COLD SPRING - We all know about the explosion of Minnesota breweries and wineries in recent years, but the next big thing is likely going to be cideries.

One of the first, and largest, cideries in the state is right here in our own backyard - Milk and Honey Ciders just outside of Cold Spring. Three friends started the business just five years ago, and they've been selling their hard ciders in St. Cloud and Twin Cities bars for about three years now. Also, since just this spring, you can find their products on local liquor store shelves too.

Co-owner Peter Gillitzer says the 2015 "Heirloom" is their flagship product.

It's a blend of dozens of different apples and it's nice and dry and refreshing. It comes in at about seven-percent alcohol. It's great for a day like today where we're out in the orchard, the sun is beating down, and it's nice and refreshing.

The other two co-owners are Aaron Klocker and Adam Theis. Gillitzer says another one of their five varieties of ciders is their 2014 "Alchemy".

Which is an ice cider. It's all chestnut crab apples. And it's nice and sweet. A little bit higher alcohol. It's got a great roundness. We age it in bourbon barrels.

Gillitzer says it's their dream to one day grow the business enough to open a tap room so customers can come in and sample their different varieties of ciders.

Milk and Honey co-owner Peter Gillitzer, photo by's Jim Maurice

It's interesting to note that apples that are great for making hard cider are not good eating apples, and a tasty apple to eat isn't the best for making cider.

As harvest season approaches, they're getting ready for their busy season. Gillitzer says all of the apples are harvested by hand.

We pick it, we usually store it to help it further ripen, and then we're going to wash it, grind it out into a pomace - which is just smashed apples, and then we press it out. At that point our work is done.

Gillitzer says, start to finish, the process of making hard cider takes about a half a year.

Right now we're drinking the 2015 Heirloom. That's going to be on the market all the way until next spring. So for us it's a minimum six months.

During the pressing season, from October through March, they work 16-hour days for three days a month. They hire about six students from St. John's and St. Ben's to help do the work. Milk and Honey Ciders makes 15,000 gallons of cider a year.

Milk and Honey co-owner Peter Gillitzer, photo by's Jim Maurice

The apples are stored in a 4,000 square foot storage facility in Rockville.

There's about 30 to 40% of waste product in the process. That gets shipped to a hog farmer near Sartell, which he uses as feed for his animals. In exchange, the Milk and Honey owners get hogs for butchering.

Gillitzer says while hard ciders have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity lately, it's far from a new kind of alcohol. It was the alcoholic beverage of choice back in the colonial days.

Milk and Honey Ciders has five acres of trees on their property, with 2,500 apple trees, in 30 different varieties.

Milk and Honey co-owner Peter Gillitzer, photo by's Jim Maurice