Cider hobby turns into business after layoff

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – It took losing his job at the unemployment office to move The Peoples Cider out of Jason Lummen’s kitchen and onto tap handles around town.

Lummen, 33, is busy these days pursing his dream of making and selling craft hard apple cider, a drink surging in sales around not just West Michigan, but across the entire country, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

His product is being carried by area several bars, which have been making space in recent months for the “drink of presidents” – a libation enjoying a renaissance due, in part, to changing tastes sparked by the rising popularity of craft beer.

“I’ve been making cider for 10 years and this has been a pretty active dream for the last five,” said Lummen, a married father who operates the only urban cidery in Grand Rapids.

In May, Lummen moved the small business – the cider world equivalent of a home-brewing craft beer operation – into a rented production space in the Oak Industrial Park in Grand Rapids.

Although he’d been incorporated since 2011, Lummen wasn’t able to devote the necessary time toward the entrepreneurial effort until he was laid off from his cubicle job at the Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency last September.

With time to tinker, Lummen scraped together the money to purchase 10 50-gallon fermentation tanks and a winemaker’s license. This spring, he lucked into the production facility already prepped for a brewery operation that fell through.

“That’s what made this whole dream a reality.”

Lummen said cider, perhaps more than any other fermented beverage, truly encompasses the taste of West Michigan due to the region’s might in apple growing and processing.

The first 1,000-gallon batch out of the new facility has been rotating through six locations around West Michigan.

Lummen self-distributes (allowed for winemakers as an exception to the state’s three-tier alcohol regulation system) in kegs. A bottling line could be on the horizon, he said.

So far, he’s making two varieties: A mainstay dry draft cider at 6.9 percent alcohol by volume, and a high-gravity 13 percent cider currently aging in whiskey barrels.

He’s also making cherry flavored and dry-hopped mead (honey wine) batches, with plans to make a blueberry variation.

“It’s a local product meant to be consumed by local people,” said Lummen, who gets his apple juice from Hill Brothers Orchard in Alpine Township.

Although the venture is still young, Lummen has plans to expand.

He’s currently looking for space in which to open a tasting room in downtown Grand Rapids.

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