An evolving organic cidery, made on the farm
“Return to Almar” sounds like a romantic novel’s title, but instead it refers to Almar Orchards in Flushing, Michigan where they make organic hard ciders.
Back in 2013 we stumbled across JK’s Organic Scrumpy, produced by JK’s Farmhouse Ciders (and loved it), and are revisiting as part of our Made On The Farm series to see what has changed.
A lot, as it turns out.
A teacher by education and training, Jim Koan learned a lot from his ancestors, particularly how to raise crops without spending money on farm chemicals. He joined the farming operation full-time in 1978, and by the 1980s became a local pioneer in organic principles, converting the orchard and farming operation to organic management.
For example, he lets his pigs eat fallen apples under the trees, eliminating habitat for a hard-to-control but ubiquitous fruit tree pest.
Bruce Wright, who works with the orchards, has plenty of admiration for the Koans, and Jim in particular. “Jim is now in his mid-70s works 60-plus hour weeks. His arms are sunburned, his hands are all callused and not an ounce of fat on him. He works harder than a gaggle of millennials. He is happy.”
With 300 acres in the farm, he is also busy, raising about 150 acres of fruit, evenly divided between organic apple and pear orchards. Jim and his wife Karen work with their son Zack and daughter Monique Lapinski to continue the organic operation.
The orchard is believed to be the oldest business in Genesee County. Jim’s father Albert Junior sold apples, worked at other farms, and worked as a plumber in the Flushing area. Albert Junior and his wife Mary are the namesakes of Almar Orchards.
New ideas, new products
With the previously unanticipated growth in hard cider’s popularity, the past decade has seen new beverages join the product line. The farm has invested in new equipment and come up with several new products.
Bruce Wright is glad to see more efficient equipment on the farm, but one thing hasn’t changed—they way they produce cider. “We have invested in new equipment but still do things the same traditional way. Grow them, crush them, and slowly ferment.”
JK’s Organic Scrumpy was the original hard cider produced by Jim Koan. Once available only as a make-you-happy 22-ounce bottle, it has been joined by different packaging options, including standard 10 ounce bottle and a 16-ounce can. (A 20-liter draft keg is also available for the very thirsty.)
Winterruption spiced farmhouse cider and Northern Neighbour were still relatively new in 2013. Winterruption is lightly spiced with cinnamon, vanilla and maple syrup. Northern Neighbour is a blend of Michigan Apples and Saskatoon berries from Saskatchewan. Saskatoon berries are a pomme fruit cousin of apples—also called the serviceberry.
Honeycrisp Haze, is from a single varietal, the Honeycrisp apple. It is a dry and unfiltered cider produced with only the native yeast on the skin. It produces a hazy cider that highlights natural acids and tannins for a clean, dry finish.
You know that zing in your mouth from biting into an almost-ready apple fresh from the orchard? Smackin’ Mac is another single varietal hard cider, produced from slightly green McIntosh apples along with those at peak ripeness to produce a perfectly balanced sweet and zingy flavor.
Michigan is famous for its cherries, and Traverse City Cherry pays its respects to that heritage by blending tart cherries with Koan’s apple cider for a balanced cider.
A “perry” is the pear-based version of apple cider. The Pair Perry blends these two botanically similar but uniquely different fruits. The result is a sweet, almost nectar-like drink sporting waves of tiny bubbles.
The delicious paw paw may be ‘America’s forgotten fruit,’ but the Koans found it pairs deliciously with their hard cider. Patriotic Paw Paw blends the creamy, tropical paw paw with their Scrumpy, a little blood orange, and basil to create a cocktail-like complexity of flavors.
A switch to switchel
All the ciders above are “hard” but a refreshing non-alcoholic beverage is making a comeback—switchel. Switchel historically is a blend of vinegar, water, honey, and perhaps some ginger. Served cold, it is surprisingly refreshing on hot summer days.
Bruce Wright explains its origin on the farm: “We had a bad batch of cider so we converted it to vinegar and made switchel. It has a bit of a cult following. I drink one every morning.”
Haybaler Original Switchel combines Almar Orchards apple cider vinegar, organic honey, and organic ginger root juice.
Haybaler Moose Berry takes all the Haybaler goodness and adds Saskatoon berries’ fruity flavor to the party.
Haybaler Cherry takes switchel a step further with extra sweet honey balanced by tart cherry.
Then there is the “evil child” of the switchels, Haybaler Cayenne. Yes, they take refreshing and energizing switchel and turn the volume up to eleven by adding spicy cayenne. They say it’s unforgettable.
Unlike a dozen years ago, visitors can now enjoy a full shopping experience, treating yourself to cider tastings, apple cider donuts, and taking home farm-made apple cider vinegar, apple blossom honey, and other products made on the farm.
Every October, Almar Orchards puts on the Scrumpy Skedaddle 5k and 10k runs, which draws hundreds of runners and joggers, who traipse along a mix of orchard paths and dirt roads. If you go, plan on spending the entire day at the orchard.
For more information:
Visit the farm: almar-orchards.com
JKs Farmhouse Ciders: jksfarmhouseciders.com
Find a distributor here: jksfarmhouseciders.com/distributor
The Scrumpy Skedaddle: runscrumpy.com