Those of you who know me know that I like planning things in advance. So when I was only told the night before what the plans would be for the weekend I turned 25 , I gasped with excitement and relief, and ran into my room to pack! We were headed to Grand Rapids for the weekend, and we would be leaving first thing in the morning!I awoke on the morning of my 25th to coffee, gluten-free donuts, and prezzies. Shortly after, we threw on our coats, grabbed our bags and hit the road!For my fellow gluten-free friends- these are ADDICTING- Brett and I had to fight for who got to hold the bag.The plan was to head straight to Vander Mill for the 2:30pm tasting and then check into the hotel after.We pulled in with 15 minutes to spare and quickly ran in to join the tour that was about to begin.When you enter Vander Mill Cidery, you first see a bar, eating area and gift shop- once you head down the stairs, you see where all the magic happens.We were greeted by the group and each handed a glass of cider- The first one they ever made- the Hard Apple, poured straight from their custom tap, check it out:This tap was made from the old system that no longer passes code for production, but it does made a very cool tap for their ciders!The tour starts with a little Vander Mill family history, and another cider pour before you head further into the facility to checkout their cider making process.First stop are the cider tanks, in 3 different sizes- which house all of the cider in the facility.I caught a snap of the smallest tanks in my photo of the Vander Mill logo- these small tanks are left for specialty brews, seasonal ciders that don’t go into mass distribution.There’s a suspended balcony that looks over the cidery, attached to the bar and restaurant upstairs. Talk about a venue with a view.The tour takes a stop at their nut roasting machine- where they personally roast each and every pecan that goes into that giant blue bin on the right. From there, their Totally Roasted cider is concocted. We were allowed to scoop a spoonful of pecans straight from the bin to try, before being poured our very own taste of Totally Roasted. Heading over to their filtration system, (the Totally Roasted growler coming along with us) we’re told that their filtration system is more advanced and impressive than the filters used to treat our water! After the cider is filtered, it’s either kegged or canned on their line.The next room is filled to the brim with cider-ready to be shipped to cider sippers everywhere!Over in the back they have specialty ciders aging in different barrels (NOTE: Puff The Magic Cyser and Cyser Van Doom are aged in beer barrels- making them NOT safe for celiacs/Gluten allergies) and of course- a basketball court, for settling arguments. Before our tour ended we had the opportunity to walk around and take pictures. Naturally- I got curious…And insisted on checking out the top of the ladder!#bloggerlyfeeeThoroughly pleased with myself- we headed back down to chat with our guide and taste a few more ciders- including a bourbon barrel aged Totally Roasted. It was to die for! This right here is Loving Cup- which had notes of pink peppercorn and hibiscus. It was delicious. After the tour we headed up to grab some grub (we’d skipped lunch and I was famished).While the restaurant doesn’t have any true gluten free items or substitutes- they really want to work with anyone who has an allergy to provide them a safe and tasty snack. We went with the hummus plate but instead of bread, we asked for veggies- and truly I think they outdid themselves! That bacon onion jam? Dear lord- when I die, bury me with some. It paired really nicely with their L.L.C.B. (L.L. Cool Bayes) cider.After one last cider (I couldn’t NOT try the totally roasted NITRO!) we thanked our guide, packed up our goodies (you get to keep the cups from the tour) and headed off to check in to the hotel. I think we were a tad spoiled with our view from our room… what do you think?I was thoroughly impressed with the Hilton Amway- our room was immaculate and spacious, even the bathroom was sleek! BONUS: They even had a gluten-free option annotated on their room service breakfast menu! Feeling a little like exploring, we ventured out along the river to catch the sunset. This is Brett’s best action shot-Before heading back, we checked out the pool/spa- tell me this isn’t the coolest hotel pool ever??Since I don’t go more than four hours without eating, we felt it was time for some snacks, and some bubbly!Brett had packed us some cheese, salami, gluten-free crackers, and had picked out a nice bottle of champagne to celebrate the occasion.Our particular bottle came with two flutes- how perfect!For the sake of #roomservice, Brett happily posed for a snap of our order- YES! They had a gluten-free beer available on the room service menu! Noticing the time, we quickly changed and hopped in an uber to dinner, only to be interrupted by Trump protestors blocking the road! We hopped out and walked the rest of the way to San Chez Bistro- a Tapas place that had an extensive gluten-free menu. This place was packed- and we know why- just look at this meat and cheese plate- complete with gluten-free garlic toast!Our second course was grilled artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, and garlic aoli. These were DIVINE.I didn’t snap our final course because it wasn’t all that tasty, which was a bummer because I love beef tenderloin but felt ours was overcooked. This dessert though, who knew sweet potato could be so creamy? Paired with toasted marshmallow and caramel ice cream? I just sat back and sighed with satisfaction.After dinner we went back to the hotel and drifted off to sleep, with artichokes and bacon onion jam amongst our dreams. But don’t you worry- we awoke the next morning hungry and ready for more.A quick check of the Find Me Gluten Free App pointed us towards Noble, a breakfast diner about five miles away that had gluten-free biscuits and gravy on the menu- that was pretty much all we needed to hear.We waited outside for about 30 minutes, which we didn’t mind as it was gorgeous out, and it gave us time to make decisions. As soon as we sat down we ordered two coffees and the gluten-free coffee cake, topped with chopped pecans. Uh huh, look at it. It was gone in two minutes. Our second course arrived, the salmon benny for me, The waffle breakfast sandwich for Brett. Both 100% safely gluten-free. (They use separate grills and everything)What had we gotten ourselves into??Yes Brett, we DID order one more item…Alas, the gluten-free biscuits and gravy. Yes they’re ugly, and YES, they were worth every calorie.This close up is for all my fellow foodies:Oopmh. We rolled ourselves to the car and headed about 40 mins away to our final stop on our trip: Virtue Cider.Virtue couldn’t be more different from Vander Mill in terms of atmosphere. Vander Mill just built their Grand Rapids facility, rehabbing an old beer distributors space.Virtue feels like you’ve stepped onto a farm in France. And its legitimately in the MIDDLE of nowhere. I loved it.Outside they have an area where you can play bags, and walk the gardens, but where you want to start is the tasting room.As soon as you walk in you see barrels upon barrels of cider, aging and just hanging out. You walk through the gift shop towards the bar and snag a spot at one of the tasting tables to checkout the menu. Throughout the tour you end up tasting around eight different ciders, starting with their Michigan Brut- a warm up, if you will. We happened to be the only people on this tour! Which made us feel way cooler than we were. First stop? The press!Our tour guide knew absolutely everything about the cider making process, so we grilled her on this contraption. That accordion looking thing is what presses every apple in Vitrue cider. Nifty eh?The juice is whisked away into their filters while the pomace is given to a farm down the road for feed, and to anyone else who wants it.After another pour, this time the Lapinette, we headed outside to visit some special residents of the farm.What you’er about to see might make you squeal…Pigs! Otherwise known as Vitrue’s au naturale fertilizer. Their diet, you ask? Apples, and the occasional pumpkin.This may or may not have been my favorite part of the tour. Yes I fed them. Across the gravel path, we headed into the other building to see where the cider ferments.After our tour, our guide took us to visit the farm event planner’s goats! (Natural weed-wackers) they were adorable. Before we left, we made sure to grab two ciders to take home with us, along with cheese curds and pickles, which we 100% ate in the car on the way back.We arrived back home feeling truly lucky to have had our weekend away in Grand Rapids. The two ciders we took home from Virtue were the Lapinette, (funky farm fresh aroma, not too sweet) and the Mitten, (just damn good cider). From Vander Mill, we brought home Chapman’s Blend, a limited release that features apple varieties that have been around since the beginning of cider making. Brett brought back two of the beer barrel ciders, I’ll update this post when he gives me his thoughts.
Both of our cider mill tours were incredible, I learned a lot, tasted a ton, and truly felt like I got the full cider mill experience.
If you want to checkout Vander Mill’s tour click here (It’s FREE!!!)
If you want to checkout Vitrue’s tour click here ($15/person)
Want to stay where we stayed? The Hilton Amway was one of the most special places I’ve ever had the pleasure visiting.
Are you a Tapas lover? San Chez doesn’t just cater to gluten allergies, checkout all their allergy menus here and make a rez here.
An extra special shout out to Brett, who planned this flawless weekend without me having a clue! You made turning 25 an absolute pleasure, and a weekend I’ll never forget. Love you <3 And to all my friends who called, texted, and made sure I knew I was loved- you know who you are!
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