Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Stage 2: Michigan & the Great Lakes

'Be careful and good luck..' was our euphemistic farewell at the airport by the smiley lady who we showed our boarding cards too as we'd just told her we were heading to Detroit that night. As if that wasn't enough to shit us up a bit, two blokes in the lift at Detroit airport were swearing about how much they 'hate this goddamn city, got mugged for five bucks last time I was here.' So Pete and I were well chuffed... where's Axel Foley when you need him?

Actually Michigan is a lovely place and somewhere I'm keen to return to, its my kind place and it's people are my kind of people. They kept telling me that it was recently voted the most beautiful place in America and by the end of our journey I could see why. It was sunny, very welcoming and the whole place felt geared up for making sure visitors want to come back. Tourism seems to account for alot of what their businesses are good at. Detroit has had a hard time of it in recent years so a certain air of gloom is to be expected. But its funny how, the combination of a good nights sleep and daylight make a place seem a whole lot friendlier.

Anyway, the morning after our flight Dave Grohl lookalike Rob 'Rockin Cock' Nelson walked into our hotel reception. He looked up, smiled and said "Pete...? Bill...?" He'd kindly aranged to pick us up and drive us to his family business.  Parmenters Northville Cider Mill have the biggest squeezebox press I've ever seen. No idea of production figures in terms of output etc, but it made me chuckle.

The cider donut is a phenomenon these guys do really well, I reckon they must sell a few thousand a day here as do a few places, they had a decent production area out the back. Cider'n donuts would appear to be as much of a partnership in America as Cowboys & Indians or Bonnie & Clyde. I had no idea how strong that link was in US apple growing regions until I encountered my third cidery that made donuts and I started to think about it a bit more. And here's another, but something I know nothing about: Johnny Appleseed, not Johnny Knoxvilles cousin from Traverse City but an original American hero (more on him another day - when I have more of a clue.)

Rob kindly drove us further north to meet Jim Koan at Almar Orchards  who is a fascinating guy. I could listen to him all day and all night, and probably for the rest of the week. I've never met anyone like him and think he's quite inspirational. He claims his 'main thing isn't making cider' although he does do a good job of making a respectable amount of it. He prefers growing apples and orcharding so I thought it was best to take a portrait of him in his specialist heritage apple nursery plantation, amongst his children. He makes a popular and tasty cider called JK's Scrumpy, and although not for everyone and far from what would we might call Scrumpy here in UK, I enjoyed it. It was certainly the appliest 'scrumpy' I've ever had.

And then it happened. Without us realising it, the main man arrived in the shape of Mike Beck, a giant of a man and the friendliest chap you could ever hope to meet. Mike has been instrumental in our trip to the States; he invited us over officially, he organised alot of our schedule, he sorted beds, food, visits, lifts - he even provided us with pre-paid credit cards to help us with travel expenses on the way! We have a massive amount to thank him for, he's the kind of guy you meet and wish you were a little bit more like. He's an effective host and the GLCPA are lucky to have him running the show I think. Mike's own business is Uncle Johns Cider Mill, a successful family fun farm that makes its own wine, spirits and cider - something for everyone there. These guys make even more donuts and cider than the last place. Mike reckons they get about 7000 cars in their car park on a busy day... thats alot of cider n'donuts.

Another chap we got to know was Dick Dunn, an interesting person. He runs the Cider digest an online cider resource that helps people who want to know more about fruit and cidermaking in USA. He's based in Colorado and is well known in US.

The Great Lakes Cider & Perry Festival was a fun day and we met loads of people, I spent all day talking to people and didn't shoot as much as I could. One of the benefits of the festival is that I got to try a cider or two that isn't available yet. Their craft cider movement takes influence from their ragingly fearless craft beer movement and new cidermakers seem to be popping up all over the place. They're really passionate about it and they can take it both seriously and with a pinch of salt at the same time, something I admire in anyone.

Our last evening in US was spent at Tandem Ciders. This is somewhere I could happily drink myself to death. If that day ever comes, I'll see you at the bar. Its lovely. Nikki & Dan are so friendly and they are an interesting story as to how and why they started making cider that I'm not going to spoil. About 15 of us had a lovely dinner there sat outside by candlelight and feasted on Nikkis home cooked food and drank as much cider as we could hold. Eating outside on a warm mid west evening by candlelight made me feel a bit like an extra in The Waltons or Little house on The Prairie until we all realised how wasted we were (I was.) John-Boy would never get this high...

Anyway there are so many other people we met and I want to mention but I will shamefully just have to list them for now: Left Foot Charley made some excellent ciders and wines and Brian is alot of fun too - please visit him and say hi from me. The boys at Vander Mill (the only people in the history of the world to add candied pecans to a cider and get away with it!) Chuck from Albermarle Ciderworks in Virginia who I barely got to talk to. Aeppeltreow in Wisconsin makes some excellent ciders and meads too. They've got lovely orchards, worth a visit, I''m sure Charles will make you welcome.

Because I'm childish, I find it difficult to write objectively like a 'writer' might, I tend to get excited about alot of things (everything) especially when it involves cider so I want to say that I'll sum up then shut up and get to the photos. I wish I could express more clearly my heartfelt thanks to the people that made this trip possible and the sheer effort they all put into making me as informed and comfortable as possible. The kind cider folk of New England, Michigan and Wisconsin gave up their time, money, cars, beds, fridge, pantry and cellar contents for us... thankyou everyone we truly appreciate every bit of it.

It rocked.

Jim from Almar Orchards

Mike Beck and daughter
The kind of guy you want organising your stag weekend

Great idea, nice price.
Jeff Carlson (or Oliver Reed?)

Dick Dunn du Cider Digest

Nacho, Orchard manager

Bar at Tandem

Nikki at Tandem

The Waltons

Dan at Tandem
Ain't it purty

'Pow, right in the kisser'


  1. Loving the graphic design on the cider bottles, especially the Pretty Penny.

  2. You're spot-on that Mike is a fantastic host, and the cider festival is going on my calendar until the end of time! I really have to try some of the other ciders that you profiled, so I'll be going back to Michigan more often, or begging my sister to fill her car before she comes for a visit.

  3. GEORGE: Yeah, Tandem do have good graphics I think and they make a respectable cider too. We both thought things like signage were generally much cooler over there, more retro and fun somehow? Someone clever will know why things are that way, but it makes stuff here seem a bit squarer somehow.

    AYELVINGTON: Mike is super cool to hang out with and the festival will go from strength to strength as long as someone like him is in charge. Please do try anything by anyone I've mentioned, between them they have a massively varied range of high quality stuff (not just ciders: wines, spirits etc) and the best thing is how passionate they are. If my sister's anything to go by, she'd fill a car and drive over especially!

  4. Cider Tank! Pitty you couldn't have taken a photo further back so we could see the cider tank's gun and tracks...