Since we started this business, Aaron and I have been itching to spend some time in a large-scale cidery to get our hands dirty and have a bit more exposure to the day-to-day operations. We’ve visited countless cideries around the States, but finally got our chance to work a couple weeks ago when we visited Blake’s Hard Cider in Armada, Michigan.
Blake’s Hard Cider is a really great place – a family-owned orchard for decades, one of the sons, Andrew, decided to add hard cider their already bustling business. Not surprisingly, the cider part of the company has grown by leaps and bounds in the first couple of years, and now they’re neck and neck for the largest cidery in Michigan. We reached out to them to see if they might be interested in some weekend day-laborers, and they responded with great interest and warmth. Our trip was planned!
The night before we left, we decided that, instead of getting a hotel nearby, we’d camp out at a local park. It was beautiful, relatively serene, and the price was right ($25/night). We’d definitely do that again – for a weekend spent working, it was nice to also feel like we were on vacation for a few hours each evening.
On Saturday morning, we met up with Rob, their production manager, to learn about the processes involved in running a large-scale cidery. We saw their tanks, canning line, coolers, concrete pads, loading docks, and their expansion plans. After the tour and lots of questions, Rob put us to work labeling and filling bottles.
We did a pretty good job, and cut down the amount of work Rob had to do on a Saturday. They treated us to lunch in their tasting room and let us try a sampling of their house and seasonal ciders (tasting notes: YUM). Spending time in the tasting room was great – it gave us a lot of ideas about the design and function of our soon-to-be tasting room.
We spent Sunday morning talking with Robert, the cidermaker, who cut his teeth in Napa Valley and New Zealand working in wineries. He and Aaron hit it off, and spoke about all things fermentation/yeast/clarity while I chatted with Andrew about the business side of things: staffing, HR compliance, pricing, and distribution.
We headed back to Indy on Sunday afternoon, tired, buzzing with new ideas, and grateful for the generosity of our new friends at Blake’s. If you are in Michigan, seek out some of their cider – it’s great!