People's Cider Co. bites into Grand Rapids
Jason Lummen makes cider in an unassuming spot.
Instead of an orchard, he set up shop in a small industrial park on in northeast Grand Rapids — on Maryland Street NE, between Leonard and Michigan streets.
It’s a small room, packed with 10 200-liter tanks and five wooden barrels where his ciders ferment for months.
Lummen’s People’s Cider Co. joins a growing West Michigan cider market, with cider makers such as Spring Lake’s Vander Mill and national upstart Virtue Cider.
Lummen said People’s Cider Co. will only distribute in the Grand Rapids city limits, including Harmony Brewing Co., Peppino’s Pizza and HopCat.
He has also recently signed a lease for a space downtown on Jefferson Avenue SE, next to Bartertown Diner.
Lummen calls it “an urban winery and tasting room” and plans to open it in early 2014 to coincide with the 2013 harvest.
Cider that “isn’t good”
Much of the cider industry’s recent boom — it grew nearly 100 percent in 2012 — is led by the craft beer buzz that has taken Grand Rapids by storm, but it comes with a stigma.
“There’s this perception that the people who drink cider don’t like beer,” Lummen said. “Beer drinkers will come around to it. It’s just the cider they’re drinking now isn’t good.”
It’s not a knock on most of the ciders on the market.
Most makers are aiming toward the crowd that is trying to find a beer alternative, so they tend to be sweet. The cider culture in the United States still is immature and unaware of the possibilities that lie in the drink.
Lummen realized those possibilities in two revelations.
“You can do anything with cider”
One was a study abroad trip through Grand Valley State University to the United Kingdom, where he saw the cider movement.
“They have an awesome cider culture,” he said. “There are so many cool ciders. Every bar has at least two or three ciders on tap. They drink it like light beer.”
He also began making cider with his father-in-law — an avid homebrewer — who makes cider every year.
He makes 30 gallons of potent cider and showed Lummen cider can be as strong or as flavorful as one wishes.
“You can do anything with cider,” he said. “There are a lot of possibilities in the creativity you can take with cider.”
“A piece of the cider market”
With cider riding the wave behind craft beer and big brewing companies picking up the movement instead of trying to stop it, much of the consumer education is already in progress.
That means the cider makers can just focus on making cider, and consumers will figure out the rest.
Lummen feels he’s simply getting into the business at the right time, not that he’s on the cutting edge or even doing anything unique.
But unlike many established cider makers, he’s taking a craft approach to cider and will do different things with his product.
“I’m just trying to get a piece of the cider market,” he said. “If you’re doing sweet ciders, you’re just competing with everyone else.”
It helps that Lummen also is a brewer, but he thought it’d be more fun to make cider for a living: not to mention the fact the overhead to start a cider-making business is exponentially cheaper than a brewing operation, and there’s a hole in the Grand Rapids brewing community.
“I never could have started a brewery with what I started this for,” he said. “Even a one-barrel system would have broken the bank.”
Cider, though, is greatly dominated by the state of the apple crop.
In that sense, cider making is seasonal and can have huge variances in production price.
“There’s not the profit margin there can be in beer, especially because people expect beer price,” Lummen said, explaining the cost to make cider is similar to wine.
It’s seasonal based on the fruit, and it takes months to make, as opposed to beer, which takes weeks.
Last season was bad for apples, and the season that usually lasts from November to May only lasted to January.
He gets his apple cider from Hills Brothers Orchard.
This year, Lummen said the apple crop is expected to go “bananas.”
“It really ties you to the agriculture industry,” he said.
But that tie is good, especially with the current local food and beverage movements sweeping the region.
“We’re all trying to do all-Michigan beers, but that’s in its infancy,” Lummen said. “But we’re such a massive apple-growing region. If I can’t get something near here, I can still get it in Michigan.”