It’s the temperature drop for me, the slow, steady fall into night and the allure of cozy fireplace cuddles. Fall is just around the corner, and people are gearing up for the festivities. The only catch this year is that COVID is a threat to humanity, so, yeah, our selections are limited.
During a normal season, I usually kick it with some friends, bar hop, laugh, hug, dance and drink. This year, I’m trying to be more mindful, socially distance and still drink. Drinking is essential. Recently, I discovered that people are fleeing to cider mills to fulfill all their fall fantasies. Unbeknownst to me, some mills now have tasting rooms, hard ciders and full menus.
This is different from what I remember of cider mills. Whenever I think of cider mills, I remember the jiving and screaming of a yellow school bus, kids with sticky coated molars and dilated pupils caused by caramel apples and cinnamon donuts, delirious, directionless running in a field, tripping over fallen apples. It was definitely a vibe.
This year, I decided to delve more into this adult version of cider mill culture. After a few hours of research, I found the one mill that spoke to my alcohol-fueled spirit. “We feature all of our beers and ciders created on our property. It’s 30-plus rotating taps,” says Jasmine Kesemeyer, manager of the tasting room at Blake’s Orchard & Cider Mill in Armada. “It’s right next to our cider mill and produce, so we utilize our farming to create salads, burgers and sandwiches.”
The 75-year-old mill is well known throughout Michigan and open year around. Along with the room’s rotating taps, they offer a full menu of items ranging from shareables to entrees. Unlike many operations during the pandemic, they did not slow down – instead, this pandemic delivered creative opportunities.
“Our numbers have increased dramatically considering, I think, a lot more people are adventuring in what they drink,” says Kesemeyer. “And we are coming up with a bunch of brand-new products that people are loving. We just launched our caramel apple cider. That’s been a crazy seller. And our Apple Lantern just hit the selves as well, which is like a pumpkin spice-based cider.”
The caramel apple cider is what’s piquing my interest. Not only are they brewing new flavors, but they are doing so in compliance with COVID restrictions. “We opened an outside tap house just so people can just walk up, get a beverage, walk around the orchard, sit in the grass or sit at the picnic table,” says Kesemeyer. Enjoy live music from 6-9 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. She says, “It’s a really fun experience.”
In addition to varying sitting options and experiences, guests can be assured that Blake’s tasting room is following other precautions to keep their staff and patrons safe, which include:
- Ample spacing between tables
- Requiring that masks be worn at all times, except for while seated at tables
- Disposable dinnerware
- Disposable menus
- Sanitization between each guest
- Cleaning of high-touch areas multiple times a day
- Plexiglass dividers for cashier areas
- Hand sanitizers on all tables, and at each entrance and exit
While this is not the comfort of an intimate, busy house party, it does offer an opportunity to create safe and new fall traditions with friends, partners and family. What’s even better is that there are 800 acres of land, fresh air, entertainment and copious amounts of alcohol. Honestly, this sounds more and more like an exclusive weekend getaway.
Blake’s tasting room is open Sunday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Their nursery, Blake’s Backyard in Almont, has a tap room open Thursday through Sunday.