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Hittin' the Mitten: Michigan Cider Tours Day 1 (West Michigan)

I recently travelled to back to Grand Rapids Michigan to judge in my third consecutive Great Lakes International Cider & Perry Competition. The 2013 "GLINTCAP" prove to be bigger and better than ever. Great Lakes Cider &Perry Association's Treasurer Mike Beck had arranged quite a line up of distinguished international and domestic cider dignitaries and guests. There were a few of the same ole' same ole' like myself, Dick Dunn of Cider Digest, Cider book editor/author Ben Watson, and Nicole Leibon from Farnum Hill Ciders. This year Mike and crew turned it up to 11 and invited a handful of international cider experts to help judge GLINTCAP's increasing catalog of International styles. Nick Bradstock (UK), Eduardo Coto (Asturias, Spain/Germany), and Norman Groh of Weidmann & Groh GbR. Read a bit more about them in my previous Hittin' the Mitten post.

The Cider Bus... Cider'd up and ready to roll.

First things first... Tap that Virtue Lapinette keg! We picked up bottles as we drove too. Equal opportunity cider quaffing.

 Friday March 22nd marked the day before our judges workshop, and the first of 3 days of Michigan state cider tours organized by Mike and the Great Lakes Cider & Perry Association. Our first day would see about 15 of us all in small bus complete with designated driver and lots of local cider to quench our thirst. At 11:30 we all gathered at the Courtyard Marriott, jumped in the bus, poured ourselves a cider off the keg and headed down Michigan's bumpy highways off to our first stop of the day, Robinette's Apple Haus & Winery.




Our cider tour group arriving at Robinette's Apple Haus & Winery

Robinette's Apple Haus & Winery

3142 4 Mile Rd NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49525
(800) 400-8100


Robinette's like so many of Michigan's cideries is a family owned operation. The farm and orchard was bought back in 1911 by the Robinette family and has been owned and operated by the family since. In the early 1970's in response to the increasingly difficult wholesale apple and fruit market patriarch Jim Robinette diversified and expanded the farm operation by adding a cider mill and press and a bakery to supply fresh cider doughnuts and more.. Since then visiting Robinette's has been a family tradition countless Michigan residents. In 2005 Bill Robinette further diversified the family business by making and selling  their first ciders. Now-a-days you can buy cider, meads, wines, and fortified wines.


Gigantic snow covered steel apple sculpture. Do Not Climb!

Robinette's cidermaker Bill Robinette.

Robinette's press room, custom built for their space over 40 years ago and still going strong

Virtue Cidermaker Ryan Burk joking around with International cider author/blogger Eduardo Coto a.k.a Cider Guerrilla.

Sampling the ciders in the original property barn. The Robinette's have turned this into a gorgeous tasting room.

Bill's Special Hard Cider from Robinette Cellars


Sietsema Orchards & Cider Mill

8540 2 Mile Rd NE‎
Ada, MI 49301
(616) 676-5584


Second stop, Sietsema Orchards a relatively short drive away in in Ada Michigan. Sietsema Orchards in one form or another is also a multi generational Michigan apple family. Since the 1930's Sietsema's have been farming and orcharding just outside of Grand Rapids. As of 2012 Sietsema's became one of Michigan's newest craft cidermakers, and were recently named one of the 4 Up-and-Coming Cider Makers To Watch in 2013 by Chris Lehault of Serious Eats. If that weren't enough these guys also host a successful Farm to Table Dinner Series.

Now Sietsema's was also where all the Great Lakes International Cider & Perry Competition entries were being amassed, stored, and checked in. It was a busy place for a handful of folks that day and fairly "photo sensitive" with piles of contest ciders all over. We tried to stay out of the way and not shoot the ciders as tempting as it was.


Sietsema's Cider Yellow Label bottles

Tapping the ciders and checking out the space at Sietsema's

Seitsema's Goodnature vertical press and Oesco fruit washing and grinding equipment.

This is where the apples go so the good stuff can come out!

Just a few bottles chillin' out in the cooler.

Al Yelvington (center), and Eric West of (right), taking a break from a grueling day of competition bottle organizing/numbering/tagging to chat with us.

Hunter Wade from Apple Sauced Cider.




McIntosh Orchards and Wine Cellar

6431 107th Avenue
South Haven, MI 49090
(708) 878-3734

You might think you know what kind of apples grow at McIntosh Orchards but you'd be only part right. McIntosh Orchards is a 76 acre farm with 26 different varities of apples, 14 grown specifically their craft cider and winery operation. While their cider and ice cider is their specialty owner Bruce McIntosh makes an astounding number of other fresh fruit wines for tasting and purchase in their tasting room. Stop by and you'll also find local maple syrup, honey, homemade fudge and an assortment of pickles, preserves, jams and other canned goods.

Norman Groh from Germany, and Eduardo Coto of Asturia/Spain/Germany checking out the orchard at McIntosh Orchards & Wine Cellar

McIntosh Cellars Fine Traditional Draught Apple Cider from South Haven Michigan.

A fruit wine rainbow in effect.

Jealous of this license plate, still trying to decide if it was real. Looked real enough to me in person.

Eduardo Coto and Norman Groh in the McIntosh Cellars tasting room.

Michigan Cider Maker's Guild seemed to be a requirement at nearly all of our stops.




Welcome to Virtue Farms. I have it from a good source that the Virtue Cider bottle shop opens soon.

Virtue Cider

Fennville, Michigan


Visiting Virtue Cider has been high on my cider to-do list since I heard about their project, and even more so once I caught a glimpse of the first building Greg Hall and crew constructed on their new Fennville Michigan farmland. If that weren't tempting enough about a week before I headed out to Michigan Virtue was promoting a stellar promotional video starring aforementioned building and cidermaking crew made by a friend of theirs. Check it out here.

If you don't know about Greg Hall and Virtue Cider we don't have enough room in the post to enlighten you. A simple search will reveal many articles and stories about Greg and company. We can get into a bit more about them down the road at some point too. For now enjoy the photos of their iconic space (and Virtue swag) and the captions.

The Virtue building. Only in Europe could you find something with more European flavor. It's gorgeous!

The place is really decked out and styled already but they are just moving into these digs. I can't wait to visit again and see what it's like.

Same goes here on the inside too. They haven't even begun to setlling in. Cidermaker Ryan Burk was expecting an order of fresh stainless tanks days after our visit.

Virtue's cidermaker Ryan Burk. Uh... These are barrels imparting woody goodness on their cidery contents.

Uh oh... Swag and cider?Free cider and promotional materials... If there are 2 things I really have a weakness for, these things are at the top of the list.

This is it for the swag pics I promise.This wooden apple is hiding a very cool Virtue Lapinette poster. I have to admit that they are lucky that poster was there when we left.My good buddy "Cider Brian" @ChicagoCider hold the previously mentioned cool Virtue Lapinette Poster.

Virtue Cider pint glass.

Busted! Eduardo, Norman, and Ryan sampling direct from the tanks.

I'd be totally lying if I didn't say that "Yes, it was as fun as it looks.". Cider folks are the greatest and these guys are some of the best I've met.

This is what a craft cidery loading dock should look like.Back to the bus and towards Vander Mill Cider our last stop of the evening.


Vander Mill Cider

14921 Cleveland St
Spring Lake, MI 49456
(616) 842-4337


The Cider Bus' last stop of the evening was Vander Mill Cider for dinner, a cidery tour, and more cider. Vander Mill Cider is the brainchild of Paul Vander Heide and they have really blown up since the first time I visited. In fact this is my third trip to Paul's and he's had to add on an addition to his building and it looks as though he has more than doubled the size of it. Vander Mill is a pretty big deal in Chicago and rightly so. Paul and crew aren't shy and often exhibit quite a bit of creative flair when cidermaking. They produce a number of classic fruit ciders including Raspberry, Blueberry, and Cherry, they also make cinnamon roasted pecan cider called Totally Roasted, and although I didn't see it bottle I tasted a bit of dry hopped cider from a Vander Mill growler. Vander Mill has a serious side too with a semi-sweet Traditional Hard Cider and my favorite the Vander Mill Chapman's Blend a cider made from American Heirloom apples. Plus since I've returned I read that Vander Mill will be one of the next craft cidermakers to find it's way into a can.

And dinner. We were presented with plenty of eats throughout the day but I was ready for dinner after a long day of cider tasting. Homemade Michigan pretzels are front and center.

Vander Mill Chapman's Blend - An American Heirloom Cider

 There is always plenty of cold cider on tap and in the bottle at Vander Mill.

Enjoying some food and apple brandy too. Mike Beck of Uncle John's Cider Mill (back left), Eduardo Coto (front left) writer/blogger Blog de Sidra Internacional and Apfelwein Blog, Dick Dunn (back right) of Cider Digest, and Norman Groh (front right) cidermaker/distiller Weidmann & Groh GbR.

Champman's blend again... As traditional as I am about my cider it's no surprise a cider like Chapman's Blend was my Vander Mill Cider favorite.

Checking out Vander Mill's Good Nature cider press and pressing set up.

Paul Vander Heide has got himself a bunch of shiny new equipment. Here we all are gawking at his new canning line while you can see his giant new stainless steel fermenters looming in the background.


Thanks again to the Great Lakes Cider & Perry Association and Friday's (Day 1) host/guide Paul Vander Heide for organizing an awesome Cider Bus tour for us. It was an epic day, and we'd see a couple more days just like before we return home.

Saturday will see the Great Lakes International Cider & Perry Competition judge training workshops all day, and Sunday we spend what is always a rearding yet exhausting day of cider judging...

More on all of that later.


Hittin' the Mitten: GLINTCAP 2013 Intro

It's that time of year again and I am finding myself in downtown Grand Rapids Michigan to be a guest judge at the Great Lakes International Cider & Perry Competition. The judging starts Sunday with the judges workshop happening tomorrow evening to prep everyone for the day long judging effort. While it doesn't seem like cider tasting would be hard work, I've got 2 years under my belt and I can tell you wihtout a doubt that this is serious business and it is hard work.

Many cidermakersboth commercial and home cidermakers from around the world have put lots of time, sweat, and possibly even little blood into their efforts and these facts are not taken lightly. It's my hope that I have preppared myself technologically enough to post a bit on the fly and a little each day. Check back here each day and for more frequent posts watch my Oldtimecider Twitter account and Facebook page.


Guest Judges

This year the Great Lakes Cider & Perry Association has a very special line up of guest judges, with 2 distinguished judges coming from abroad even.

Dick Dunn
Would a GLINTCAP be complete without Dick Dunn in the house lending his expertise? Not in my book. Dick has been there every year that I have and probably a few more. For those that don't know Dick is the man behind the scenes at Cider Digest.

Edu Coto
I am really anxious to meet someone who has become an old friend on the screen and the online cider community. Eduardo Coto has joined from all the way from Spain/Austuria/Germany to help add a little more international flavor to the competition. I met Eduardo a number of years ago and we message frequently about cider happenings. Eduardo is a prolific cider writer in Europe and writes for 2 Spanish cider magaines “La Sidra” and “Vivir La Sidra”, the blog El blog de la sidra, as well as the Apfelwein Blog. Not too very long ago I helped Eduardo out with a article on American Cidermakers. Lookign forward to sippin' a few with this guy.

Nick Bradstock
Former Cider maker at Taunton Cider in England, currently a board member of the National Association of Cider Makers (NACM) and European Cider & Fruit Wine Association (AICV). I don't know Nick but I've never met a Brit cider guy I didn't like and I have a feeling he'll be a great stand in for my buddy Bill Bradshaw who isn't here this week. Looking forward to tipping a few back with this guy too!

Norman Groh
Weidmann & Groh GbR (A cidery and distillery in the Hessian district of Friedberg, north of Frankfurt, Germany). Looking forward to adding a little more knowledge of Apfelwien and the German cider scene to my analog database with the help of Eduardo and Norman.

Nicole Leibon
Cider Maker at Farnum Hill Ciders, New Hampshire. Nicole has also become an old friend. I've had the pleasure of visiting Farnum Hill a couple times. They have the best ciders made by the best people. Nicole is no exception. GLINTCAP is lucky to have her pallate and cidermaking expertise again this year.

Ben Watson
Ben is the author of Cider, Hard & Sweet: History, Traditions & Making Your Own (2nd Edition) which is just about everyone's intro to North American Cider. Ben over the year has become an old friend. We've taken a a couple road trips together, one here in Michigan in 2011 and again in the Northeast in November of 2011. At GLINTCAP 2012 he and I had the pleasure and honor of judging Bst of Show for the distilled and high proof (ice cider) categories. Ben has been monumental to cider in North America, besides his book he also helps organize and put on Cider Days in Western Massachusetts. If you haven't been to Cider Days you gotta go. Add it to the bucket list. 

Dave White
And me... President of Northwest Cider Association & author of Old Time Cider blog.


Ciderhouse Tour

I look forward to being in Michigan the ciders are great and the folks uber friendly and very hospitable. Today we begin some of the wee's cider tours.

Follow along on Twitter and Facebook.


Transplanting a cider apple orchard at Finnriver Farm & Cidery.

Quick post from the weekend. My brother Ryan and I spent Saturday with some friends up in Chimacum, Washington transplanting a few trees at Finnriver's brand new cider apple orchard block. Sadly Washington suffered a bittersweet cider loss last year when Northwest super cider guy Drew Zimmerman shut the doors on his popular Red Barn Cider in Mount Vernon Washington.

Our loss was also our gain as Drew has been keeping himself busy sharing his wealth of knowledge and more as a cider and orchard consultant. Finnriver Farm & Cidery has been one of the beneficiaries of Drew's wisdom, advice, the Fire Barrel recipe one of his cider legacies, and now his 8 year old cider variety apple orchard.

After our 4 hour work party we joined in some of the festivities of Port Townsend's Wine and Chocolate weekend back on Finnriver Farm.I snapped a few shots for you to enjoy.


Snowdrift Cider Co. on KCTS PBS Seattle

Snowdrift Cider Company laying down cider knowledge and dishing out cider tastes on KCTS 9. 8+ minutes worth. Grab a glass of cider and relax...



In-Cider Sounds - Podcasting Cider

Man has cider blogging blown up or what? I'll save that for another post that is unless someone reads this and beats me to the punch. ;) I rattle off a good number of new cider blogs and micro-blogs just in the last few months. It's a phenomenon here and abroad, most notably the blogging seems to be coming from well... England of course and also from our cousins in the Southern Hemisphere in Australia and New Zealand respectively.

Coming up along side or even as a byproduct; cider podcasts are on the rise. Cider is not only becoming show topic more often but there are a few podcasts dedicated to cider now.


Podcast Episodes (a couple choice selections)

Bottom of the Bottle Episode 18! Ciders!
Just this past weekend Bottom of the Bottle a podcast from Sonoma County aired Episode 18! Ciders! Local cidermakers (ciderists?) Apple Sauced Cider and Tilted Shed Cider band together to talk cider with the show host slash owner of the Barley and Hops Tavern. It's a local show with a couple inside regional jokes but it was a blast to listen to. The folks from Tilted Shed Cider and Apple Sauced Cider did great. They both represent a little different approach but they certainly sounded of the same community.

iTunes link:


The Aleheads Podcast: Virtue Cider's Greg Hall
Last year The Aleheads Podcast put together a great show with Greg Hall discussing his new venture at Virtue Cider. Normally these guys just talk beer as you can imagine, this go around they learned a bit about cider with a craft beer hero.

Episode link:


Dedicated Podcasts

Cider House Rules Podcast

This is the very first podcast I ran across late in 2012. These guys do like their cider. I find the production quality of Cider House Rules pretty good. Overall it's an entertaining listen and I really like the show. These guys blend the cider talk with a good bunch of banter and some light humor and plenty o' cider puns. However... Listener beware these guys seem to enjoy their flavored ciders. Sorry guys... cider purist in the house.

Cider House Rules iTunes Description

Aiden & Matt love two things; Cider and talking crap! Hear them rant and rave about Cider news, history, reviews and anything else they get distracted by. There's something in'Cider for everyone! (By the way, they like other things too like girls and music and stuff)

Twitter: Aiden - @Aiden_G


Howdya Like Them Apples

This is a show I can relate to. Coming together to record these podcasts must be a challenge. One hosts is in Seattle and the other from the UK's West Country. I really like these guys... Rob (UK) knows his cider and seems to maintain a strict definition of cider. Damian, the Seattle host, I have a small bone to pick with. He makes our blossoming cider scene sound desolate, I can talk to you about desolate. While we aren't as vibrant as other parts of the world yet, our ciders are able to be found, just not in the major grocery stores. YET... Considering I'm just 60 miles away in Oly I'd love to sit down sometime and taste a cider or 2 with Damian and provide a few cider shopping tips.

Howdyalikethemapples iTunes Description

Cider review podcast where two like minded guys set the cider world to rights in a two-weekly discussion of all things cider related. Damian hails from Tasmania and now resides in Seattle, where he struggles to get his cider fix. He will leave no stone unturned in his quest to discover a hidden gem. Rob hails from Bristol in the West Country, UK. Born and raised in cider country he regularly enjoys the local spoils Somerset has to offer, and rubs Damians nose in it..

Podcast link:


I'm sure you can find more out there but these are some great examples to start out with and follow along.