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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.”

SPRING LAKE TOWNSHIP — Envision the best fall party you have ever attended.

Then add high-quality ciders and apple-infused brews from across the Midwest, local handcrafted food, a loud rock band, and, of course, lasers.

VanderFest 2013 offered that type of party to about 600 attendees who invaded Vander Mill’s grounds in Spring Lake on Saturday evening.

Despite an early rain delay, the festival went on, attracting guests of all ages, so many, in fact, organizers were worried the slick complimentary VanderFest glasses might run out.

Celebrating its fourth year, VanderFest has developed into the go-to festival for the emerging hard cider market, a market Vander Mill is sitting atop of. Organizers say VanderFest is a perfect balance of showcasing the company’s work and introducing people to newcomers in the industry.

“It’s awesome. I am loving it,” Organizer Christina Strange said as she took in the flurry of activity around her — a bonfire to her left, the laser-dominated rock show down the hill behind her and the circus tent of hard cider tasting in front of her. “We want to make people aware of who we are and where we are. We are a local company that loves to promote and work with other local companies.”

She said Vander Mill has found a sustainable niche in the market: Not too sweet like some national hard cider brands, yet not so dry that the fruit taste is sacrificed.

“You can have more than one without being overwhelmed by sweetness,” Strange said.

Her assessment was spot-on. A taste of Chapman’s Blend (6.8% ABV), a semi dry cider with mild carbonation, was pleasing but not too sweet.

Another notable cider at the festival was Ida Gold (4.8% ABV) from Tandem Ciders in Suttons Bay. The cider was very refreshing and sweet with a golden complexion.

Old Boys’ Brewhouse in Spring Lake and the new Big Lake Brewing Company in Holland also featured special brews incorporating an apple ingredient.

Ondrea Kamp and her husband, Matt, visited VanderFest for the first time and were impressed by the atmosphere the event offered. Her group agreed they would come back next year.

“A lot of people were quite friendly,” Ondrea said. “It’s a good couples event.”

Vander Mill Owner Paul Vander Heide and his wife, Amanda, enjoyed VanderFest with the rest of the crowd. Like Strange, Vander Heide said collaborating with breweries, wineries and cideries makes VanderFest one of the best events along the lakeshore.

“We want to get as many of those people as we can,” he said.

SPRING LAKE TOWNSHIP — Envision the best fall party you have ever attended.

Then add high-quality ciders and apple-infused brews from across the Midwest, local handcrafted food, a loud rock band, and, of course, lasers.

VanderFest 2013 offered that type of party to about 600 attendees who invaded Vander Mill’s grounds in Spring Lake on Saturday evening.

Despite an early rain delay, the festival went on, attracting guests of all ages, so many, in fact, organizers were worried the slick complimentary VanderFest glasses might run out.

Celebrating its fourth year, VanderFest has developed into the go-to festival for the emerging hard cider market, a market Vander Mill is sitting atop of. Organizers say VanderFest is a perfect balance of showcasing the company’s work and introducing people to newcomers in the industry.

“It’s awesome. I am loving it,” Organizer Christina Strange said as she took in the flurry of activity around her — a bonfire to her left, the laser-dominated rock show down the hill behind her and the circus tent of hard cider tasting in front of her. “We want to make people aware of who we are and where we are. We are a local company that loves to promote and work with other local companies.”

She said Vander Mill has found a sustainable niche in the market: Not too sweet like some national hard cider brands, yet not so dry that the fruit taste is sacrificed.

“You can have more than one without being overwhelmed by sweetness,” Strange said.

Her assessment was spot-on. A taste of Chapman’s Blend (6.8% ABV), a semi dry cider with mild carbonation, was pleasing but not too sweet.

Another notable cider at the festival was Ida Gold (4.8% ABV) from Tandem Ciders in Suttons Bay. The cider was very refreshing and sweet with a golden complexion.

Old Boys’ Brewhouse in Spring Lake and the new Big Lake Brewing Company in Holland also featured special brews incorporating an apple ingredient.

Ondrea Kamp and her husband, Matt, visited VanderFest for the first time and were impressed by the atmosphere the event offered. Her group agreed they would come back next year.

“A lot of people were quite friendly,” Ondrea said. “It’s a good couples event.”

Vander Mill Owner Paul Vander Heide and his wife, Amanda, enjoyed VanderFest with the rest of the crowd. Like Strange, Vander Heide said collaborating with breweries, wineries and cideries makes VanderFest one of the best events along the lakeshore.

“We want to get as many of those people as we can,” he said.

SPRING LAKE TOWNSHIP — Paul Vander Heide knows what it takes to make a great cider.

Vander Heide, the owner of Vander Mill Cider & Winery, has rapidly grown his company to become one of the Midwest’s top hard cider makers.

In what’s become of an annual tradition, Vander Mill will hold its fourth annual VanderFest, a “fall-themed event to ciders.

“The general popularity of cider has increased a hundredfold over the last couple years,” said Vander Heide.

Like past years, the Spring Lake cidery has teamed up with local breweries, providing a sweet cider to make a collaborative beer for the event. In addition to Vander Mill cider and local beer, 11 other cideries will join VanderFest this time around, each providing a unique spin on the sweet fall drink.

“We want to make sure to include as many of (the cideries) as we can,” said Vander Heide.

And the drink tent isn’t the only thing growing this time around — Vander Mill recently debuted a new stage, which will showcase Social Bones during the Saturday festival. Vander Mill is also teaming up with Brewery Vivant to provide a shuttle from Chicago to visit Vivant’s Wood-Aged Beer Fest, and then VanderFest.

“We’re a close knit community of manufacturers and we try to support each other in any way we can.”

Visitors to the festival will enjoy five tokens — good for 6oz. samples of beer or cider — in addition to a commemorative glass. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door.

“We like the creativity we can bring to this festival. It’s not easy to get a brewery to brew a special beer for an event like this,” said Vander Heide.

VanderFest kicks off Saturday at 4 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at vanderfest.com.

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.”

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