Grey skies and cooler temperatures couldn’t dampen the spirits of attendees at this year’s Vander Fest, the yearly celebration hosted by Michigan’s highest volume cidery, Vander Mill of Spring Lake.
The festival takes place in early October and was conceived as a celebration of the cidery’s success in this up-and-coming industry.
“One of our founders, Paul Vander Heide, wanted to find a way to celebrate the success of their business with their friends and fans, and that’s what Vander Fest is,” says Alexa Seychel, one of Vander Mill’s enthusiastic sales team, self-named “cider slingers.” Festival guests were treated to local food truck options The Standard Pizza Company and GBQ BBQ, as well as burgers and brats from Spring Lake’s own Top Butcher Shoppe.
As Vander Mill’s success has grown, so has the event. This year featured many of the state’s other top cideries, including Blake’s Hard Cider, Northville Winery & Brewery, Uncle John’s Cider Mill, Tandem Ciders and Sietsema Orchards & Cider Mill. Also represented were many of Michigan’s well-respected microbreweries, like Greenbush, Kuhnhenn, and Dark Horse.
The event also had a distinct local flavor, with West Michigan breweries & cideries being well-represented by the likes of New Holland Brewing Company, Odd Side Ales, Big Lake Brewing, Unruly Brewing Company, and Virtue Ciders.
“We made an effort to include all local places that we have a relationship with,” Seychel said.
Vander Mill’s growth has made them the largest craft cidery in the Midwest, and the cidery distributes to Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.
As a testament to Vander Mill’s growing regional success, a number of well-reputed out-of-state breweries were at the festival, some making a rare appearance in Michigan. Among the out-of-state guests were Perennial Artisan Ales (Missouri), Revolution (Illinois), Sun King (Indiana), Allagash (Maine), Lagunitas (Illinois), Great Lakes (Ohio), and Off-Color (Illinois).
The final months of 2015 are shaping up to be big ones for Vander Mill. The cidery’s new 42,000 square-foot facility in Grand Rapids should be near completion by the end of the year.
“It’s going to allow us to quadruple production, at the very least,” Seychel told guests of one of the facility tours at Vander Fest.
The event was, of course, a great opportunity for Vander Mill to showcase its own ciders. Along with well-known staples, such as Totally Roasted, Blue Gold and Ginger Peach, were a number of special batches. These included Yellow Brick Rhode, made from Rhode Island greening and gold rush apples and aged in American white oak barrels for a year, a cyser called Besieged, a barrel-aged mead and cider combination, and L.L. Cool Bayes, a “harvest cider” wet-hopped with Columbus hops.
“We’ve been very successful letting the brand name speak for itself,” says Seychel, “and we’re very proud of that.”