SPRING LAKE TOWNSHIP — Cider collided with beer Saturday as Vander Mill hosted its second annual beer and cider festival.
Vander Fest serves as both a beer and hard cider festival with lots of emphasis on the cider. Now in its second year, the event featured five different cider producers this year, as well as 10 breweries with special one-offs that mixed sweet cider with beer.
“We’ve really tried to reach out throughout the state,” owner Paul Vander Heide said. “Anyone that is willing to do a one-off just for the festival we’d like to invite here to make it a very fall-centric festival.”
Participating breweries — each fermented 50 gallons of Vander Mill’s sweet apple cider with beer — included Old Boys’ Brewhouse, Odd Side Ales, New Holland Brewing Company, Jamesport Brewing Company, HopCat, Brewery Vivant, Saugatuck Brewing Company, Michigan Beer Cellar, Mount Pleasant Brewing Company and Walldorff.
Vander Fest also featured four of Vander Mill’s hard ciders on tap as well as hard ciders from Robinette’s, Black Star Farms, Northville Winery and Uncle John’s.
“We wanted to do a festival that was heavy in promoting Michigan ciders,” Vander Heide said. “A lot of the festivals around Michigan, you’ve got limited access to different cider producers.”
According to the owner, Vander Fest is the most cider-driven beer festival in the state. And with around 400 in attendance, the event shows the increasing demand for hard cider and apple-based products.
“I think it’s going to continue to increase,” Vander Heide said. “We’re just trying to do our part to raise the awareness of a great Michigan agricultural product.”
In addition to creating Vander Fest, the mill has continued its growth by increasing distribution over the past five years, including the recent purchase of new fermenting and carbonation tanks. In an effort to promote more on-site consumption, Vander Mill in July opened its more than 2,000 square-foot outdoor garden where patrons can enjoy a hard cider and deli-style lunch or dinner outdoors.
Vander Mill, 14921 Cleveland St., is en route for beachgoers to Grand Haven State Park or Ottawa County’s North Beach Park. Those taking I-96 and exiting on M-104 pass the mill on the north side of the road.
Some of the festival’s highlights:
- Old Boys’ Apple Harvest Ale — Coming in at just over 9 percent ABV, this high-gravity Belgian ale was fruity and very drinkable. The apple aroma and taste was upfront and trailed into light hoppiness and a biscuity-malt aftertaste.
- Odd Side Ales Apple Pie — Of the two featured “pie” brews, Odd Side wins the prize with a crisp, not overpowering flavor/aroma. Smelling just a hint of apple and spice, the taste was very well-balanced with an excellent amount of carbonation that brought it all together. The other pie brew, Michigan Beer Cellar’s Granny’s Apple Pie Spice had the right aroma, but didn’t deliver as much on the taste. Still, its tartness was quite unique.
- New Holland aged some cider in a rum barrel, but with no carbonation it had more of a wine-like taste and feel, which certainly pleased most tasters.
- Vander Mill’s own latest cider flavor featured was its Sangria cider. A mix of apple cider, sweet and tart cherry juices, blueberry juice, peach juice and high-proof apple brandy, this cider was yet another stroke of genius from Vander Mill.
- Brewery Vivant fermented its Farmhand Ale with sweet cider to make a delicious one-off called Apple Barrel, aged in an oak barrel. It seemed the Belgian yeasts blended well with the cider (as with Old Boys’ brew) to make one of the day’s best beer-cider combos.
- Saugatuck Brewing Company’s Apple Ale had plenty of apple and spice to which one member of the BrewCrew responded, “It tastes like Thanksgiving.” Guess Grandma’s famous pie does come in a liquid form.