Michigan-based cidery, Vander Mill, announces today its partnership with West Michigan businesses to celebrate the fall season at the 8th Annual Vander Fest. The event will take place at its Spring Lake location at 14921 Cleveland Street on Saturday, October 7, from 4 – 10 p.m.

Several Michigan breweries and restaurants have joined Vander Mill to create a unique festival experience that captures the best of West Michigan. The event will feature live music by local artists, food trucks, beers from local breweries, and delicious Vander Mill cider and donuts.

vander fest

“We’ve cultivated some of our favorite West Michigan businesses and entertainment and brought them together for our biggest event of the year,” says Paul Vander Heide, owner of Vander Mill. “Fall is the best time of year in Michigan, and what better way to enjoy it than with a hard cider with friends?”

Vander Fest will have several new features, including:

  • Laser Beam Lounge: a tented area filled with laser beams, Vander Mill ciders, and a laser-themed photo booth, sponsored by Van Wyk Insurance. Live music by Social Bones and DJ Nick Awesome.

  • Crystal Court: a tented area tucked into the woods and surrounded by fog. This spooky section will feature a dozen Vander Mill ciders on nitro.

  • Barrel-aged booth, which will supply all of Vander Mill’s barrel-aged ciders.


Attendees can also enjoy beers from Vander Mill’s brewery friends: Big Lake Brewing, Brewery Vivant, Unruly Brewing Co., Greenbush Brewing, and Oddside Ales. Several food trucks that will be on-site include Dalty Raes, Standard Pizza, and Righteous Cuisine. Vander Mill will also supply cider donuts, coffee, and hot cider.

Tickets are required for entry into the event and are available in three tiers:

  • VIP Tickets: $85
    Guests will receive entry into the event, Vander Fest souvenir glass, eight drink tokens, entertainment, reserved seating at a table in a roped-off area, and Vander Mill food.

  • General Admission Tickets: $35
    Guests will receive entry into the event, Vander Fest souvenir glass, eight drink tokens, and entertainment.

  • Designated Driver Tickets: $10
    Guests will receive entry into the event and entertainment.

Attendees can purchase tickets at Eventbrite until 11:30 p.m. the evening before the event here.

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

GRAND RAPIDS — Cider throughout the U.S. is booming. But in Michigan?

“It’s been pretty fast [growing] for a good three years running now,” said Paul Vander Heide, president of the Michigan Cider Association (MCA) and owner of Vander Mill in Spring Lake.

The Michigan cider industry is growing so fast that Vander Heide teamed up with several other cider producers from across the state, to produce the first-ever Michigan Cider Week, which ran through Sunday.

The week culminated with the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition, April 10-12.

“A lot of Michigan producers that are here are experiencing growth rates beyond what national producers are,” said Vander Heide, pointing to the fact that national producers are receiving average growth rates of 60-70 percent, while Michigan producers are often far exceeding that number.

The week-long event, held in Grand Rapids, highlighted the MCA’s 12 producer members, as part of in-store tastings, education seminars and cider dinners, all of which introduced new and interesting ciders to the public.

According to Vander Heide, creativity is blossoming and helping to form new cider drinkers state-wide.

“Dry hopping is becoming really popular; we’re seeing a lot of producers start to use hops and we’re seeing a lot more creativity,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of success in the consumer really enjoying that — people are seeking something a little different.”

While sweet ciders are still very much prevalent in the industry, producers are starting to make ciders that incorporate new flavors.

Blake’s Hard Cider Co., which entered the market roughly a year and a half ago, has already started to feature ciders towards this new group of cider drinkers, featuring Wakefire (Michigan cherries / orange peel) and El Chavo (habanero / mango) ciders throughout the week.

“Right now, people are really up for experimenting and trying new things — whatever’s new and exciting,” said Dave Blake, Manager at Blake’s Hard Cider Co. in Armada. “I think it’s fun that we can experiment with a lot of those new flavors.”

Other cider producers highlighted during the week included Tandem Ciders (Suttons Bay), Uncle John’s Hard Cider Cider (St. John’s), Sietsema’s Hard Cider (Ada), The Peoples Cider Co. (Grand Rapids) and FarmHause Cider Co. (Hudsonville).

For more information on the Michigan Cider Association and its upcoming events, visit

SPRING LAKE TOWNSHIP — Knowing the quality of Michigan apples, Paul Vander Heide is investing in the superiority of Michigan fruit.

It’s not just buying apples from local farmers that has the owner of Vander Mill Cider and Winery investing — now he is investing in the farmers who produce the fruit.

Along with three other hard cider makers, Vander Heide has recently formed the Michigan Cider Association, a non-profit association with a two-fold purpose. MCA is a registered non-profit in the state and waiting federal processing.

“We’re going to be doing work within the Michigan agricultural industry, reaching out the different growers and trying to explain to Michigan apple growers what kind of things we are looking for as cider producers,” Vander Heide said. “(What we are looking for) may be different than what they’re used to producing for, which is largely the fresh market.”

The second purpose of MCA is to pool the resources of hard cider producers in an effort to educate consumers, according to Vander Heide who acts as president of the Association. He is joined by Nikki Rothwell of Tandem Ciders in Suttons Bay, Andrew Blake of Blake Farms and Andy Sietsema of Sietsema Orchards and Cider Mill in Ada. But MCA is open to more members, especially on the Mitten’s east side.

“We’re really looking for folks that are energized to use time and resources making this collective effort worthwhile,” Vander Heide said. “So many times in business, you’ll see an association or guild with not a lot coming out of it. We want to make it worthwhile. We think the opportunity is there.”

The opportunity MCA hopes to capitalize requires building relationships with farmers.

“We’ve noticed that the farming community is kind of old school in the way it does business — establishing those relationships is very meaningful,” Vander Heide said. “We may be asking them to change the type of crop that they’re planting.

“It takes a good amount of trust because it takes a good amount of investment for them, both in time and in capital to start changing over to crops that may be more cider specific and less interesting, or less marketable in the fresh market.”

Step one to firming this relationship with apple growers will be an event MCA is hosting during the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market Expo in downtown Grand Rapids on Dec. 9-11.

“We’re going to reach out to all of our growers,” Vander Heide said. “We’re going to bring cider makers and apple growers into one room. And just start to network with each other — talk about needs and how they differ for cider.”

The idea, Vander Heide explained, is to educate small orchards in a way that optimizes crop growing for both the apple producers and cider makers. Hard cider usually requires sweeter apples than typically sold in a grocery store. The right level of acid and tannins also help produce better cider.

Overall, MCA hopes to create a team approach with farmers.

“Apple farming in Michigan has become very much commodity-based,” he said. “That really puts a strain on the smaller orchards.

“This is a real opportunity for some diversification for things apple farmers know how to do — grow fruit.  If they have another outlet in a growing industry like cider, then that’s good for everybody.”

Nationally, Michigan ranks third in apple production and the state is a national leader in the growing hard cider market.

“We have a lot of producers coming up, we’ve got a thriving wine industry, which really helps encourage people to get into cider,” Vander Heide said. “There’s no doubt Michigan has some of the best fruit in the world.

“We’ve got very rich soil, we’ve got a lot of natural irrigation. Some of these other apple-growing states, they might produce a lot of apples, but it’s heavily irrigated. We’ve noticed, in having some history with out-of-state apples, Michigan really has the ability to a supply a superior quality product. “

For now, MCA is focused on the upcoming Fruit Expo. The Association will follow up with Michigan Cider Week, April 6-11, 2015, which culminates with the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition, April 10-13. The Michigan Cider Association hopes to engage the competition event in a way that includes more consumers and increases public appeal — not merely relegating it to just a competition in small room.

Supporters of the Michigan Cider Association can like the organization on its Facebook Page.

SPRING LAKE TOWNSHIP — The evolution of Vander Fest brought the event to new territory on Saturday.

Now in its fifth year, the annual craft cider and beer celebration hosted by Vander Mill Cider and Winery had a new angle on the event. Instead of inviting breweries to create specialty beers using Vander Mill’s sweet cider, the festival focused more on craft in general.

“For the first time, we invited ‘friends of Vander Mill’,” said cider maker, brewer and operations manager Joel Brower, referring to nine Michigan cideries as well a dozen breweries from Michigan, Indiana and Ohio represented at the event.

“It’s good to invite our friends to the party,” owner Paul Vander Heide said. “We’re all supporting each other. We have a common goal of trying to elevate the public’s perception of what quality products are.

“There aren’t a whole lot of Michigan festivals put on by producers inviting other producers. I think that’s part of the fun of it.”

An estimated 700 craft beer and cider enthusiasts braved unusually cold temperatures and constant rain to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the cider/beer tasting tent, food tent and entertainment tent. This year, part of the “friends” category also included distributors and sales representatives, who were themselves enthused to see such a large crowd despite less-than-desirable weather, according to Vander Heide.

“We used this event more this year than in the past as way to entertain and show some of our distributors and partners what it is we do,” he said. “We gave them a good excuse to pay us a visit.”

Vander Heide said Saturday’s attendance shows Vander Fest has “got legs.” Brower agreed.

“I don’t think we’ll ever have to worry about attendance after seeing this kind of attendance with the weather we had on Saturday,” Brower said. “Imagine if the stars were out and it was 55 degrees — that whole lawn would be packed. There would be people everywhere.”

While Vander Fest has evolved in its first five years, both Brower and Vander Heide believe its main emphasis hasn’t changed — bringing cider enthusiasts together while educating the local public with a huge party as the backdrop.

“Originally we did this because there was only one other cider festival in the state, but we wanted to do our own and try to make it super cool,” Brower said. “It’s super laidback. It’s communal. The majority of people here are from Spring Lake, Grand Haven, Fruitport or Grand Rapids.

“Being a Spring Lake born, bred, graduate, it’s nice to see everyone you know come together for this event. We’ve been able to teach the people in Spring Lake that you can have a cool party around here.”