Blake’s Ciderhouse & Winery
J goes to a lot of breweries with me. I mean, a lot of breweries. It’s typically alright though because most of them have a.) something she will drink and b.) incredible food. Still, wouldn’t it be great if there was a place like a brewery with her drink of choice? Whadya know? There actually is.
J fell in love with Blake’s Hard Cider the first time she picked up a bottle from Costco. Not only is it delicious cider, but they have a number of unique varieties so she always has something new to try. It’s kind like breweries with all their experimenting and throwing in everything but the kitchen sink. Blake’s does a lot of that with their ciders too.
The bad news? Blake’s Orchard is on the other side of the state. Almost three hours from Kalamazoo. We have two little ones who don’t always travel well in the car, so in order for us to make the trip, we would need a plan. We’d need a hotel and something for the kids to do. Luckily, I had both lined up.
We set out on the three hour trip to Armada a little before 10:00 on Friday morning. We had no idea what we were getting in to and both of us had our fingers crossed that this wouldn’t be a disappointing trip. We both like Blake’s Hard Cider and if the Ciderhouse didn’t live up to our expectations, it could ruin the drink for us.
We pulled in to Blake’s Orchard and Cider Mill just before 1:00. We actually had a pretty smooth trip with only one stop and no real issues in the car. We had no idea that Blake’s Orchard was a big destination. It’s a lot like Gull Meadow Farms in Richland. They have a lot of U-Pick options plus a bakery, cafe, and a Barnyard Funland with attractions that weren’t open yet. It’s a huge operation on a farm that’s been around for 69 years.
We parked in the huge gravel parking lot and got everybody out of the car. There are several buildings on the property that aren’t marked particularly well from a distance. I noticed an archway that said Ciderhouse & Winery and assumed the building framed up behind it was where we wanted to go.
Blake’s starting producing hard cider in 2013. They use ingredients that they grow on their farm and currently make 19 varieties of hard cider. The production facility is on their property behind the taproom and can produce about 500,000 gallons of delicious.
We made the right choice when it came to the building. The Ciderhouse & Winery is located behind the main building on the farm. It’s a large building covered in green wood siding and large paver stones.
They went for a rustic look on the outside and carried it inside with a lot of wood on both the ceilings and the floors. The walls are lined with wood shelves featuring the cider and wines Blake’s makes. There’s a fire pit in the middle of the room and the tables are made out of wine barrels.
Tables made out of wine barrels. That is seriously one of the coolest features of the design. The tables wrap around the barrel about a foot or so from the top then the top of the barrel is used as another tabletop to store the drink menu, silverware, and napkins.
We waited at the hostess stand for a few minutes before the bartender noticed us and told us to sit where ever we’d like. She followed us with a high chair and food menus. It appeared she was the only waitress for the entire restaurant and, even though it was a Friday after the lunch rush, the restaurant was pretty busy.
J grabbed the drink menu right away and was already trying to figure out her plan of attack. She wanted to do a flight. The way Blake’s does flights is three selections and the glass is filled halfway. The portions are much bigger than the typical beer flight, but you don’t get to try as much either.
She chose three ciders off the seasonal board which is on an LCD screen next to the bar. All three were options we couldn’t get on the west side of the state including one that I had been wanting to try.
Black Phillip. I’ve been looking for this in cans for quite a while, but haven’t seen any over here. I was glad J chose this one because then I could choose something else and still get a sip of it. Black Phillip is a semi-sweet cider that has been infused with cranberries and blood orange. J pointed out the blood orange wasn’t as pronounced as she assumed it would be and the cranberries really dominated the flavor. The cider definitely had a tartness to it but was still very palatable. Now that I’ve tried it, I don’t have to look as desperately, but I would probably still pick up a six pack if I found them.
The second cider was Aurora. Again, this one is bottled, but we haven’t seen it on this side of the state. This cider is made with peach, rosemary, and lemon. I didn’t really get a pronounced taste from any of those add-ins and the cider came off a little too dry for me….but I don’t like dry wine either so that’s not a huge surprise.
The third cider was The Diva. This one was J’s favorite. It was a very sweet cider that was flavored with pomegranate. I actually enjoyed this one too, but can’t handle that much sweetness in a cider. J however, savored this one and left it for last. It hasn’t shown up in distribution yet (that I’m aware of), but I think this is one we’d be buying a lot of it. It was J’s favorite of the lot.
While I enjoy Hard Cider, I’d rather drink beer if it’s available and, whadya know? It was. Blake’s actually makes a couple of their own beers as well. They had a witbier and a farmhouse on tap. I went with Blake’s Farmhouse Ale. It’s listed as a Brown Ale on untappd, but it seemed much lighter than that to me. I thought it was much more lager-y, but still had some bitterness and some maltiness to it. It went down pretty easily. I had to slow myself down because we didn’t have any food left and I was zipping through my beer.
We actually got L something besides water at a restaurant. No surprise, we got her an apple cider. I mean, we’re at an apple farm. The cider is served in a to-go coffee cup which L thought was really cool. While Blake’s Cidermill and Orchard is a family friendly tourist destination, the Ciderhouse & Winery really isn’t. They have high chairs, but no kids menu. At first, we just thought the coffee cup was a cool idea then realized it was probably out of necessity because they don’t have cups with lids for kids.
We decided if we were going to drive three hours for a meal, we were really going to do it up. This was a treat for momma. Something she had really wanted to do and she doesn’t get to do a lot for herself right now. She asked me if I wanted an appetizer and how could I say no to cheese curds?
The white cheddar cheese curds are hand battered and deep fried to a light golden brown. There is a huge portion and the three of us made short work of the basket. The fried cheese had a very pronounced batter taste. Not sure if they use cider or their beer or what, but it was delicious and not a typical, run-of-the-mill batter with no flavor. The curds served with a side of jalapeno ranch which is deceivingly hot. I don’t really like ranch so I didn’t try but J kind of pushed me to. It was nice and spicy…too bad it was in ranch and not a bleu cheese sauce or something.
The menu is fairly small consisting of a lot of appetizers (there’s more we should have tried), salads, flatbreads, BBQ ribs, and some sandwiches. Seeing as there is no kids menu, I decided to order something I could split with L. She hasn’t been a great eater of late anyway, so I didn’t want to order her an entire entree that would go to waste.
I chose the Chicken Tenders which I upgraded to the meal with fries and kale slaw. The meal was four large pieces of white meat chicken in a golden brown breading. I actually kind of wish they had used the batter from the cheese curds. The breaded fried chicken was still delicious. They big, juicy pieces of white meat snuggled in to a crispy, golden breading. I tore one of them up of L and gave her some of my fries. She ate as much as I figured she would. I actually gave some to B as well and he was really in to it. As for me, I found them very delicious. There was a small cup of a hard cider infused BBQ sauce that wasn’t needed. I still used some of it because the sauce itself was so delicious, but the chicken was delicious on it’s own.
My meal came with regular french fries. There was a very large portion of skin-on thin cut fries that had just a little salt dusting on them. Again, good on their own, but better with the BBQ sauce.
J saw the Armada Pulled Pork Flatbread Sandwich on the menu and couldn’t pass it up. This amazing sandwich consisted of pulled pork, a house made BBQ sauce, Swiss cheese, and an apple kale slaw. It was served on a warm flatbread that is folded around the sandwich. I don’t know if the pork is smoked or even roasted in house, but it was very tender and delicious. It was covered in a thick, sweet, and smokey BBQ sauce so that always steers me towards roasted pork. It didn’t really matter. The pork was so good in the thick sauce. The flatbread was very warm and tender as well. It didn’t take much effort to bite through what was actually a pretty thick sandwich by the time you folded over the bread and stuffed it with all of the fresh ingredients. It’s safe to say J has no regrets from ordering this sandwich.
To finish things off, J suggested dessert. I was pretty stuffed, but went along with it because what she wanted sounded so dang good.
We ordered the Funnel Fries. It’s funny because we passed a carnival on the highway on our way to Armada and J joked about trying to flag them down to get fair food. The Funnel Fries were fair food, but soooooo much better. The basket consisted of a large portion of fried funnel cake dough in stick form topped with a caramel sauce and fresh raspberries. I was really only expecting a few, but there was enough to feed the entire restaurant. The “fries” tasted just like being at the county fair only classed up with a delicious, warm caramel topping.
Before asking for the check, we added in some to-go items as well. J grabbed three bombers of cider that we haven’t seen on the west side. She picked up Snap Dragon, Blake’s Cyser, and Wisteria. If you drink as much Blake’s as she does, she should probably have a Blake’s pint glass. We didn’t see any on display anywhere…so we asked if we could buy one of them as well. The bartender said she’d go grab a new one out of the back and sold it for $5.
In total, all that food, all that drink, and all those bottles to go, our bill came out to just over $90 before tip. We knew it was going to be an expensive meal, but as I said earlier, this was a trip for J. I’ve had some nights to myself and usually get a few hours after the kids go to bed on weekends, but J has kids attached to her almost every minute she’s at home. This is a trip she has been wanting to take for a long time and I’m so happy we finally decided to do it.
Blake’s Ciderhouse & Winery is 100% absolutely worth the three hour drive to Armada from Kalamazoo. We could not have been happier with every single thing that was set down in front of us. The food was amazing. The cider was amazing. Heck, even the beer was pretty darn good. We were fans of Blake’s Hard Cider before we took the trek east and even bigger fans of them now. I don’t think there’s anyway to top Blake’s in the cider industry. They have such a great portfolio already and I can imagine will only continue to grow as word gets out around the Midwest.