b nektar

In its eight years of existence, B. Nektar Meadery has grown steadily, upgrading from fermenting in carboys and 55-gallon food-grade drums to producing up to 150 barrels of liquid a week.

“We just keep getting bigger,” said William McCune, production manager at B. Nektar.

Now, the meadery’s annual festivals draw crowds of over 1200 people to its quiet neighborhood in Ferndale, Michigan.

“The amazing thing is that’s all just people for us,” McCune said. People who want B. Nektar’s unique brand of mead, cider, and beer.

Stop and think how mead, a traditionally heavy, syrupy drink sipped by the likes of Beowulf, could possibly draw crowds that huge in the warmest months of the year.

The answer is in B. Nektar’s one-of-a-kind approach—one informed in various ways by wine making, the craft brewing industry, and traditional mead making. Its effect has been to vastly widen mead’s audience, paving the way for meaderies everywhere.

“Ever since we’ve started, we’ve kind of been seen as the ‘big guy,’” McCune said. “After our success, that’s where you’re seeing all these meaderies popping up across the country.”

Drawing more people to mead called for a little beverage re-branding and finding the right audience.

“We wanted to make something that was drinkable and enjoyable and not too high of an ABV,” said Miranda Johnson, B. Nektar’s marketing director. “Taking Beowulf and Vikings away from it, but also throwing in session meads for easy drinkability.”

Though B. Nektar’s mead making process and tools share a lot in common with wine making, the connections with that industry stop there. The meadery is more interested in engaging the curious palates of craft beer drinkers.

“We want to continue pushing pretty hard to set the precedent for stepping outside of the box in mead, and really introducing it into the craft beer realm of people,” Johnson said.

The meadery is achieving this not only by making sessionable meads and ciders, but also by brewing a few beers. Those selections are only available at B. Nektar’s taproom in Ferndale. With varieties such as a Jasmine Green Tea Belgian IPA and a Sage Lime Witbier, they bear the same experimental style of B. Nektar’s meads.

But simply being experimental and still drinkable doesn’t get you extra points in the Michigan craft industry. B. Nektar surpasses that by making nuanced flavor combinations that are well suited to the beverages. Lime zest and juice complement agave nectar and orange blossom honey in Tuco-Style Freak Out. Michigan grapes sing with wildflower honey in Grapes Gone Wild.

Those successful recipes meant taking risks and being smart about them. B. Nektar’s company culture fosters the creativity showcased in their concoctions.

“Everything in our social media says ‘we let our imagination guide us,’” Johnson said. “It’s not a joke. Sometimes the imagination’s a little crazy, but thankfully we have enough people that are like ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait, let’s talk about this.’”

“It’s a really fun environment and creativity is welcomed and there is no lack of it, that’s for sure,” Johnson said.

B.Nektar’s 2016 Summer Mead Fest is set for August 6. Learn more here.

 

Photography: Steven Michael Holmes

vander mill

Just a couple miles east of the infamous Michigan Ave hill, Vander Mill Cider has created a new home away from home. It is safe to say they have upgraded, just a tad — growing from 3,000 square feet to 43,000 square feet. Walking into Vander Mill Grand Rapids, you feel instantly connected to their home location in Spring Lake.  

You’ll notice the same vibrant deep red color they are known for, a wall constructed of boards from apple crates from their grower, and some of the familiar ciders so many people have grown to love. What sets this location apart is the huge glass windows in the taproom and restaurant overlooking the production facility below. And the best feature, I must say, is an added on mezzanine that overlooks the production facility — that wasn’t in the original plan.

The new location, the big brother to the Spring Lake location, opened April 18 and it wasn’t an overnight decision. They certainly could have achieved their space needs in a cheaper market, but they held customers as their largest priority in choosing the right location.

As Paul Vander Heide, co-owner, stated, “If we are going to build out what is going to be our long term production facility, it makes sense to put it in a space where people can see it. Grand Rapids is an area very welcoming to craft beverage and good food. The market here is smart — it just made a lot of sense.”

vander mill

In gaining 40,000 feet more of square footage, Vander Mill Cider has decided to shift their main production to Grand Rapids. The facility at 505 Ball Ave NE allows a lot of flexibility in making new products, being more efficient, experimenting, and expanding their barrel aging program. To say the very least, the production staff is very happy to not be crawling on top of one another.

The Spring Lake location will continue to press cider and host the fall activities they have been known for in the past. With its large outdoor area, they will still host their festival out in Spring Lake, as that seems the most fitting. As they develop the property and realize each locations capabilities, they expect the specific usage of each to naturally come to fruition.

If you aren’t intrigued yet, Vander Mill Grand Rapids intends on becoming a foodie destination. Justin Large, the new executive chef of the Vander Mill family, is sure to be an attraction on his own.

“He was the culinary director for One Off Hospitality Group, who started Blackbird. Justin was the first Sous Chef under Paul Kahan at Blackbird. He was seeing over 400 people at eight restaurants. He really has a pedigree that is pretty impressive for anyone in the Midwest,” says Vander Heide.

People are going to be surprised by the level of quality of the food. French Country inspired, they are presenting unique, high end food in a casual environment and striving for the best service. Simple, minimal ingredients executed at a really high level with a lot of precision and technique.

Like when making their cider — they strive to find the best ingredients possible.

“There is a reality of growing seasons and that local may not always be the best option. So we certainly are invested in local agriculture with cider being the greatest examples of those. We source locally when we can, but we are ultimately looking for the best,” stated Vander Heide.

When Vander Mill originally opened its doors in 2006, there were only a few people making cider and most of the places were wineries. Cider just makes sense in Michigan. Apples are the number one agricultural product in Michigan. Cider begins with a seed, to a tree growing from the earth, to beautiful apples picked and smashed, into your glass and then finally what is left of the apple goes back to the earth. Talk about sustainability. With this strong, natural cycle, Vander Mill has been able to create strong presences in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

“Our approach has always been to go deep in the market instead of wide. Our (Spring Lake) facility limited us and we were growing fast. We have seen that is very important to support the markets we are in. We have feet on the ground that can tell the story about the brand and portray how we want the people to see the brand. That is harder to achieve when you start sending cider all over the country. We want to build the midwest strength first and want to be the number one craft cider in that market. We want to use Grand Rapids, Chicago, and the Midwest as an epicenter of our brand growth,” stated Vander Heide.

Vander Mill proudly announced on April 19 that they have opened into the Wisconsin market, with their first product shipped out to them already.

As of right now you can check out Vander Mill Grand Rapids, Sunday through Thursday 2 p.m. – 11 p.m. and Friday through Saturday 2 p.m. – midnight with dinner starting at 5pm every day. In the near future, a lunch service will be available beginning at 11am. Currently their libation list is filled with the usual suspects, as well as a few exclusive beers from Pigeon Hill Brewing Company and Odd Side Ales, Cysers collaborated with Greenbush Brewing and New Holland Brewing, Barrel Fermented Ciders and Nitro Cider. Yes — Nitro Cider, my personal favorite.

 

Photography: Bri Luginbill

taproot

Tap·root (ˈtapˌro͞ot,-ˌro͝ot/) noun: a straight tapering root growing vertically downward and forming the center from which subsidiary rootlets spring.

In other words, the central root of the system. Taproot Cider House opened its doors on January 28 with the intention to be the one that supports other roots within the community,

“In naming Taproot, I thought of the root system. The taproot is the strongest root in the system, providing support to the remaining roots, or our local farmers and businesses. The trunk becomes our staff, at the center of our business, and the branches become the customers that come in to support everything we’re doing,” explained owner Jennifer Mackey.

taproot

Mackey has long been a supporter of local organic agriculture and the earth-to-table concept. She has worked on organic farms, aided in the distribution of produce to local markets, and has helped conventional farms convert to organic operations. She joined Northern Natural Cider House and Winery in 2009 and began partnering with Dennis Mackey — who is also an organic farmer and CEO of Northern Natural.

In 2015, she branched out to open her own cider house.

“We know so many good people and businesses, this is a great way to support our community,” said Mackey.

The passion for local and organic products is evident throughout every element of Taproot. Both the food and drink menus were intentionally crafted to be as local, organic, free range, and GMO free as possible. Even the atmosphere reflects the earth-to-table element; taproots hang from the ceiling, wood beams can be found throughout, and local artists and agriculture are clearly supported.

“We wanted to create something that reflects our community. We have something for everyone, and aim to be family friendly,” said Mackey. Mackey cited the work she’s done with local farmers, as well as her own family, as inspiration for creating such an environment.

And in just under three months, Taproot has already begun to establish itself as such a place. Throughout the day, regulars make their way in as Mackey stops to greet them. Friends gather and families come in for a meal. The menu and environment are welcoming for everyone.

The drink menu not only features a wide array of ciders, but also craft beer, wine, spirits, soda, and cocktails. Currently Taproot is featuring ciders from Northern Natural, Vandermill, Blake’s Hard Cider, Tandem Ciders, and Starcut Ciders. Craft cocktails are prepared with fresh pressed juice, house-made syrups, and infused liquors. Sodas are made in-house as well, featuring the house-made syrups.

The food menu is equally as diverse, featuring a number of small plates, salads, pizzas, and main entrees. There truly is something for everyone.

When asked about a favorite on the menu, Mackey stated, “I don’t know if I could pick out a customer favorite. It really depends on their range of preferences. Once we know those preferences, we can guide our customers to finding something they’ll enjoy. That’s what is great about our menu.”

Taproot will have its official Grand Opening on April 23. Blake’s Hard Cider will be on-site, with a special tapping of El Chapo.

For a more detailed look at Taproot’s menu and events, visit http://www.taproottc.com.

 

Cellarmen's

HAZEL PARK, MI – If you hear loud music coming from 24310 John R, you can be sure the four bearded men inside the building are hard at work brewing up something deliciousand none of the neighbors are complaining.  

The 12,000-square-foot former lumberyard is now home to Cellarmen’s, Hazel Park’s first brewery, cidery, and meadery. The meadery opened this October, just in time for the Fall Beer Fest in Detroit.

Cellarmen’s tasting room is decked out in wood paneling and second hand furniture sets. The space gets its personality from homemade tables (made from wood from the lumberyard), local art for sale, and a soundtrack that skews toward heavy metal.

Cellarmen's

“It looks a little bit like your grandpa’s basement,” said Ian Radogost-Givens, one of the four cofounders of Cellarmen’s.

Radogost-Givens cut his teeth at B. Nektar meadery in Ferndale, along with Cellarmen’s cofounders Jason Petrocik, Dominic Calzetta, and Andrew Zalewski. With five years experience under their belt, the men are ready to produce anything they can think of.

Current offerings in the taproom usually include 9-12 meads, ciders, and beers. Most are made with Michigan-sourced ingredients when possible, and they never use fruit concentrates—only fresh fruit and juice.

“The French Oak Wildflower is what a mead-head will drink. Then we have our Trasher beer, a Lager style Ale that we made for people in the town to relate to,” Radogost-Givens said. The Trasher is their best seller.

Not much has changed since the space served as a lumberyard, including the free popcorn that is kept ready for customers.

“For customers who came in and bought lumber here their whole lives, now if they came in for a beer, the space would still feel familiar,” Radogost-Givens said. “The place only needed a spit shine,” he added.

The guys feel right at home in Hazel Park, where, along with James Rigato’s new spot, Mabel Grey, they have helped the neighborhood earn its reputation as an up-and-comer.

“Hazel Park has gone beyond what most cities do to get small businesses off the ground. We’ve gotten so much support from city officials to open our doors, and now quite a few of them come here to drink,” Radagost-Givens said.

Mead has taken off in Michigan, and Radogost-Givens would like to put Hazel Park and Cellarmen’s on the mead drinker’s map.

“My goal is to bridge the space between Warren, where Dragonmead and Kuhnhenn are, and Ferndale, where Schramm’s and B. Nektar are,” said Radogost-Givens.

The brewery’s current production capacity is 8.5 barrels of cider and mead, and 1 barrel of beer at a time. They hope to bump cider and mead production to 10 barrels soon.

“Now that we have wrapped our heads around filling the taproom, we have been able to supply a few local bars with kegs,” Radogost-Givens said.

The men aim to start canning mead in the spring or summer of 2016.

Over the holidays, Cellarmen’s plans to release the second run of Cranpus, a cranberry orange zest mead made with allspice and two kinds of honey. For New Year’s Eve, they will host a party featuring a champagne mead that climbs to 14% ABV.

“If you’re looking for a nice friendly atmosphere, good drinks and good music, come by. We’re just four hard working sons of bitches making a dream happen,” Radogost-Givens said.

Cellarmen’s is open Thursday 5pm-Midnight, Friday 3pm-Midnight, Saturday 12pm-Midnight and Sunday 12pm-8pm. You can find more info on their Facebook page.

HUDSONVILLE – Farmhaus Cider Co. Co-Owner John Behrens had one thing in mind when he bought his late grandmother’s abandoned farmhouse and the surrounding property: preservation.

“There’s not a lot of people who have farms in their family that are 150 years old,” said Megan Odegaard, co-owner of Farmhaus Cider Co. “We just didn’t want that to go to waste.”

The property, located in Hudsonville, was in ruins. The barn was holding on by a prayer to stay standing. A collapsed grainery created a waist-deep pile of rotting wood and broken glass. The farmhouse was left in disrepair, and the surrounding forest and orchard were a bona fide treasure trove of antique artifacts.

And Behrens acquired it with no real plan what to do with it.

Behrens and Odegaard had been longtime homebrewers and friends had told them on a number of occasions that they should sell the cider they were making. They stewed on the idea for a while before things started coming together.

“We were just trying to figure out what to do with it,” said Odegaard, “and that’s when people had already been asking us [to sell cider], and we had a kind of lightbulb moment.”

They’ve been working non-stop ever since.

For the first two years, the Farmhaus team set to restoring the property on nights and weekends, starting with the leaning barn which now houses their cider-making equipment. When Behrens reflects on all the work they did, he thinks it would have been easier to tear the whole thing down and start from scratch.

That they didn’t shows Farmhaus’s dedication to history and authenticity.

That steadfast dedication bleeds into their cider making as well. The farm has been in Behrens’s family since his ancestors came to the United States from Germany around 150 years ago. With that in mind, Farmhaus seeks to make cider the way it was made in Germany.

“We’ve actually done a fair amount of research, both on the family side and understanding the types of cider that were made [in Germany],” said Behrens.

German styles are traditionally dryer and lower in alcohol content, Odegaard said. This informs Farmhaus’s style, but Behrens and Odegaard don’t allow authenticity to take precedent over their own tastes and what they think American cider drinkers prefer.

“We’re balancing authenticity and innovation,” said Behrens. “First and foremost we’re making things we like.”

“We like dry ciders, so we want to make dry ciders,” said Odegaard. Farmhaus also has a semi-sweet cider, Halbbitter, that they think will appeal to palates less accustomed to dryer styles.

Behrens and Odegaard are also including the old orchard in their rejuvenations. A few descendent trees remain on the property, and the two aren’t sure what varieties they produce. Behrens’s father thinks they may be the coveted Northern Spy variety, but the ancient trees are so tall and old they hardly produce enough apples to sustain a cider business.

Behrens and Odegaard have planted some new trees, but they don’t plan to use the orchard as the sole source for their cider.

“We’ve planted only heirloom varieties that are really hard to get a hold of,” said Odegaard. “That way we can try our hand at bringing the orchard back to what it originally was on the property.”

“That’s the ‘why’ behind it initially: ‘Let’s restore this to what it was,’” said Behrens. “Just like we’re restoring the barn to what it was, and we’d love to restore the house to what it was.”

They’ll continue to source apples from local farmers that they’ve researched and trust.

“It’s a matter of focusing on what we’re good at, and then supporting the local community with what they’re good at,” said Odegaard.

Now, Farmhaus is gearing up for the opening of its outdoor cider garden. The area is outfitted with German furniture, table settings made from found objects around the farm, romantic lights strung throughout, and a view of the historic farmhouse. Though it’s less than a mile off of the heavily trafficked 48th Avenue, the space is enshrouded in forest and invokes the feeling of having traveled miles out of town.

The only thing that’s missing is the permit to start serving there, which Behrens and Odegaard hope will arrive soon. In the meantime, you can catch Farmhaus at a slew of events in the next few weeks. Follow them on Facebook for more information.

The Schaefer family has been growing in the apple business since 1855. Last year, their commercial farm produced 300,000 bushels of apples. As is the case with most commercial farms, many of those bushels went to waste. One hundred thousand Schaefer apples too ugly or too large to put on the fresh market were thrown away. Watching this happen over the last couple of years, it occurred to Chris and Andy Schaefer that they could use those reject apples—whose only downfall was their appearance—to make hard cider.

“We’ve always got these leftover apples that aren’t good enough to put on the fresh market, so just kind of figured we can use them for something else,” said Andy Schaefer.

About three years ago, the Schaefers purchased the 75 acres which make up the “Centennial Farm,” the grounds on which the Schaefer apple legacy started. Their intent was to grow apples specifically for cider, which they plan to produce under the moniker Schaefer Cider Company. Since then the Schaefers and their farm employees have been grafting, planting and experimenting to get the farm cider ready.

At this point in the season, they’ve got about six weeks before they start picking apples. As they near harvest, Chris and Andy Schaefer are enjoying the “calm before the storm” on the farm.

“We’re just hoping we don’t get hail or something else that pops up that takes out the crop,” said Chris Schaefer.

But the Schaefers are hardly without work. In addition to the “regular,” non-farm-related jobs they both hold, they’re putting together their tasting room and transforming the farm into a destination where they hope people will come to enjoy traditionally influenced hard cider. They’re also awaiting the licensing paperwork to go through the final stages before they can begin serving alcohol.

The Schaefers have 12,000 trees that they’re devoting primarily to cider apple production. Among those trees are reliable varieties that the Schaefers can count on to produce plentifully every year. Also among them are some more experimental varieties, ones that haven’t been grown since Prohibition.

“We’re planting stuff like Jonagold, which is good for fresh eating but it’s also good for cider,” said Chris Schaefer. “But we also have these really cool varieties that nobody’s really grown for [100 years], some of them, and we’re seeing how they work.”

Because Prohibition snuffed the cider game out early on in the United States, many varieties of cider apples stopped being grown. Cider apples don’t always meet the flavor and aesthetic standards set by the fresh market, so they weren’t viable crops without a market for cider. The Schaefers are devoting a portion of their acreage to bringing those varieties back to life.

A lot of the Schaefers’ experimentation is a complete shot in the dark. There’s no telling how much the trees will produce, whether or not they’ll produce every year, what soil conditions they prefer—all this must be determined by trial and error.

“There’s very little known about some of these,” said Andy Schaefer. “That’s the tricky part, because you don’t know exactly what rootstock to put them on, what conditions they like to grow in.”

“There’s going to be a lot of failure, a lot of wasted time,” said Chris Schaefer.

But the freedom and room for experimentation are exciting, and they give Schaefer Cider Company a leg up on the competition. They have complete control over what kinds of apples will go into their cider, whereas cider producers who don’t have their own orchards must rely on what their apple producer is willing to grow.

“We are able to experiment with this stuff, where a lot of other cider producers can’t,” said Andy Schaefer.

While these experimental varieties may be fun to replicate from history, they also need to make money. Another job that faces the Schaefers as they enter into the cider business is educating their customers’ palates.

“There is a problem with getting people’s tastes evolved,” said Andy Schaefer.

The Schaefers plan to look to the craft beer movement for inspiration on how to approach this issue. For them, it will mean keeping a range of flavors and styles on draft. They plan to include more familiar back-sweetened styles for those with a taste for the sweeter alongside their more traditional, naturally sweetened styles.

“But we really want to do something that is unique and traditional.” said Chris Schaefer.

Keep up with Schaefer Cider Company on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

Mead isn’t mainstream. It’s where beer was in the early 1980s, when breweries like Sierra Nevada and Bell’s Brewery were just getting started. Michigan, however, has one of the hottest scenes, and B. Nektar has established itself as one of the major mead players in the nation. So, MittenBrew traveled to its facility in Ferndale for a chat.

GRAND RAPIDS — Many people — perhaps the majority — don’t begin thinking about cider until the leaves start to turn. That spicy, apple-cinnamon flavor is quintessentially autumnal. You wouldn’t think of visiting an apple orchard before harvest time, before there are things like corn mazes and hayrides to enjoy. And when it comes to hard cider, you may either think that it’s too sweet to drink, or that it’s just an alternative for people who don’t like beer.

Andy Sietsema believes that if that is the way you are thinking about cider, you are dead wrong. He is working along with the rest of the crew at Sietsema Orchards and Cider Mill to quell some of the misconceptions surrounding hard cider and the orchard-cideries that make it.

“Most people think we take off the months from November until right now, but no, we don’t,” said Sietsema.

Right now, the crew at Sietsema is keeping up on insect control, spraying the trees before and after it rains. They’re also training the younger trees and preparing the grounds for next year’s plantings. Throughout the year, up until and after harvest, they’ll be working on the orchard to make sure the conditions are conducive to good apples.

But just because most of the spring and summer seasons are spent nurturing apples into their delicious, full-grown forms doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy cider all summer long. Sietsema would argue that that is exactly what you should be doing.

“Summertime, to me, is when cider really should be drank,” he said.

Cold fruit storage, or controlled atmosphere, preserves the freshness of apples for months after they’ve been harvested. Sietsema makes some of his ciders during summer by sourcing apples and juice from larger facilities like Belle Harvest, which have the capacity to store apples in this way. This technology means that Sietsema can find apples and juice that are viable for cider throughout most of the summer season.

Sietsema believes cider’s light and crisp qualities give session ales a run for their money when it comes to choosing a beverage on a hot, humid summer afternoon.

“Cider is even lighter and more refreshing,” he said. And, he added, “It doesn’t have to be a sugar bomb.”

[tw-parallax image=”https://mittenbrew.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Sietsema-5.jpg” target=”self” lightbox=”no” ][/tw-parallax]

To show the public just how light and refreshing a cider can be, Sietsema Orchards and Cider Mill has opened their market for the spring and summer. On Wednesdays through Fridays from 3-8 p.m., the cidery is serving a variety of hard ciders well suited to summer imbibing alongside their donuts, cheese plates, and meat plates.

“A good funky cheese and some cider — ” Sietsema paused, shaking his head approvingly, “I’m set then.”

Sietsema also encourages those visiting the orchard during the summer to bring their own food and enjoy the picnic-like setting.

“Saburba is open until eight on Wednesday — order some take out, bring it here and have a good time,” Sietsema said.

Visitors can also get take out from Vitale’s, The Schnitz, River House, Nonna Cafe or The Honey Creek Inn.

Sietsema also hosts cider dinners. Like beer dinners, these meals pair Sietsema’s ciders with dishes that complement them. And no, cinnamon-sugar cake donuts do not constitute a meal in this scenario.

Sietsema can’t show Michigan the potential hard cider has on his own though, which is why he is one of the founding members of the Michigan Cider Association (MCA). The group has “taken a page” from the Michigan Brewers Guild in hopes of creating an alliance that broadens the possibilities for cideries throughout the state.

“What we’re trying to do is educate the public,” said Sietsema, “but we’re also trying to create a platform and a place where we as producers can communicate more with the industry people.”

The MCA has dubbed this year “The Year of the Second Tap Handle.”

“There’s usually only one cider handle in bars with 10-12 handles,” said Sietsema. “Our goal this year is to get the next one.”

Sietsema hopes that by showing the public the true potential of hard cider, MCA can open a profitable avenue of growth for orchards and cideries around the state, as well as make craft cider more readily available for enjoyment by the public.


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