Before the pandemic, business was good for Walker Fanning and Hidden Cave Cidery. His hard ciders were flowing strong in area bars and restaurants, until Covid shuttered all the businesses where his products were being served. He knew he had to shift to bottling his ciders in order to stay afloat.
At the time, Fanning was brewing his creations at Old Sugar Distillery in Madison. But shifting to bottling meant he’d need more space, his own space, and so Hidden Cave Cidery was born in Middleton. Fanning turned to friends and family to help draft architectural plans, pick paint colors, and start the hard work of turning a cabinet shop/glass artwork studio into a cidery.
Hidden Cave’s tasting room is still under construction, but Fanning hopes to have it completed by this November. In the meantime, customers can enjoy the outdoor patio and one of four picnic tables (built by hand by Fanning and his tasting room manager) and enjoy some of Hidden Cave’s creations on the back patio. Reservations are not required but they do ensure you a table!
If you’re lucky, Fanning will ask your opinion on what flavor he should try next, like he did recently. Customers voted for a honeysuckle French toast cider, which Fanning was eager to try out with just one caveat: he didn’t have a recipe for it yet! So, he pulled out his favorite Sunday French toast recipe and hit the grocery store.
“It has cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, salt, pure Wisconsin maple syrup, honeysuckle and a little bit of lactose, because you know, you dip the bread in the milk and eggs,” Fanning said. But don’t worry, he assures his customers there are no actual eggs in the cider blend.
If you want to try the honeysuckle French toast, you’ll have to come straight to the cidery for a taste. That flavor isn’t being bottled yet. But you can find their other unique ciders like lemongrass lavender, hibiscus juniper, and rose hip rosemary (which won a Bronze Medal for Herbal Cider in the 2018 U.S. Open Cider Championship), at 26 locations in the greater Madison area, 17 in the greater Milwaukee area, and 2 spots near La Crosse.
Now that bars and restaurants are reopening, Fanning hopes to move back into the draft business, but he’s comfortable keeping the operation smaller for now, so he can focus on quality and ensuring his ciders stay unique.
“We have the only chocolate hazelnut hard cider in the world!” Fanning said.
As someone who grew up in Middleton, and with vast orchard experience under his belt, Fanning says he’s committed to using local products like honey from Mount Horeb, and only Wisconsin-grown apples.
“That was really important to me as a business. It’s important to me that I’m supporting Wisconsin agriculture.”
He’s excited to partner with local Middleton businesses too, having already put on a tasting event with Clasen’s European Bakery, and looking to work with the National Mustard Museum for a mustard and cider pairing in the future.
“I grew up in this area, so to me this is kind of an opportunity to show the culture of Middleton,” Fanning said. “I’m doing this because I’m proud of where I’m from.”
Friday: 5-9 p.m.
Saturday: 1-9 p.m.
Dogs (on a leash) are welcome!