Cider makers come full circle
A 150-year-old family farm in Hudsonville is impetus for new business venture.
Following a year of painstaking renovations, a trio of partners recently pushed out their first two batches of cider.
John Behrens bought his family’s farm to ensure it would stay in the family for a fifth generation, following his grandmother’s death in 2013. Approximately 150 years ago, Behrens’ great-great-grandfather Claus Behrens came to West Michigan and bought 200 acres near Hudsonville. From 1867 to 2012, pieces of the 200 acres were sold off or given away, but the original farmhouse and barns were kept together on a five-acre plot.
“This land has been in my family that entire time,” Behrens said. “My grandma was the last one to live in the house on the property, but it’s not in livable condition at this point.”
Behrens had no idea what was in store when he bought the land; he just wanted to ensure it stayed in the family. Then, he and his two future business partners, Megan Odegaard and Ken Gauld, went on a beer and cider crawl, which gave the trio an idea: starting their own cider company.
“We wanted to do something cool with the property,” Behrens said. “Why not go back to its roots?”
He explained there’s evidence cider was made on the property in the past, and it still has apple trees — likely planted near the time the property was first acquired by his family.
Before the new company, Farmhaus Cider Co., could make any cider, however, the three owners had a lot of work to do. The main barn was in disrepair, so they took it down to the studs, working nights and weekends throughout 2014, including some 16-hour Saturdays.
“We spent the spring, summer and winter restoring the barn, which was leaning six inches,” Odegaard said. “We’ve done all the work ourselves.”
The last time the roof of the barn was repaired was by some neighbors when they were in college and Behrens’ father was using the barn as a place to repair cars. Now those same neighbors have children in college.
“It was his first business, and now it’s John’s first business,” Odegaard said. “He never knew what was going to become of it. Now it’s come full circle.”
In January, Farmhaus was able to produce its first cider, after dozens of sample batches and tastings to find what worked best. With Gauld — an eight-year home cider maker — acting as head cider maker, they settled on two German-style ciders in semi-sweet and dry varieties: Halbitter and Trocken, respectively.
The 20 barrels of cider recently were released into the market.
The ciders can be found in retail locations such as Martha’s Vineyard, Siciliano’s Market, Cherry Hill Market and Harvest Health in Hudsonville, as well as at The Pyramid Scheme.
“Had we picked a ready-to-use commercial space, we would have been in this spot a year ago,” Behrens said.
Then again, without the historic land, it’s unlikely Farmhaus Cider would be in existence.
“It could have been something down the road,” he said. “We’d kicked the idea of a bar around before. But it wasn’t a top-of-the-list thing.”
The most important part of the business is keeping the property “the way it’s supposed to be.”
“We want it to be something where people think they’ve gone back in time,” Odegaard said. “There are parts of the property that have never been touched by machine.”
The property has horse-drawn farm equipment scattered about, as well as collapsed barns where Behrens has found crates of Grand Rapids Brewing Co. bottles, indicating parties of yesteryear.
The first batches are being made from local apples, but Farmhaus will plant more trees on the property in an effort to make it a true estate cider company in the future. This spring, the orchard will host an event where customers can come and sponsor a tree during the planting; right now the trees sell for $95 on the company’s website: farmhauscider.com.
For now, at least, the trio will keep their day jobs — Behrens, 29, and Odegaard, 26, both work in finance, while Gauld, 29, is involved in IT — keeping Farmhaus Cider a hobby business on nights and weekends.
“We all have office jobs so it’s a nice change of pace,” Odegaard said. “You get to work in a natural environment.”
The hobby aspect of Farmhaus Cider means the group hasn’t yet tallied the cost of the project.
“We don’t know — we’re too afraid to add it up,” Behrens said, adding they have several envelopes of receipts to sort through. He said because of hours upon hours of free labor from friends and family, they have saved lots of money.
In the future, the property’s farmhouse might be renovated back to livable standards. For now, though, the main goal is to clean up the property while making cider they want to drink and share with the West Michigan market.
“It’s in a good location but off the beaten path,” Behrens said. “It’s two miles from Grand Valley, down a gravel road.”