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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.”

6.8% ABV, Can

Appearance: Medium-sized bubbles flow generously through this slightly yellow hued cider.
Aroma: Apple with earthy tones and a slight alcohol scent.
Taste: Excellent apple coverage with a slight sweetness. A mostly dry, tart flavor.
Mouthfeel: Highly carbonated and light bodied.

This is the original from Vander Mill, so I couldn’t resist reviewing it as the final featured beverage this month. Classic and original are two words meant to describe this cider. It is certainly dry, but definitely doesn’t completely neglect the sweet side. I like that it has a sour or tart-like quality, but that it represents the apple all the way through. Lovely cider that shows why Vander Mill is cider king in my book.

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.

6.8% ABV, Draft

Appearance: Straw yellow with a bit of fog.
Aroma: Immediate hop aroma, followed by floral and fruity scents. Certainly, the Columbus hops give it a specific aroma (use your imagination).
Taste: Hops mixed with apples. It’s like picking an apple off a pine tree. It has both floral and citrus notes.
Mouthfeel: Less carbonated than most ciders, likely because of hops. Smooth and light body.

This cider is certainly unique in some senses, yet it seems to mimic something I can’t quite describe (maybe because it tastes illegal). With this spring-time cider, drink fast — the profile doesn’t last in the beverage itself. Vander Mill’s adding of hops to cider is a terrific nod to the craft beer scene.

6.5% ABV, Draft

Appearance: Cloudy golden with a medium to high foamy head.
Aroma: Fruity, sour and some slight cinnamon.
Taste: Fruity but not sweet. Apple and malts blended well.
Mouthfeel: Medium bodied and creamy.

Vander Mill’s Snakebite — a mix of cider and Half Pint Lager — is what you would expect from a lager, but rides the fence of a traditional ale. With fresh apples added into the mix, this brew holds the essence of the fruit instead of just artificial flavoring. A very balanced brew.