GRAND RAPIDS — Vander Mill LLC and Long Road Distillers LLC have struck a partnership to further capitalize on the growing market for craft spirits.
While Grand Rapids-based Vander Mill will continue to focus primarily on its brands of craft hard cider, it ultimately plans to carve out a niche in spirits by offering a handful of apple-based liquors like brandy and vodka.
“I’ve had a long-term view that craft spirits are going to be the thing of the next decade,” Vander Mill CEO Paul Vander Heide told MiBiz. “If you go to almost any bar or restaurant, regardless of the experience, they’re selling the spirit market that is almost exclusively dominated by these big brands. … When you look at that market, there is such a big opportunity to bring more personality and story line to craft spirits, just like with beer and cider.”
The two companies plan to co-develop an apple brandy using Vander Mill’s apples that “will become a more widespread brand for both of us,” Vander Heide said.
Vander Mill also plans to offer an apple vodka in the coming months.
While Vander Mill intends to sell its spirits through the taproom for the time being, the company hasn’t ruled out distribution in the future, Vander Heide said.
For Long Road, the partnership also will provide a large volume of fermented cider as a feedstock for expanding its existing brandy program, something the company has struggled to secure in the past, said co-owner Kyle Van Strien.
“That’s been a challenge for us,” Van Strien said of Long Road’s ability to source enough raw material to establish a brandy program. “Our 8,000 pounds of cherries that we fermented last year only yielded 325 pints. There’s no way we can distribute that on a large scale and we don’t have the fermentation capacity to get the yields that we need to make a big splash in the market unless we’re partnering with someone who has that fermentation capacity and expertise in fruit fermentation. … (Vander Mill) is at a scale where we can work with them and produce what we need to to get things out to market.”
Vander Mill announced its partnership during an event this evening, where it also rolled out plans to expand its brunch menu, an initiative it had experimented with over the past month.
In the short term, Vander Mill will offer a number of cider-based cocktails featuring its spirits on draft at its taproom in Grand Rapids, as it works to develop the brandy program with Long Road. At its tap room, it also will sell 750 milliliter bottles of spirits, distilled by Long Road under the Vander Mill brand.
“This allows us to expand our tap room (but) we are not intending to turn into a full bar experience,” Vander Heide said. “When people come here, they’re not going to see a line up of spirits behind the bar. We’re not going to have tons of mixers. We want to leverage cider and make some very unique cocktails that feature craft spirits and our ciders.”