You’re familiar with the term “farm-to-table,” but what about “farm-to-glass?” Thanks to Michigan’s booming craft beverage industry – which includes everything from beer and wine to hard cider and spirits – there’s a new avenue for consumers to enjoy delicious, farm-fresh ingredients.
“Michigan’s craft beverage industry has grown considerably in the past decade,” says Jenelle Jagmin, director of the Craft Beverage Council at the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD). She says the state currently has more than 300 licensed breweries, over 150 wineries that are using mostly Michigan-grown grapes, and several craft distilleries that used more than 1.36 million pounds of Michigan grain and 960,000 pounds of Michigan fruit.
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“There are many craft beverage businesses that prioritize the use of Michigan agriculture,” Jagmin says. “Increasing the amount of Michigan ag and the quality of those inputs is extremely important for the future of our industry.”
She adds that another piece of the puzzle is agritourism, allowing consumers to come and directly connect with the agriculture piece.
“The growth of Michigan’s craft beverage industry would not be possible without the tourism industry,” Jagmin says. “Agritourism is a major economic driver in the state, both to rural and urban communities.”
Alcohol, Apples and Agritourism
Some of the state’s farmers have seen the opportunity for a value-added product through craft beverages. Mike Beck of Uncle John’s Cider Mill in St. Johns is one of those producers who jumped at the chance to expand into the craft beverage world. What began as a wholesale fruit and vegetable farm is now an exciting agritourism destination centered around the farm’s apple orchard, where they use the product to make fresh-pressed cider, pies, breads, preserves and, now, hard cider.
“We started making the hard cider in 2000, even before it gained traction, and we can use 100% of our crop,” Beck says. “It gives us a year-round revenue stream and we’re constantly processing, bottling and canning.”
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Beck adds that with the agritourism aspect of the farm, visitors can see the apples being pressed in front of their eyes, which really makes an impact when they taste the cider.
“Letting people see where their food actually comes from is really important,” he says. “Giving them a connection to the land and the process gives them a little more insight on what a food system is all about.”
Uncle John’s Cider Mill produces several flavors of hard cider, and Beck says that apple and apple blueberry are neck and neck in terms of popularity.
Know Your Maker
Echoing Beck’s statement of giving consumers a connection to the land, Jagmin adds that it’s also important for consumers to know the story behind the producers themselves.
“It’s a great thrill to hear the story behind a product when visiting wineries, breweries, cideries and craft distillers,” she says. “When consumers make a connection with a Michigan-based craft beverage company, our hope is that they also make the connection to the farmer and our beautiful farmland that helps make it possible.”