Sietsema Orchards bites into hard cider market
Sietsema Orchards & Cider Mill is closed for most of the summer, but come fall, its building will be too small to keep up with business.
While Andy Sietsema prepares for the fall busy season, he’s also been busy getting his hard cider rolling.
Sietsema recently signed a distribution deal with Fox Distributing to hit a wider swath of stores and tap handles as the hard cider industry starts to ramp up.
Unlike craft beer, cider makers — and wineries — can distribute their own product, but it will save Sietsema time and labor to contract with another firm.
“I was doing it,” Sietsema said. “Some people are just running a hard cider business, but I’m also trying to run an orchard. I didn’t have the time to do it.”
Apple orchard diversification
The prospect of hard cider seemed like a natural fit for Sietsema Orchards, which has made sweet cider in Ada since 1934.
“We wanted to add diversity to the product line,” Sietsema said.
Currently, the orchard is putting out three kinds in bottles: the sweet Red Label, barrel-aged Orange Label and the traditional dry American cider Yellow Label.
But Sietsema is working on replacing his apple press and soon will be able to churn out about 8,000 gallons of hard cider in a year.
“People are coming around to the drier, real cider,” he said. “Most people are used to the macro-cider, which is sugar and juice concentrate.”
Hard cider market
Sietsema is working — and learning — with hard cider leaders like Virtue Cider’s Greg Hall, Tandem Cider’s Dan Young and Vander Mill’s Paul Vander Heide to help educate consumers on the industry.
“Their view is they don’t want a bottle of crap sitting next to theirs on the shelf,” he said. “It’s funny, though. it’s not the wine community drinking it — it’s the beer. But all the wineries are doing it.”
What will help Sietsema gain some ground in the cider market will be his use of heirloom apples.
Although he’s only planted some test batches, he hopes to plant many more in the near future and likely will get near 120 varieties of apples.
He said apples like the Spitzenburg, which was reportedly Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple, blow Honey Crisp apples out of the water.
By the glass
The orchard also teams up with local chefs to offer special farm-to-table dining.
This Thursday, local restaurant Saburba will hold a crab boil at Sietsema Orchard.
With orchard season coming up, Sietsema Orchards will offer something likely not seen elsewhere in Michigan.
“There’s nothing like this in Michigan, where you can sit down next to the orchard and drink a glass of hard cider,” Sietsema said.