Brewery of the Month: Virtue Cider
Greg Hall, who spent many years as the brewmaster of Goose Island Brewing Co. in Chicago, parted ways with them after the brewery was acquired by AB-Inbev in a landmark acquisition in 2011. An idea had been simmering for nearly 10 years, and he never got to see it through until the separation provided the opportunity to embrace his long-desired dream, which began in England in 2000.
The purpose of the trip was to visit breweries, but the biggest influence on him was actually a trip to a local pub that happened to be putting on a Cider Fest, featuring approximately 40 ciders from around the country.
“I thought all ciders were the same, kind of like Europeans thought about American beer for a long time,” Hall said. “But they were all different. Some were dry, some were tart, some were sour, some were sweet or really barnyard-y, like Belgians, and we were just blown away. In 2011, when we sold the company and I decided to leave, I knew exactly what I wanted to do – get into the craft cider world, and make European farmhouse-type ciders.”
Hall had been vacationing to South Haven and Saugatuck ever since the early '80s with his family, so Fennville was a natural choice for where to place his cidery. The tasting room is warm and features tasting, pints and bottles to go, or you could take a tour of the facility.
“The star of the cider is the apple, the fermentation, and that they're aged in a barrel,” Hall said. “If you go over to England and France and Spain, the three great cider cultures – everything is made from apples rather than concentrate. Many are fermented with native yeast rather than dry yeast, and pretty much everything is aged in a barrel. We wanted to recreate that kind of cider-making here in America.”
Virtue's flagship cider is called Red Streak, a bright English dry cider aged in American oak barrels. The cider is fermented on multiple yeast strains and the finished product features an intense barrel presence. The other brands are released throughout the year when they are ready, including The Mitten, a bourbon barrel-aged cider; The Ledbury, an English Medium cider collaboration with Tom Oliver; Lapinette, a Norman-Style Brut aged in French oak barrels; and Sidra De Nava, a tart, lemony Spanish-style cider. Other brands include Percheron, fermented with wild yeast and aged in used wine barrels, and Cidre Nouveau (NOV.), a young sparkling cider. All brands are available on draft and in bottle (except for Red Streak).
“Cider is by far the fastest growing segment in adult beverage right now, and it's exciting to be part of that,” Hall said. “What's especially exciting is, we think the best apples in the country come from Michigan, and what we're trying to do is promote Western Michigan as a cider coast. Almost like the Napa Valley of the cider world – we've got great apples.”
Virtue has already been through some aggressive expansion, constructing two cider houses within its first year, as well as packaging and distributing extensively. As Virtue looks to the future, things are looking up.
“I think we offer people a completely different experience,” Hall said. “We feel like cider is the most agricultural of all the adult beverages. We are buying apples from neighbors, and whether you visit in the spring summer or fall, you can taste cider directly from the barrel. It's almost like France, when you visit our cider house. Transported to a different time and different place.”
BEER OF THE MONTH: ROUND BARN WOOD AGED IPA
Not many people offer a barrel-aged IPA, and Round Barn is one of the few. This IPA pours a beautiful copper with a bright, white head that smells of light malt complexity, bright grassy and herbal hop notes and some light, earthy oak. This medium-bodied IPA features a huge hop presence full of floral and perfume-y hops alongside a moderate barrel presence, presenting a well-balanced, flavorful brew. The finish is dry and full of subtle tones of green herbs and oak.
The Michigan Wine & Beer Fest takes place at Michigan International Speedway on May 10. For tickets and more info, visit mispeedway.com.
American Craft Beer Week features events and specials all over May 12 through 18.
The World Expo of Beer in Frankenmuth is Michigan's largest international beer event. It features more than 150 beers, live music, food and judging competition. The expo happens May 16-17.
The 9th Annual Beer & Brat Fest happens May 24 at Crystal Mountain. Enjoy craft beer, wine, cider and mead along with some of the best craft Bratwurst the region has to offer.