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Chicago Brewmaster Makes Fennville Home

Posted at 4:55 PM, Mar 12, 2013
and last updated 2013-06-25 11:17:52-04

FENNVILLE – In our quest to find interesting and exciting West Michigan Stories, Allegan County seemed to be the perfect location for this week. While many of our other stories have highlighted some type of history or person, this story focuses on the newest business to enter the area.

Virtue Cider erected an 8,000 square foot facility just outside the Fennville city limits back in December. It wasn’t long after that 20 year Chicago native and brewmaster Gregory Hall got the operation up and running. Hall had been vacationing with his family in and around the Fennville area for more than 30 years and was already familiar with the area. He knew it was the perfect place to build and operate a hard cider plant. He was one of the founders and operators of Goose Island Brewery in Chicago that eventually grew to capacity before selling off to Anheuser Busch.

Since Michigan is known for growing some of the finest apples in the country, locating a hard cider plant here was perhaps the easy part. If you’re unfamiliar with it, manufacturing hard cider is different that beer. Hard cider uses the juice from apples and yeast mixed together fermented for a certain amount of time. Beer requires water, yeast, and heating it. You can literally get hundreds of different flavors of hard cider by changing the temperature during fermentation, the type of yeast used, the type of barrel used for packaging after fermentation, and the type of apple used and what stage it was picked.

Founder Gregory Hall says  “cider has grown about 80 percent year over year right now. You go to a good liquor store and they might have 5,000 wines, 1,000 beers, and 500 whiskies, and half a dozen ciders. So there’s a lot of opportunity for the
Michigan cider makers to get some more distribution out there.”

All the apples are purchased locally to support the Michigan economy, with the exception of last year’s crop, most of which was lost due to an early fruit budding and a late season frost. The apples are pressed for juice in the fall, then the juice is transferred to 22 large stainless steel tanks where yeast is added and fermentation begins. Each tank holds 2,000 gallons and the facility can produce about 200,000 gallons each year. After a few months, the hard cider is pumped in to various wooden barrels (mainly oak) and fermented a bit longer. Each barrel holds about 60 gallons and is worth around eight thousand dollars.

It’s important to note if you’re a hard cider fan, Virtue Cider doesn’t produce bottles or cans of their product. It will be available only by draft, on tap at your favorite bar and restaurant beginning April first. The facility has already produced two flavors of hard cider called Lapinette and Red Streak. The goal is to manufacture about 12 flavors each year! Click here for their website. Click here for their Facebook page.