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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.

ADA – The unseasonably cooler temperatures and persistent light rain didn’t keep people away from stepping onto the grounds of Sietsema Orchards and Cider Mill on Saturday. The Hard Cider Run kicked off its second year at Sietsema to combine a love of co-owners Courtney Walker and Erik Young, hard cider, with running.

“It is a booming industry now, and a lot of people are just now getting into the scene,” said Walker. “Hosting this run on different orchards allows people to try cider they never have before and also offers a lot of exposure for the cidery.”

Sietsema hosted the inaugural Hard Cider Run in West Michigan last year.  In spring and summer of this year, the race made its way into two other states and four additional cities. Uncle John’s Cider Mill in Lansing, Mich.welcomed the Hard Cider Run onto their land this past year, as well as: Doc’s Draft Hard Ciders in Warwick Valley, N.Y., Albemarle Ciderworks in Charlottesville, Pa.and Jack’s Hard Cider in Gettysburg, Pa..

The presentation began by walking through a large red barn standing in the middle of rows and rows of apple trees. The smell of fresh donuts filled the air, along with a tangible energy and wonder of what was to be expected. The light shining from the back of the barn led participants to the rest of the group herding together sharing the same excitement.

Participants from all over came together for their own special reasons. They included people who like to run in as many races as possible, and people like Kyle Liechey, who was running it simply because he finally wanted to run a 5K. Regardless of their motivations, this race welcomed them all.

“I ran this race today because in the fleeting days of summer with the signs of the autumn harvest bountiful and amongst us, we are engaging in our community around good drinks and good people,” said race participant Chris Frederick.

“I ran it for the cider. That is it. The delicious, crisp, refreshing cider at the end made it all worth it,” said race participant Katie Grace. “Beer at the end of races sits too heavy for me, but cider—now that is a brilliant idea!”  

The trail was in muddy conditions, making some parts difficult to feel like you weren’t falling. Participants enjoyed the unique symmetry of running through the very orchards that produced the hard cider they would enjoy at the end of the race.

Post race, shuffling feet made their way to the hard cider to get their own taste in an included “The Hard Cider Run” glass.  Fresh donuts were available to accompany the cider and couldn’t stay on the shelf long enough—a delicious way to end a memorable race.  

 

If the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” is true, then the people who attended the Cider Dayze fest in Armada can look forward to many, many days of good health and no doctors’ bills.
Hosted by Blake’s Orchard and Cider Mill, Cider Dayze was the first of its kind in southeast Michigan. Andrew Blake of Blake Farms said that his orchard was thrilled to host the event.
“We wanted to have a cider supportive event at our facility, and this was the perfect opportunity because we could also help out charities,” he said. All proceeds will go to local, Michigan-based charities.
“We have a great lineup of local cideries and breweries,” Blake continued. “We wanted to bring everyone together for kind of a bonding weekend and to get people excited about cider. This event allows to showcase most of the (cider) producers in Michigan.”
The list of participating vendors was impressive, and it included Blake’s Hard Cider Company, Uncle John’s Hard Cider, Vander Mill, Tandem Ciders, Sage Creek Winery, and Farmhaus Cider Company. Breweries were also represented by Perrin Brewing Company, and Roak Brewing Company.
Some of the standouts included:

  • Blake’s Apple Lantern: Made with roasted pumpkin and molasses, this beer reminded me of apple and pumpkin pie with a layer of alcohol
  • Fieldstone’s Ginger Peach Apple: This cider was perfectly balanced. Ginger sometimes overwhelms, but it mixed perfectly with the tart apple and sweet peach flavors
  • Short’s Brewing Company brought along several offerings from Starcut Ciders, including Erraticus, which was brewed with wild yeast. Attendee Ken Anderson said, “(The yeast) gave this dry, tasty beer a wonderful touch of sour that only wild yeast can give.”
  • Sage Creek’s Winery offered several different kinds of wine, including its Pomegranate Wildberry. A dark red, this wine was sweet enough to please a choosy sweet tooth like myself
  • New Holland’s Ichabod: For my first “fall” beer, this was perfect as usual: pumpkin spiced but not overwhelming and a perfect match to the ciders that I had

In addition to the beverages, the event featured talks given by Andrew Blake and other experts in the field.
“We wanted to show people different cider profiles that you can get from cider and also how to make it,” said Blake.
Cider Dayze also included an outstanding selection of food from local vendors. The hosting orchard had gourmet hot dogs, and attendees could also get eats from Mulefoot Gastropub and Bad Brad’s BBQ.
But the cider was the star of the show. Luckily, the forecast for scrumptious apple cider is good. Blake reported that for southeast Michigan, “the apple crop has been very good this year.” While some orchards in northern Michigan had some winter damage, his orchard “has a very nice crop this year.”
The rain could not dampen enthusiasm or attendance, as crowds swelled as the event went on and more and more people enjoyed the wide variety of fermented beverages.
“This is the perfect way to get producers together in one place and to kick off the fall right!” Blake said.

If the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” is true, then the people who attended the Cider Dayze fest in Armada can look forward to many, many days of good health and no doctors’ bills.

Hosted by Blake’s Orchard and Cider Mill, Cider Dayze was the first of its kind in southeast Michigan. Andrew Blake of Blake Farms said that his orchard was thrilled to host the event.

“We wanted to have a cider supportive event at our facility, and this was the perfect opportunity because we could also help out charities,” he said. All proceeds will go to local, Michigan-based charities.

“We have a great lineup of local cideries and breweries,” Blake continued. “We wanted to bring everyone together for kind of a bonding weekend and to get people excited about cider. This event allows to showcase most of the (cider) producers in Michigan.”

The list of participating vendors was impressive, and it included Blake’s Hard Cider Company, Uncle John’s Hard Cider, Vander Mill, Tandem Ciders, Sage Creek Winery, and Farmhaus Cider Company. Breweries were also represented by Perrin Brewing Company, and Roak Brewing Company.

Some of the standouts included:

  • Blake’s Apple Lantern: Made with roasted pumpkin and molasses, this beer reminded me of apple and pumpkin pie with a layer of alcohol
  • Fieldstone’s Ginger Peach Apple: This cider was perfectly balanced. Ginger sometimes overwhelms, but it mixed perfectly with the tart apple and sweet peach flavors
  • Short’s Brewing Company brought along several offerings from Starcut Ciders, including Erraticus, which was brewed with wild yeast. Attendee Ken Anderson said, “(The yeast) gave this dry, tasty beer a wonderful touch of sour that only wild yeast can give.”
  • Sage Creek’s Winery offered several different kinds of wine, including its Pomegranate Wildberry. A dark red, this wine was sweet enough to please a choosy sweet tooth like myself
  • New Holland’s Ichabod: For my first “fall” beer, this was perfect as usual: pumpkin spiced but not overwhelming and a perfect match to the ciders that I had

In addition to the beverages, the event featured talks given by Andrew Blake and other experts in the field.

“We wanted to show people different cider profiles that you can get from cider and also how to make it,” said Blake.

Cider Dayze also included an outstanding selection of food from local vendors. The hosting orchard had gourmet hot dogs, and attendees could also get eats from Mulefoot Gastropub and Bad Brad’s BBQ.

But the cider was the star of the show. Luckily, the forecast for scrumptious apple cider is good. Blake reported that for southeast Michigan, “the apple crop has been very good this year.” While some orchards in northern Michigan had some winter damage, his orchard “has a very nice crop this year.”

The rain could not dampen enthusiasm or attendance, as crowds swelled as the event went on and more and more people enjoyed the wide variety of fermented beverages.

“This is the perfect way to get producers together in one place and to kick off the fall right!” Blake said.

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.

 

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.”

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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.

Not all cideries grow apples, but those that do have a unique control over the quality and inimitability of their product. They also have a lot more work to do all throughout the year. Over the next few months, MittenBrew will be publishing a series of articles that highlights the pre-harvest work that must be done at these tree-to-tap cideries.
Before the autumn harvest, tree-to-tap cideries like Crane’s Winery in Fennville must work closely with farm personnel to make sure the apples develop optimally for use in cider.
“As the season progresses, we can see what the changes [in the apples] are,” said Eric Heavilin, the man in charge of wines and ciders for Crane’s, “and that’s going to be a huge benefit in the long run, having the farm attached to the [cidery].”
Crane’s Orchards, which spans over 100 acres and includes 17 varieties of apples, has been growing apples since the 1880s. The orchard was purchased by the Crane family in 1916, and the Cranes have owned and operated it ever since. Over those 100 years of operation, Crane’s has expanded to include a restaurant, bakery, winery and, since November 2014, a hard cidery.
Rob Crane, owner and operator of Crane’s Orchards, will be working hard throughout the summer to make sure the trees are growing to develop the best fruit for cider. Right now, in the midst of spring, pest control and regulation are at the forefront.
“We just finished our first spray,” said Crane. “We’ve got a few scab sprays and mildew sprays coming up.”
Prior to that, when the trees were blossoming, pollination was the chief concern. Crane brings in honeybees to make sure he gets a good fruit set.
“That is an issue a lot of people are dealing with right now, because pollination was so tough,” said Crane. “We had a lot of cold weather and a lot of wet weather. If you had bees you were going to do better than if you didn’t.”
Now the blossoms have fallen, and the workers at Crane’s are taking measures to make sure they bear the best fruit. In the upcoming months, Crane will have to inspect every tree to make sure it’s growing a balanced crop, and then trim them as necessary.
“For the health of the tree, as well as the cider and the apple itself, you have to balance that tree out,” said Heavilin. “You can’t get greedy one year and grow a lot of fruit, because the quality of fruit will be lower, and it will offset that tree to be biannual.”
An orchard can’t afford to let that happen and risk missing a year of production from some of their trees.
“Right now, it makes it really tricky at this point to figure out from block to block which ones I have to thin and how hard, and which ones I better leave alone,” said Crane. “It’s not an easy time.”
Even then, their work won’t be done. Crane will continue regulating pests, trimming trees and insuring that the soil around them is providing the nutrients they need throughout the summer. But all that hard work is what enables Heavilin to make the best products for Crane’s.
“You have to have good fruit to make good wine or hard cider,” Heavilin said. “We can have a signature Crane’s hard cider that’s grown right here that no one else on this planet can emulate. It starts in the dirt.”

Not all cideries grow apples, but those that do have a unique control over the quality and inimitability of their product. They also have a lot more work to do all throughout the year. Over the next few months, MittenBrew will be publishing a series of articles that highlights the pre-harvest work that must be done at these tree-to-tap cideries.

Before the autumn harvest, tree-to-tap cideries like Crane’s Winery in Fennville must work closely with farm personnel to make sure the apples develop optimally for use in cider.

“As the season progresses, we can see what the changes [in the apples] are,” said Eric Heavilin, the man in charge of wines and ciders for Crane’s, “and that’s going to be a huge benefit in the long run, having the farm attached to the [cidery].”

Crane’s Orchards, which spans over 100 acres and includes 17 varieties of apples, has been growing apples since the 1880s. The orchard was purchased by the Crane family in 1916, and the Cranes have owned and operated it ever since. Over those 100 years of operation, Crane’s has expanded to include a restaurant, bakery, winery and, since November 2014, a hard cidery.

Rob Crane, owner and operator of Crane’s Orchards, will be working hard throughout the summer to make sure the trees are growing to develop the best fruit for cider. Right now, in the midst of spring, pest control and regulation are at the forefront.

“We just finished our first spray,” said Crane. “We’ve got a few scab sprays and mildew sprays coming up.”

Prior to that, when the trees were blossoming, pollination was the chief concern. Crane brings in honeybees to make sure he gets a good fruit set.

“That is an issue a lot of people are dealing with right now, because pollination was so tough,” said Crane. “We had a lot of cold weather and a lot of wet weather. If you had bees you were going to do better than if you didn’t.”

Now the blossoms have fallen, and the workers at Crane’s are taking measures to make sure they bear the best fruit. In the upcoming months, Crane will have to inspect every tree to make sure it’s growing a balanced crop, and then trim them as necessary.

“For the health of the tree, as well as the cider and the apple itself, you have to balance that tree out,” said Heavilin. “You can’t get greedy one year and grow a lot of fruit, because the quality of fruit will be lower, and it will offset that tree to be biannual.”

An orchard can’t afford to let that happen and risk missing a year of production from some of their trees.

“Right now, it makes it really tricky at this point to figure out from block to block which ones I have to thin and how hard, and which ones I better leave alone,” said Crane. “It’s not an easy time.”

Even then, their work won’t be done. Crane will continue regulating pests, trimming trees and insuring that the soil around them is providing the nutrients they need throughout the summer. But all that hard work is what enables Heavilin to make the best products for Crane’s.

“You have to have good fruit to make good wine or hard cider,” Heavilin said. “We can have a signature Crane’s hard cider that’s grown right here that no one else on this planet can emulate. It starts in the dirt.”

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