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Island Orchard Cider

Ellison Bay, Wisconsin


Crusin' Rating: B-

Booze Rating: B


Welcome to our next Booze Cruise, the annual fall trip to Door County! And what’s better than a little hard cider in fall? This week we are checking out Island Orchard Cider in Ellison Bay, Wisconsin. Like so many spots in Door County, Ellison Bay is an unincorporated community. With a population of just under 250, Ellison bay is a fairly quiet little spot on the Green Bay (Eastern) side of the county. Hannah and I snagged some whitefish sandwiches at The Mink River Basin and then it was a short drive - we would have walked if not for a surprisingly cold wind coming off the bay - over to Island Orchard Cider.

Island Orchard is an unassuming spot that I’ve accidentally driven past on more than one occasion as I take Hwy 42 out of Ellison Bay. It isn’t the grandest of buildings from the outside, a rather greyish rectangle that, only from the entrance, denotes a warm and inviting atmosphere. From Hwy 42 it can easily be mistaken for an outbuilding. There was a tent-like canopy coming off the building to offer shelter from potential rain, and a handful of tables and a small fire pit on the front patio. The patio is directly on a residential street, without much of a curb, but luckily, the street seems fairly quiet. A small fire pit sits under a somewhat gnarled tree right close to a glass door entrance.

We entered the main door to what they use as extra seating and retail checkout. Part of the production floor is used as a tasting room and there’s a bar that is backlit by large windows that overlook the patio. Although the space is small, maybe fitting a total of 36 or so patrons, it does make for an intimate experience where the ambient noise isn’t getting too loud, even during a weekend that saw Fall Fest take place in nearby Sister Bay. Hannah and I both agreed it was cozy on a cold day. The tasting room that we sat in has a few high tables and a couple low tables, a little swag area, and then one wall that houses all of the bottles as well as their recent releases of various fruit-vinegars that I had to snag to put to work behind the Cruisin’ for booze bar.

Crusin' For Booze- Wisconsin Beer Wine Distillery Blogger- Island Orchard Cider- Cider Flight

As you know, Hannah and I have had the chance to work closely with pioneers in the Wisconsin Cider industry with our experiences at The Cider Farm and we were eager to see how Island Orchard measured up! We tried a few that were very simliar comparisons and a few that we haven’t seen anywhere else.

Still Beauty (6.5% ABV) - This unpasteurized cider was lager gold and described as bone dry but Hannah and I were in agreement that it leaned toward semi-dry and overall was closer to a mellow, low carbonated apple juice with low tannins. We didn’t find a lot of depth of flavor here or complexity.

Hopped Brut Apple* (6.9% ABV) - The Hopped cider at The Cider Farm is one of my all-time favorite ciders so naturally I wanted to try Island Orchard’s variation that featured Cascade Hops grown in Door County. With plenty of wild grass notes on the nose and floral notes, there was definitely a solid note of citrus zest when tasting. Pleasant, but I wanted a little more citrusy hop presence when tasting as well.

Oak Aged (6.9% ABV) - Pouring pale yellow, this cider had tons of woody notes and Hannah described it similar to an apple-bourbon, except with a more natural apple aroma. There was a little bit of caramelized sugar if you really looked but it was heavy on those wood notes. The taste didn’t pack nearly the punch as the aroma did and while I thought it tasted like a bite of green apple - juice and all, Hannah thought it tasted closer to just the apple skin. We both agreed that we wanted more of those barrel notes to be present in the taste, and not just the aroma.

Apple Ginger (6.9% ABV) - Pale straw with brilliant clarity, there was plenty of ginger, spice, and pepper on the nose, specifically ginger juice that Hannah and me have become very familiar with due to a recent kitchen experience that went a little haywire! Definitely the most carbonated of the samples we tried, there was plenty of ginger up front that then settled to a semi-tart apple presence. It was nice that the spiciness of the ginger wasn’t really present but I thought there was a little too much ginger here that came off closer to a ginger beer with apple, rather than the other way around. Hannah disagreed and enjoyed this one quite a bit, though she did admit that it was right on the cusp of being overpowering, especially as we noticed the ginger does have a cumulative effect on your taste buds as you drink a glass.

Apple Lavender (6.9% ABV) - Another pale straw offering, the lavender used is grown on Washington Island at the northern tip of Door County. With a highly floral aroma where we found pleasant notes of lavender blossoms and a grounding herbal-apple note as well as some earthy sweetness this was definitely the most complex cider we tasted. Semi dry with light floral notes, low tannin content, and a little herbal-almost spice note (think fresh herbs), this cider was balanced flawlessly and was a pleasure to drink. Good enough that we brought a bottle home to sip on while watching scary movies.

I will say that Island Orchard does grow as much of their ingredients as they can right in Door County and you know the Crusin' For Booze team loves hyper-local, exclusively Wisconsin. I think they are absolutely going in the right direction and every time we are there it improves. Hannah and I grabbed fruit vinegars to take home after a complimentary tasting - yes we did a tasting of just vinegar. We also brought a bottle of Apple Lavender home because we enjoyed it so much. Luckily, we can get some of their offerings around us at stores in Madison, but I will say this one is worth the stop if you are in Door County to explore exclusive options. It would be tough to recommend more than an hour-and-a-half drive for this spot, but if you are in Door County, I would absolutely stop there on your way to check out the famously photographed “Windy Road” section of Hwy 42. We’ve stopped in before, and I’m sure we will stop in again.

Until then, keep on cruisin’, don’t stop boozin’.

To learn more about Island Orchard, please visit their website at: or on Facebook: @IslandOrchardCider or on Instagram: @IslandOrchardCider

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