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.”

aha conference

GRAND RAPIDS — We had a great time throughout the American Homebrewers Association’s National Homebrewers Conference held at DeVos Place last week. Below are links to all of our coverage, as well as some of our favorite photo moments. Photos by Steph Harding.

MittenBrew Coverage

THURSDAY: Expo

FRIDAY: Keynote

FRIDAY: Club Night

SPRING LAKE TOWNSHIP — Envision the best fall party you have ever attended.

Then add high-quality ciders and apple-infused brews from across the Midwest, local handcrafted food, a loud rock band, and, of course, lasers.

VanderFest 2013 offered that type of party to about 600 attendees who invaded Vander Mill’s grounds in Spring Lake on Saturday evening.

Despite an early rain delay, the festival went on, attracting guests of all ages, so many, in fact, organizers were worried the slick complimentary VanderFest glasses might run out.

Celebrating its fourth year, VanderFest has developed into the go-to festival for the emerging hard cider market, a market Vander Mill is sitting atop of. Organizers say VanderFest is a perfect balance of showcasing the company’s work and introducing people to newcomers in the industry.

“It’s awesome. I am loving it,” Organizer Christina Strange said as she took in the flurry of activity around her — a bonfire to her left, the laser-dominated rock show down the hill behind her and the circus tent of hard cider tasting in front of her. “We want to make people aware of who we are and where we are. We are a local company that loves to promote and work with other local companies.”

She said Vander Mill has found a sustainable niche in the market: Not too sweet like some national hard cider brands, yet not so dry that the fruit taste is sacrificed.

“You can have more than one without being overwhelmed by sweetness,” Strange said.

Her assessment was spot-on. A taste of Chapman’s Blend (6.8% ABV), a semi dry cider with mild carbonation, was pleasing but not too sweet.

Another notable cider at the festival was Ida Gold (4.8% ABV) from Tandem Ciders in Suttons Bay. The cider was very refreshing and sweet with a golden complexion.

Old Boys’ Brewhouse in Spring Lake and the new Big Lake Brewing Company in Holland also featured special brews incorporating an apple ingredient.

Ondrea Kamp and her husband, Matt, visited VanderFest for the first time and were impressed by the atmosphere the event offered. Her group agreed they would come back next year.

“A lot of people were quite friendly,” Ondrea said. “It’s a good couples event.”

Vander Mill Owner Paul Vander Heide and his wife, Amanda, enjoyed VanderFest with the rest of the crowd. Like Strange, Vander Heide said collaborating with breweries, wineries and cideries makes VanderFest one of the best events along the lakeshore.

“We want to get as many of those people as we can,” he said.

SPRING LAKE TOWNSHIP — Envision the best fall party you have ever attended.

Then add high-quality ciders and apple-infused brews from across the Midwest, local handcrafted food, a loud rock band, and, of course, lasers.

VanderFest 2013 offered that type of party to about 600 attendees who invaded Vander Mill’s grounds in Spring Lake on Saturday evening.

Despite an early rain delay, the festival went on, attracting guests of all ages, so many, in fact, organizers were worried the slick complimentary VanderFest glasses might run out.

Celebrating its fourth year, VanderFest has developed into the go-to festival for the emerging hard cider market, a market Vander Mill is sitting atop of. Organizers say VanderFest is a perfect balance of showcasing the company’s work and introducing people to newcomers in the industry.

“It’s awesome. I am loving it,” Organizer Christina Strange said as she took in the flurry of activity around her — a bonfire to her left, the laser-dominated rock show down the hill behind her and the circus tent of hard cider tasting in front of her. “We want to make people aware of who we are and where we are. We are a local company that loves to promote and work with other local companies.”

She said Vander Mill has found a sustainable niche in the market: Not too sweet like some national hard cider brands, yet not so dry that the fruit taste is sacrificed.

“You can have more than one without being overwhelmed by sweetness,” Strange said.

Her assessment was spot-on. A taste of Chapman’s Blend (6.8% ABV), a semi dry cider with mild carbonation, was pleasing but not too sweet.

Another notable cider at the festival was Ida Gold (4.8% ABV) from Tandem Ciders in Suttons Bay. The cider was very refreshing and sweet with a golden complexion.

Old Boys’ Brewhouse in Spring Lake and the new Big Lake Brewing Company in Holland also featured special brews incorporating an apple ingredient.

Ondrea Kamp and her husband, Matt, visited VanderFest for the first time and were impressed by the atmosphere the event offered. Her group agreed they would come back next year.

“A lot of people were quite friendly,” Ondrea said. “It’s a good couples event.”

Vander Mill Owner Paul Vander Heide and his wife, Amanda, enjoyed VanderFest with the rest of the crowd. Like Strange, Vander Heide said collaborating with breweries, wineries and cideries makes VanderFest one of the best events along the lakeshore.

“We want to get as many of those people as we can,” he said.

SPRING LAKE TOWNSHIP — Paul Vander Heide knows what it takes to make a great cider.

Vander Heide, the owner of Vander Mill Cider & Winery, has rapidly grown his company to become one of the Midwest’s top hard cider makers.

In what’s become of an annual tradition, Vander Mill will hold its fourth annual VanderFest, a “fall-themed event to ciders.

“The general popularity of cider has increased a hundredfold over the last couple years,” said Vander Heide.

Like past years, the Spring Lake cidery has teamed up with local breweries, providing a sweet cider to make a collaborative beer for the event. In addition to Vander Mill cider and local beer, 11 other cideries will join VanderFest this time around, each providing a unique spin on the sweet fall drink.

“We want to make sure to include as many of (the cideries) as we can,” said Vander Heide.

And the drink tent isn’t the only thing growing this time around — Vander Mill recently debuted a new stage, which will showcase Social Bones during the Saturday festival. Vander Mill is also teaming up with Brewery Vivant to provide a shuttle from Chicago to visit Vivant’s Wood-Aged Beer Fest, and then VanderFest.

“We’re a close knit community of manufacturers and we try to support each other in any way we can.”

Visitors to the festival will enjoy five tokens — good for 6oz. samples of beer or cider — in addition to a commemorative glass. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door.

“We like the creativity we can bring to this festival. It’s not easy to get a brewery to brew a special beer for an event like this,” said Vander Heide.

VanderFest kicks off Saturday at 4 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at vanderfest.com.

TRAVERSE CITY — 7 Monks hosted one of its infamous tap takeovers on Tuesday. this time featuring 20 different hard ciders from throughout the state.

I enjoyed a flight of three cider samples along with a delicious order of 7 Monks’ signature bacon-wrapped dates.

The first on my flight was Seitsema’s Orange Label — its Yellow Label cider that was matured in oak bourbon barrels. The oak comes through with a strong highlight. The finish was smooth and dry, which begs for another sip.

Next on my flight was Virtue’s Mitten, which is not your average cider. The Fennville cidery uses a blend of last season’s best and then ages the cider in bourbon barrels, combined with new season apples to provide a unique experience. The taste was quite complex and awakening. At first the bourbon flavor is almost overwhelming, but as your palate begins the acclimate the fresh apples come through and continue to evolve to the last drop.

Last but far from least, Vander Mill’s Totally Roasted was my favorite. This cider is made with over four pounds of homemade cinnamon roasted pecans, cinnamon and vanilla. Totally Roasted had a nice clear, golden color and had a strong aroma of warm roasted pecans. On first taste, the apple immediately grips and greets you, while the pecans pull through bringing you to a dry and subtle finish.

The cider market is growing and expanding right alongside the brewing industry. The tap takeover served as a great opportunity to sample more of what Michigan has to offer.

TRAVERSE CITY — Whether you like it sweet or dry, fruity or woody, 7 Monks will have a cider for you on June 11 at its Michigan Hard Cider Takeover.

Starting at 3 p.m., 20 different ciders will be poured from Michigan cider makers, including:

  • Left Foot Charley
  • Uncle John’s Cider Mill
  • Tandem Ciders
  • Northern Natural Cidery
  • 45 North
  • Black Star Farms
  • Vander Mill
  • Bowers Harbor

“This will be the largest cider tap-takeover in the Midwest,” said Paul Vander Heide, founder and owner of Vander Mill.

“Michigan leads the nation in the number of brands of cider produced per state, and is the third largest state when it comes to growing cider’s main ingredient (apples),” said 7 Monks General Manager Jason Kasdorf. “We’re looking forward to highlighting several of these award-winning Michigan ciders at our event on June 11.”

SPRING LAKE TOWNSHIP — Summer lingered this year but has finally gone, and with it the season’s beer festivals.

But no matter. On Saturday, VanderFest 2012 offered Michiganders the perfect way to celebrate — or perhaps survive — the change of seasons.

On a truly autumnal evening, Vander Mill Cider Mill and Winery in Spring Lake opened its backyard to hundreds of festival-goers.

The weather was cold and gray and damp, but between the fire pit and the cider taps, everyone found a way to keep warm.

“Considering the weather, it was a pretty successful day,” said co-owner Amanda Vander Heide. “We were pleased with the turnout.”

The festival, now in its third year, featured both wineries and breweries, all local and each with a special seasonal product — many of which involved apples, of course — designed for the festival. For $25 (pre-sale), about 600 guests enjoyed five samples in a customized VanderFest glass.

But how can a cider festival survive in a state with so many successful beer festivals?

“Three years ago, cider was weird to most people,” said co-owner Paul Vander Heide. “It was a struggle to get craft beer people to drink craft cider.”

Rather than fight craft brewers and their fans, the Vander Heides — husband and wife — have partnered with them. A number of cider mills had booths at VanderFest, but even more breweries were represented. Most vendors offered drafts of both cider and beer — although the beer was likely to have some Vander Mill cider in it, thus helping the beer crowd to expand palates.

Two popular examples at the event were Greenbush Brewery’s Vanderbush — a mixture of American trippel beer and Vander Mill’s apple cider — and Walldorff Brewery’s Apple Pumpkin Ale.

VanderFest differed from typical beer festivals in other ways, too. It wasn’t downtown or near the beach, but adjacent to the small highway that connects Spring Lake and Grand Haven.

The venue was contained and intimate, the food innovative and eclectic. This was a point of pride for Paul Vander Heide, who confessed that although he likes a turkey leg “as much as the next guy,” he’s delighted that his festival boasts Korean barbecue tacos and pork-and-apple macaroni and cheese (Vander Mill’s own “special recipe”).

His wife added, “This is the opportunity to try different types of things that aren’t necessarily prevalent on the Lakeshore — unique food and craft beverages.”

If you plan to enjoy the ciders next year and you want the guidance of a master fermenter, you might consult Vander Mill’s cider-maker, Joel Brower.

When asked what his favorite cider was, he chuckled and asked, “You mean, what’s my favorite kind?”  But even though he creates the novelty ciders at Vander Mill, Brower admitted that he always returns to more traditional apple cider for himself: “It’s the base of it all.”


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