Hidden Cave Cidery moves beyond traditional ciders with innovative flavors

Walker Fanning is changing the cider game.
Walker Fanning holding bottles of his cider in Old Sugar Distillery
Walker Fanning, founder and owner of Hidden Cave Cidery, holds up two new bottled versions of his original draft exclusive ciders.

Walker Fanning did not always like the taste of cider.

“Actually I hated it,” Fanning says. “But, when I tried some out of the fermenter at my first job I realized that all cider isn’t just sweet alco-pop. That’s when I saw the potential of what cider could be.”

Fanning is a new kind of cider maker. At 24 years old, he is challenging flavor palates to move beyond traditional cider and into his wildest imagination.

As the owner, salesman and brewer for Hidden Cave Cidery, Fanning has the freedom to dream up new flavors like chocolate hazelnut and rose hip rosemary. His next test will be a peanut butter infused cider inspired by a classic middle school snack.

“I don’t like to be boxed in,” Fanning says. “I like to do whatever I want. And I do think there’s more innovation coming. I try to use herbs that I have never heard of before. I know there are even more out there people aren’t using yet.”

While cider is traditionally perceived as a warmer month beverage, Fanning aspires to rewrite the narrative.

“My big workaround of cider’s seasonality is to start doing the style of beverage people are drinking during winter anyway,” said Fanning. “I’m going to try to make the dark beer version of cider to bridge the gap.”

As a graduate of Middleton High School and the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Fanning’s local roots are an important part of his business model and larger mission.

“I only use Wisconsin apples because these are the farmers I grew up around,” Fanning says. “ I always keep an open dialogue with owners about when juice will be available and in what quantity and that allows me to get juice when other people maybe couldn’t.”

Hidden Cave Cidery is housed within Old Sugar Distillery, which acts as a creative incubator for Fanning to collaborate with neighboring businesses like Wm. Chocolate and ORIGIN Breads. For a recent Valentine’s Day event, Fanning paired his new chocolate hazelnut cider with freshly baked brownies from ORIGIN Breads that used the same Wm. Chocolate nibs as those in his cider.

“Some of the most fun parts are the relationships you get to make with people,” Fanning says. “I have more fun working with people than competing with people.”

Fanning wants to see the cider industry become more inclusive. In the beer industry he says there is a lot of collaboration among breweries, and he’s hoping that’s something that could expand to the cider industry.

To encourage this, he’s taking matters into his own hands this summer by starting the Best of the Best Cider Fest in Milwaukee on July 11th. The festival will bring the finest hard cider producers in Wisconsin together to share their products alongside local food trucks.

You can find Hidden Cave Cidery at Old Sugar Distillery and in local bars, restaurants and tasting rooms in the Madison area. For a full list, click here.