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cider weekGrand Rapids, MI (April 3, 2017) – The Michigan Cider Association (MCA), with support from Experience Grand Rapids, announces the inaugural Cider Week GR, April 17-22, 2017.

The week-long celebration brings hard cider makers from around the world to Michigan, the second largest producer of apples in the U.S., for industry events, an international cider competition, local tap takeovers, and a festival on the Blue Bridge in downtown Grand Rapids.

Cider Week GR coincides with the world’s largest cider judging competition, the 12th annual Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition (GLINTCAP). GLINTCAP features professional and amateur cider makers from more than three countries, competing for awards in 18 categories. The competition is closed to the public and runs April 19- 22 at the Courtyard by Marriott Downtown Grand Rapids.

The inaugural Cider Week GR culminates with the first-ever hard cider festival on the Blue Bridge in downtown Grand Rapids, Saturday, April 22 from 2-7 p.m.

The festival features cider makers from around Michigan. Attendees will also enjoy a line-up of local music and food. The festival is open to the public and tickets are available for purchase at Eventbrite.

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.”

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.

 


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