Ryan Burk is a rock star in the cider world. He built his reputation as a leading cider maker during his time at Michigan’s Virtue Cider, a company known for innovative hard ciders. He was recently recognized by Wine Enthusiast magazine as a “Top 40 under 40 Tastemaker: 2017”. Now as the actual, and some say spiritual, head of cider production for Angry Orchard, he wants you to enjoy and respect this venerable beverage as much as he does.
Ryan Burk’s New York roots run deep. He grew up in Upstate New York and some of his first jobs involved working in orchards in his hometown. He has always been interested in agriculture and fermentation, both of which led him to pursue a career in cider making.
Prior to joining the Angry Orchard team, Burk racked up years of professional cider making experience, with a particular focus on cider barrel-aging. Burk utilizes spontaneous fermentation to explore Old World cider techniques, in pursuit of something new and uniquely American. It’s why Angry Orchard hired him.
Burk is passionate about apples – where they’re from, what makes them special. According to him, each has its own story. It comes from a time and a place. A crop depends on the seasons and weather patterns. He’s working with apples from his hometown, and few things make him happier than connecting with families and farmers he’s known his whole life. “One of my great pride points is that I am buying fruit from growers whose kids I grew up with,” Burk says. “It’s one of the high honors for me. Cider is simply the expression of very special apples. It’s my job to tell their story, and Angry Orchard supports my work 100 percent.”
Angry Orchard has been experimenting with apple varieties, ingredients and methods of making hard cider for more than 20 years. Through traveling around the world to find the best apples and experimentation, Burk and his team craft a variety of ciders, some experimental, which become available nationally, like Angry Orchard’s Rosé Hard Cider. This new cider, blush or rose in color, is made with rare red-fleshed apples from France and hibiscus. It’s refreshingly light and oral, reminiscent of rosé wine, but decidedly apple-forward, complemented by refreshingly light tannins, similar to semi-dry wine.
“Cider is incredibly versatile,” says Burk. “The sheer range of styles (still, sparkling, farmhouse, ice, etc.) means you’ll always find something that will fit the occasion and pair with whatever you’re eating. Good cider is a beautiful balance of acidity, sweetness and bitterness, so it brings out hidden flavors in whatever food it’s paired with. When successful, cider is beautifully clear, with a rosy hue and enough of a tannin backbone to balance out the sweeter notes that develop
during the fermentation process.”
Burk is often asked why he chose to work with Angry Orchard, the country’s largest cider producer. It’s a question he is eager to answer. “To me,” Burk says, “this company’s intentions are pure, and that’s what matters most. When I interviewed at Angry Orchard, and met everybody involved, and saw what was going to be, I knew that we were going to have an opportunity to raise an industry that needs to be raised. It’s almost become more than a job. It’s a responsibility and a mission.”