SPRING LAKE TOWNSHIP — The evolution of Vander Fest brought the event to new territory on Saturday.

Now in its fifth year, the annual craft cider and beer celebration hosted by Vander Mill Cider and Winery had a new angle on the event. Instead of inviting breweries to create specialty beers using Vander Mill’s sweet cider, the festival focused more on craft in general.

“For the first time, we invited ‘friends of Vander Mill’,” said cider maker, brewer and operations manager Joel Brower, referring to nine Michigan cideries as well a dozen breweries from Michigan, Indiana and Ohio represented at the event.

“It’s good to invite our friends to the party,” owner Paul Vander Heide said. “We’re all supporting each other. We have a common goal of trying to elevate the public’s perception of what quality products are.

“There aren’t a whole lot of Michigan festivals put on by producers inviting other producers. I think that’s part of the fun of it.”

An estimated 700 craft beer and cider enthusiasts braved unusually cold temperatures and constant rain to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the cider/beer tasting tent, food tent and entertainment tent. This year, part of the “friends” category also included distributors and sales representatives, who were themselves enthused to see such a large crowd despite less-than-desirable weather, according to Vander Heide.

“We used this event more this year than in the past as way to entertain and show some of our distributors and partners what it is we do,” he said. “We gave them a good excuse to pay us a visit.”

Vander Heide said Saturday’s attendance shows Vander Fest has “got legs.” Brower agreed.

“I don’t think we’ll ever have to worry about attendance after seeing this kind of attendance with the weather we had on Saturday,” Brower said. “Imagine if the stars were out and it was 55 degrees — that whole lawn would be packed. There would be people everywhere.”

While Vander Fest has evolved in its first five years, both Brower and Vander Heide believe its main emphasis hasn’t changed — bringing cider enthusiasts together while educating the local public with a huge party as the backdrop.

“Originally we did this because there was only one other cider festival in the state, but we wanted to do our own and try to make it super cool,” Brower said. “It’s super laidback. It’s communal. The majority of people here are from Spring Lake, Grand Haven, Fruitport or Grand Rapids.

“Being a Spring Lake born, bred, graduate, it’s nice to see everyone you know come together for this event. We’ve been able to teach the people in Spring Lake that you can have a cool party around here.”

Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery