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.
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.
Robinette's Apple Haus & Winery
3142 4 Mile Rd NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49525
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.
Sietsema Orchards & Cider Mill
8540 2 Mile Rd NE
Ada, MI 49301
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.
McIntosh Orchards and Wine Cellar
6431 107th Avenue
South Haven, MI 49090
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.
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.
Vander Mill Cider
14921 Cleveland St
Spring Lake, MI 49456
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.
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.