By Peter Holmstrom
The year of 2006 wasn’t exactly the golden age of cider in America. The cider industry was still young, with patrons and businesses alike only beginning to recognize the burgeoning potential the fermented beverage had to offer. Cider sales worldwide only amounted to $217 million, less than a third of what it is today. Today, we see this time as a beginning, but living in the era, the prospect of opening a cidery would have been like entering into uncharted territory.
It was into this world that Paul Vander Heide and his family entered into when they decided to open up Vander Mill Cider in their home state of Michigan in 2006.
“It started out as fun, with no real business expectations,” says co-founder Vander Heide. “My in-laws own a cider mill in Northville, Michigan, on the east side of the state, and my wife and I thought it would be a fun business to try in West Michigan.”
The raw materials were definitely there: Michigan’s annual apple production was nearly 21,000 bushels, making it the fifth highest producer in the country.
Located just east of Spring Lake, Vander Mill initially sought to be a casual, local hotspot for the surrounding area. After two years of trial and error, and a fair amount of blood, sweat and tears, Vander Mill began churning out hard cider by the bottle and in kegs to local taprooms.
Since its humble beginnings, Vander Mill has expanded exponentially, to where they are now offering a core line of six cider, and a rotating selection involving heritage recipes, oak barrel-aging and even the odd brewery collaboration. The Spring Lake location is surrounded by the scenic beauty of an apple orchard, and features a wide selection of edible delectables in addition to their diversity of ciders. The goal of becoming a regional hotspot was quickly surpassed, and today, the sight of Vander Mill cider is a common one throughout the Midwest.
“As the success of the business viability has grown, our passion for high quality and innovative ciders has definitely kept pace,” Vander Heide says. “We realize now that the work we do is impacting the industry and that is really exciting.”
Today, the family venture is undergoing a $4 million expansion to the land of Grand Rapids, where Vander Heide hopes to increase production to over 1.5 million gallons per year, five times the current amount in their new Grand Rapids taproom. Plans are in the works to offer 24 different ciders to fill patrons in the new 4,300 square-foot restaurant.
“We are working with our apple growers, the Dietrich family, to plant one of the largest cider variety orchards in the country,” Vander Heide says. “We are seeing continued interest in dryer and more complex ciders. So it is very exciting to see the increase in the quality awareness of the consumer.”
Currently Vander Mill cider is available in the Midwest, but with plans for such large expansion underway, it won’t be a bit surprising to see their name pop up in a taproom near you in the coming future.
Photo courtesy of Vander Mill