That old saying gets a new twist when you travel a short drive north of our capital city to St. Johns and the Fruit House Winery on the beautiful grounds of Uncle John’s Cider Mill. This multiple award-winning winery is a true hidden gem, not just in central Michigan, but in the United States and abroad. Mike Beck, president and chief cider dude has the ultimate dream job. What can be better than making hard cider, brandy and vodka day-in and day-out? In only nine short years Mike has taken a century’s old craft and brought it to his family’s farm and orchards — the same place many of us still remember running around at as kids. Don’t get me wrong, they still have all the attractions that have brought families to Uncle John’s for decades, it’s just now, they have activities for us bigger kids too. A converted barn houses all the critical operations of the winery — a comfortable tasting room, gift shop and the rooms where the magic happens — did I mention the tasting room? It’s behind the scenes where I met Layla, Billy Jean, Angie and Jenny. These aren’t Mike’s employees, but rather the bins where the ciders, brandies and vodkas do that magical thing they do. On the tour Mike lifted one of the bin’s lids — can’t remember who it was — and there sat gallons and gallons of apple brandy giving off the most pleasurable aroma. Nothing ever smelled as good as that bin of brandy. Suddenly I pictured myself sitting next to a fireplace with a fine cigar and a snifter of brandy as my wife made a dinner out of something I hunted or fished. It was then that Mike gently tapped me on the shoulder to continue our tour. That’s the intoxicating power of the brandy. I don’t hunt, fish or smoke and my wife lets me do all the cooking. Besides the ciders, perrys (cider made from pears) and brandy, Mike also distills a high-quality vodka. Distilled from apples (of course) rather than grains, this vodka rivals any premium vodka currently on the market. As Mike explained to me: would you rather drink something that started its journey with grains or with the tastiness of apples? After one sip I threw in with the apples. I invite you to make a visit to a home-grown, Made in Michigan success story. After all, there are not many places where you can enjoy a lunch with some award-winning ciders in beautiful surroundings right in your own backyard. One other thing, if you have kids bring them along as well, they might have as much fun as you. For more info visit www.ujcidermill.com.
Pete Ruffing is the Sales Director at M3 Group in downtown Lansing. He and his wife of 14 years Brenda live in Okemos.