SPRING LAKE — One of the Midwest’s largest craft cider producers, Vander Mill Cider & Winery, has introduced a new line of canned ciders, following a $600,000 facility expansion.

As a part of the expansion, the company has introduced its Hard Apple, Totally Roasted and Blue Gold ciders in cans. Cans are expected to be available throughout the state starting next week.

“We are going to continue our focus on innovation and creativity with our ciders,” says owner Paul Vander Heide. “But we wanted to take a few of our core products and make them more accessible to the consumer. Our cans should now be available in more independent stores as well as traditional grocery.”

In addition to the expansion in the production area, Vander Mill has renovated its tasting room and cafe, with the introduction of an expanded menu led by Chef Stephanie Luke. The cidery will now provide lunch and dinner, offering entrees such as Pork Belly & Polenta, Marinated Noodle Salad, Housemade Dumplings, Duck Confit Sandwich, Pulled Pork Sandwich and a selection of pretzels, cheeses, salads and more.

Specialty ciders will continue to be available in 750ml bottles and on draft.

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.”

SPRING LAKE TOWNSHIP — With an expanded brewery and winery lineup plus more food options, VanderFest returns to West Michigan this Saturday.

The third annual event combines the best of cider to go along with specially-brewed Michigan beers infused with Vander Mill’s sweet apple cider. Although the event comes during the busiest season for cider, for the same reason the timing couldn’t be better for the Lakeshore cider mill and winery.

“It’s our season,” said Paul Vander Heide, owner of Vander Mill. “If we’re going to showcase hard ciders and collaboration beers, there’s no better time than the fall.”

Represented during the festival, which runs 4-10 p.m. at Vander Mill, 14921 Cleveland St. in Spring Lake, are:

Wineries – Ciders

  • Vander Mill
  • Northville Winery
  • Blackstar Farms
  • Uncle John’s
  • Northern Natural
  • Robinettes
  • Virtue Ciders
  • Sietsema Orchards

Breweries – Specialty Beers

  • Founders
  • New Holland
  • Arcadia
  • Greenbush
  • Old Boys
  • Oddside Ales
  • Brewery Vivant
  • Hopcat
  • Jamesport Brewing Company
  • Michigan Beer Cellar

“We’re excited about about our collaboration with new participants Founders, Arcadia and Greenbush this year,” Vander Heide said. “We have up-sized everything else — music, sound, stage.”

Founders added cider to its Pale Ale for the event, spicing it with all-spice berries fermented in two firkins. All beers use Vander Mill’s sweet cider uniquely crafted by each brewery. Vander Heide would only share the name of the Greenbush brew — VanderBush — perhaps a clue. Meanwhile, New Holland will feature two different Wit-style beers fermented in cider while Odd Side Ales takes a wheat approach.

VanderFest marks the debut of Vander Mill’s new food menu, under the direction of chef Stephanie Luke. The fall-friendly menu has four specialty macaroni and cheeses, pizza, salad and soups. All food sales are cash, including four additional vendors — Public Zeeland, Saburba, Standard Pizza Co. and What the Truck. Per tradition, free freshly baked donuts are likely to make their annual appearance.

“There might be a showing of donuts at some point in the evening,” Vander Heide said.

As for entertainment, Organisssimo and Social Bones headline the live music for the afternoon and evening. As is custom, VanderFest will also include a laser light show.

Tickets — selling online and on location at Vander Mill, Oddside Ales, Public Zeeland, Siciliano’s Market and The Winchester — are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Admission includes a printed 12-ounce festival glass with five cider/beer sample tokens with additional tokens $1 each. One token gives patrons a 6-ounce pour of beer or cider.

Proceeds from VanderFest benefit the Holland Chapter of Ambucs, an organization that creates mobility and independence for the disabled.

“This is not intended to be a money-maker for us,” Vander Heide said. “There is a local charity receiving the benefits of the money brought in.”

6.5% ABV, Bottle

Appearance: Dark red tone, which I expected with a blueberry brew. Small head.
Aroma: Strong blueberry and apple smell.
Taste: Somewhat of a dry, tart apple taste with some blueberry tones. More of an apple front than what I expected.
Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with a pretty high carbonation level.

Northern Natural’s Blueberry Apple Hard Cider is a dry, tart hard cider with a lot of apple flavor. The blueberry tones aren’t as present as the apple, which makes it not quite as sweet as I would’ve expected. Still, this is a good cider that caters itself more to hardcore cider fans, as opposed to those looking for a sweet drink. A solid offering from the cidery right outside of Manistee.

We talk with Paul Vander Heide, owner of Vander Mill, about the second annual Vander Fest. The event, which drew roughly 400 people, celebrated both hard cider and beer, offering guests the ability to try some unique drink combinations. In addition to the 10 breweries present at the event, Vander Mill, Robinette’s, Black Star Farms, Northville Winery and Uncle John’s also showcased some of its hard ciders.

SPRING LAKE TOWNSHIP — Cider collided with beer Saturday as Vander Mill hosted its second annual beer and cider festival.

Vander Fest serves as both a beer and hard cider festival with lots of emphasis on the cider. Now in its second year, the event featured five different cider producers this year, as well as 10 breweries with special one-offs that mixed sweet cider with beer.

“We’ve really tried to reach out throughout the state,” owner Paul Vander Heide said. “Anyone that is willing to do a one-off just for the festival we’d like to invite here to make it a very fall-centric festival.”

Participating breweries — each fermented 50 gallons of Vander Mill’s sweet apple cider with beer — included Old Boys’ Brewhouse, Odd Side Ales, New Holland Brewing Company, Jamesport Brewing Company, HopCat, Brewery Vivant, Saugatuck Brewing Company, Michigan Beer Cellar, Mount Pleasant Brewing Company and Walldorff.

Vander Fest also featured four of Vander Mill’s hard ciders on tap as well as hard ciders from Robinette’s, Black Star Farms, Northville Winery and Uncle John’s.

“We wanted to do a festival that was heavy in promoting Michigan ciders,” Vander Heide said. “A lot of the festivals around Michigan, you’ve got limited access to different cider producers.”

According to the owner, Vander Fest is the most cider-driven beer festival in the state. And with around 400 in attendance, the event shows the increasing demand for hard cider and apple-based products.

“I think it’s going to continue to increase,” Vander Heide said. “We’re just trying to do our part to raise the awareness of a great Michigan agricultural product.”

In addition to creating Vander Fest, the mill has continued its growth by increasing distribution over the past five years, including the recent purchase of new fermenting and carbonation tanks. In an effort to promote more on-site consumption, Vander Mill in July opened its more than 2,000 square-foot outdoor garden where patrons can enjoy a hard cider and deli-style lunch or dinner outdoors.

Vander Mill, 14921 Cleveland St., is en route for beachgoers to Grand Haven State Park or Ottawa County’s North Beach Park. Those taking I-96 and exiting on M-104 pass the mill on the north side of the road.

Some of the festival’s highlights:

  • Old Boys’ Apple Harvest Ale — Coming in at just over 9 percent ABV, this high-gravity Belgian ale was fruity and very drinkable. The apple aroma and taste was upfront and trailed into light hoppiness and a biscuity-malt aftertaste.
  • Odd Side Ales Apple Pie — Of the two featured “pie” brews, Odd Side wins the prize with a crisp, not overpowering flavor/aroma. Smelling just a hint of apple and spice, the taste was very well-balanced with an excellent amount of carbonation that brought it all together. The other pie brew, Michigan Beer Cellar’s Granny’s Apple Pie Spice had the right aroma, but didn’t deliver as much on the taste. Still, its tartness was quite unique.
  • New Holland aged some cider in a rum barrel, but with no carbonation it had more of a wine-like taste and feel, which certainly pleased most tasters.
  • Vander Mill’s own latest cider flavor featured was its Sangria cider. A mix of apple cider, sweet and tart cherry juices, blueberry juice, peach juice and high-proof apple brandy, this cider was yet another stroke of genius from Vander Mill.
  • Brewery Vivant fermented its Farmhand Ale with sweet cider to make a delicious one-off called Apple Barrel, aged in an oak barrel. It seemed the Belgian yeasts blended well with the cider (as with Old Boys’ brew) to make one of the day’s best beer-cider combos.
  • Saugatuck Brewing Company’s Apple Ale had plenty of apple and spice to which one member of the BrewCrew responded, “It tastes like Thanksgiving.” Guess Grandma’s famous pie does come in a liquid form.

With growing popularity in hard cider, a Spring Lake cider mill and winery continues to expand its distribution to meet demands.

Vander Mill, 14921 Cleveland St., is already self-distributing its ciders to 28 bars/restaurants and 40 store retailers across the state, mostly in West Michigan — with additional distribution to two Chicago establishments. And with two establishments on the state’s east side, Vander Mill is now furthering distribution to the Detroit area as well as Chicago.

“We’ve seen quite a bit of interest in hard cider,” owner Paul Vander Heide said. “We are continuing to bring it to the people.”

Vander Mill opened in September 2006 and first began distribution in June 2008 at Rosebud Bar & Grill in neighboring Grand Haven. Shortly after, its hard cider was on tap at HopCat in Grand Rapids.

Besides growing distribution, Vander Mill is also expanding its mill. By mid-June, the owner is set to open a 2,500-square foot serving area where pints of cider and glasses of wine will be served. Vander Heide said the mill may also serve lunch and dinner.

“We’ve got some exciting stuff going on,” he said, adding that Vander Mill was recently state-approved for a microbrewing license and is working on federal approval. The owner says Vander Mill will brew various fruit beers, “things that are kind of in our vein.”

Vander Mill today began operating with its summer hours, which are Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. and Sunday noon to 7 p.m. To lure customers, the store is offering 25 percent off everything in its store today through Thursday.

Along with the new hours, the mill also began pressing its summer stock of ciders which will continue during the next few weeks, according to Vander Heide.

“We’re building up inventory for the next few months,” he said. “Since we use only Michigan apples, we work with a local grower to make sure we have access to enough apples for what we need.”

This week, Vander Mill introduces its latest concoction, Michigan Wit, a semi-dry apple cider spiced in the traditional Belgian wit style.  The cider was special-released at HopCat last week, with release on store shelves and bar taps this week.

To help keep cider enthusiasts aware of Vander Mill’s ever-expanding distribution,  the cider mill announced the launch of its Cider Finder, which uses Google Map technology to show retailers and restaurants/bars where its ciders are sold. The map shows green  icons indicating retailers and red icons where pints are sold. You can click here to see the map.