Cherry Blues

tart cherries in a pile

It’s going to be a tough year for cherry melomels, cherry wheat beer, cherry lambic, and (sob!) cherry pie.

I have a cherry mel in secondary that needs a boost.  It’s a bit thin, and the cherry flavor could be better.  Of course, it’s January – not a fresh cherry in sight – so I went to the grocery store to look for frozen tart cherries.  What the heck, I thought, frozen fruit will be ok,  it’s going into a tertiary fermenter, it’s already had fresh cherries, this is just for a flavor boost…but no joy.  No cherries anywhere (there could’ve been a can of pie filling, I didn’t check for that, now that I think of it).

So I went to another grocery store.  Not a cherry in sight.   Nothing.  What’s going on?

trees in a cherry orchard, in bloom
MIchigan not Checkhov

I might be the last person in the U.S. not to know that the cherry crop in the upper Midwest – mostly Michigan but also Wisconsin, the region where by far the bulk of tart cherries are grown in the U.S.  – suffered greatly last year.  I don’t just mean “suffered”, and “greatly” doesn’t do it justice.  The 2013 crop is guesstimated to come in at 75% less than 2012.  Unusually high temps last March caused the fruit trees to bloom and begin fruiting about a month early.  That month was a critical one.  Season-appropriate weather returned and froze the tuchus off the trees, and the fruit, too.  The USDA reports that “pollination conditions were poor” as well.  Come the proper, reliable growing season, the remaining cherry crop was very uneven – a completely bare tree next to one that fruited.

70-80% of the U.S. tart cherry crop comes from Michigan alone, focused in five counties in the northwestern portion of the state.  That makes the crop online very vulnerable to anything regional, like weather patterns.

I have some trouble encompassing the numbers.  In 2011, the U.S. tart cherry forecast was 266.1 million pounds.  The next year’s crop is forecast at 73.1 million pounds, down 68%.  That’s a mind-boggling lot of cherries, but even I can see the stomach-lurching drop.  The majority of Michigan growers lost their entire harvestable crop this year.  Yow.

Wisconsin had the early-budding problem like Michigan’s, so their crop is down 93% from 2011.   The New York crop, much smaller, buy valium no prescription needed, was also hit by freezing temps and has a crop down 81% (to a mere 1.1 million pounds).  Pennsylvania had frost as well, so their crop is down 22%.  This is not going to be a good year for us to make anything from cherries.

Most tart cherries are processed – dried, canned, used for pie filling, granola, or trail mix. There are quite a few companies whose entire focus is tart cherries (all your eggs in one basket, but it’s a pretty fine basket).  Some are importing tart cherries from Poland, where the fruit is a little darker but the flavor is very close to the American tart cherry.  Some  are even going to mix cranberries in half-and-half, just for this one year – heresy in Cherryland!Cherry pie with lattice crust

You know you want someI special ordered ten pounds of frozen cherries for my melomel from a private farm, but I expect that’s going to be the last cherry-related brewing I will do this year.  Cherries are one of my favorite fruits and brew like a dream, but I can just guess how ex$$pensive they’re going to be!  I’m going to hunker down and hope for a better crop this year, and save my precious cherry ration for a pie or two in the summer.  Maybe the peach crop fared better…

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  1. I had no idea either! That is so sad. I have 6lbs of cherries sitting and waiting for me to decide what to do with them. What shall make with them? They are normal semi-sweet (bing) cherries.

    • Bing cherries are sweet cherries – that crop was not hit anywhere near as hard. Cherry jam, cherry pie, cherry cobbler, dried cherries…6lbs might be good for a one-gallon batch of brew but I usually use tart cherries for that.

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