PALMYRA, Neb. — The winter of 2014 wasn’t kind to Glacial Till Vineyard’s grapes, specifically the chambourcin variety. The wine made from it is one of Glacial Till’s most popular varieties, as the two gigantic decorative bottles of Chambourcin in the farm winery’s event space suggest, the Lincoln Journal Star (http://bit.ly/2cLS1nf ) reported.
The two bottles flank a set of taps that feature a few Nebraska-made craft beers and three varieties of the beverage Glacial Till turned to in absence of those Chambourcins — hard apple cider.
The 2014 winter didn’t wipe out the entire grape crop by any means, but it did leave a 1,000-gallon tank usually filled with fermenting wine glaringly empty, said Tim Murman. He is the middle of three brothers who, along with their father Mike, put in many of the hours at the family vineyard in Palmyra and at the tasting room in Ashland.
“We knew we’d be all right, but we had the capacity to do something else,” Tim Murman, 30, said.
Their thoughts turned a half-hour down Nebraska 2, to the apple groves in Kimmel Orchard in Nebraska City.
The Murmans knew that hard cider sales, thanks in part to people seeking gluten-free alternatives to beer, had skyrocketed in recent years. (Though nationwide sales increased by a little under 11 percent in 2015, that followed two years in which hard cider sales ballooned by 71 and 89 percent.) And although cider with an 8.5 percent alcohol volume or lower is classified as beer according to Nebraska law, the process of fermenting wine and hard cider isn’t so different, said John Murman, 33.
“The only thing that’s been a learning curve is getting (the cider) clarified,” said John Murman, the head winemaker, and now also cider-maker, at Glacial Till.
Last summer, John Murman did some test runs with the first vat of fresh-pressed cider driven from Kimmel Orchard up the gravel drive to the winery.
“Kind of took off from there,” Tim Murman said.
John Murman’s first-ever batch remains the basis for the Glacial Till Original Cider recipe, one they describe as a blend of sweet and tart apples with bit of lemon and citrus bite to it. They started to offer free samples to a few friends and visitors when they visited the Palmyra vineyard. A rep they work with at K&Z Distributing Company, after trying it, implored them to make more.
“It wasn’t until the cider when we really needed these bad boys,” Tim Murman said as he gazed up at a recently installed, towering 2,200-gallon tank inside the Glacial Till facility.
They’ve since ordered hundreds of kegs and growlers that feature the logo commissioned by Craig Murman, 26, who’s become the marketing arm of both the wine and cider operations. Tim Murman said the winery has sold about 6,300 gallons of hard cider so far, and produced around 7,000 gallons. A few other Nebraska farm wineries, including James Arthur Vineyards, have started to produce their own ciders, according to Nebraska Liquor Commission statistics, but not in such large quantities, yet.
“As of last year, we were the largest and one of the first to get it out there and mass distribute it,” Tim Murman said.
Federal law, which unlike Nebraska law, still classifies hard cider as a wine, limits Nebraska microbreweries without winery licenses from making craft versions of a gluten-free hard cider.
Ploughshare Brewing Co.’s Matt Stinchfield said it’s not yet worth it for him to go through the hoops of getting a winery licence to make a cider. The downtown brewery instead has a cider on tap, and has rotated several Glacial Till varieties over the past year.
“What John Murman is doing over at Glacial Till is making really good ciders,” Stinchfield said, citing the Barrel-Aged and Hibiscus Ginger varieties.
So far, John Murman has made a few seasonal and small-batch varieties to go along with the original made from the Kimmel Orchard apples. (They still get fresh-pressed cider from the Nebraska City orchard. But they also contract with a processor in New York that has a lab attached. It’s a godsend to John Murman, he said, because it gives him information on the many ways in which each batch of cider he gets is nutrient-starved.)
The toughest part now is keeping up with demand. They ran out of the Glacial Till Hibiscus Ginger variety, saving the last kegs for a wedding reception late this summer held at the winery’s event space in Palmyra. They used the last of it on a take on the Moscow Mule cocktail, replacing the ginger beer with their cider, and now they’re waiting on the next batches of Hibiscus Ginger to ferment in a set of wine-stained casks.
“We’re growing, but we don’t want to grow too fast to where we can’t satisfy our customers,” Tim Murman said.
There are a few Glacial Till ciders available in a few Lincoln and Omaha bars — Hopcat in the Haymarket regularly has it on tap as does the Blue Blood Brewing Co. It’s also for sale in growlers at Glacial Till’s Haymarket farmers market stand. And on Sept. 23, Glacial Till’s final Fermented Friday of the season, cider varieties will be for sale at the Palmyra vineyard, 344 S. 2nd Rd.
And this weekend, when apple fanatics back up traffic in Nebraska City, the Murman brothers will be there. On Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Murman brothers will take their 10-keg capacity kegerator to the Fox Center, 424 Central Ave. in Nebraska City, and pour draws and growlers of hard cider in the beer garden during the 2016 AppleJack Festival. They’re not sure if they’ll have enough or not.
Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Lincoln Journal Star.