SPRING LAKE TOWNSHIP — Call it clever or call it cliché, but a look at the fruits of their labor was appropriate Monday for Vander Mill Cider and Winery owners Amanda and Paul Vander Heide.
The cider mill is producing 200 times more hard cider than cider-maker/brewer Joel Brower’s first year of producing hard cider. What was 500 gallons then has doubled every year with the cider mill expected to produce 100,000 gallons this year.
“The growth is obviously very exciting for us and for other people to see,” Amanda Vander Heide said. “We have definitely put in a lot of our personal money, time.
“It’s been a lot of ups and downs, so it’s become very personal to us. It’s exciting that it has gone where it’s gone.”
Vander Mill opened in September 2006 and began producing hard cider in 2008. The cider makers essentially own the Chicago cider scene (and Chicago loves its cider) and are one of the most well known and highest producing cider mills in the Great Beer State.
This year, Vander Mill invested $600,000 in an expansion that included 3,000 square feet off the backside of its building, adding four fermenters (130-barrels each), three brite tanks (900 gallons each), a lab and two offices. The business also added a canning line.
“This year with this level of investment, we will be close to three times the volume of last year,” Paul Vander Heide said. “I’ve always said my primary goal on this business is first and foremost to support my family and, second, to try to realize all the opportunity that is reasonably in front of me.
“We see that there is more opportunity. We are taking some near term steps to create opportunity for future investment.”
Vander Mill’s latest expansion wrapped up in March in time to begin use of its canning line in early April. Three mainstay ciders — Blue Gold, Apple and Totally Roasted — were the first to hit retail shelves in late April. Sales have proven to be more than favorable.
“The cans have been a great success,” Amanda Vander Heide said.
“So far it’s gone really well,” her husband added. “The can packaging allowed us to get our price point down. Canning is a very unique thing to do in the cider world.”
Vander Mill cider sells in four-packs of 16-ounce cans. The Vander Heides said they plan to add a fourth option in cans by spring, starting with its mainstay Ginger Peach. Other mainstays like Apple Cherry and Apple Raspberry will be put in rotation before some specialties are added to the canning line. In the meantime, Chapman’s Blend and various cysers will be released in large bottles.
A number of other specialties will be rolling out in the next few months at the mill.
This month, Cyser VanDoom, a cyser aged in imperial IPA barrels is being released. Another barrel-aged product will be mass released. The cider maker is currently aging 70 barrels of a cider aged with Michigan wild flower honey in New Holland Dragon’s Milk barrels, to be distributed throughout Michigan and Illinois.
An additional collaboration with New Holland will use Vander Mill’s sweet cider with a beer to be distributed in four pack, 12-ounce bottles in 18 states.
“It will start to tickle the markets where we aren’t at yet with our brand name,” Paul Vander Heide said. “I feel like it’s good for both of us (New Holland and Vander Mill). To do a collaboration to this size with a cidery has not been done with a microbrewery to my knowledge.”
As Vander Mill expands in its existing market and gets its name out into multiple other markets, the greatest hurdle is waiting for the overall cider market to grow. According to Paul Vander Heide, cider comprises just .3 percent of the beverage market with analysts seeing it grow almost 100 times to around two percent in the next decade.
“It’s a very young, young category — we were fortunate to be in it when there weren’t many in it,” he said. “We’re ahead of the curve.
“There are definitely a lot of markets out there. Cider still has a long way to go before it’s mainstream.”
As the cider market grows, Vander Mill is poised to grow with it. The combination of the husband-wife duo and cider-maker/brewer Brower has already shown there are fruits of their labors.
“Limitation is always time, capital and having the physically manage growth,” Paul Vander Heide said. “For us it’s not so much limited by sales, it’s how fast can you grow a healthy organization.”
Vander Mill is located at 14921 Cleveland Street in Spring Lake Township.