I needed!