Now open: Pux Cider Taproom brings heirloom taste, farm feel to Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A family that has been growing apples in the Sparta area for nearly 160 years is bringing a taste of its orchards to Grand Rapids’ Midtown neighborhood.

Pux Cider Taphouse opened Thursday afternoon.

“We just want people to experience what cider is. It’s not just your sweet sugary drink, it’s something a bit more complex and has a lot more character than I think a lot of people know. And so we’re excited to be able to share that with folks that maybe do not know so much about cider,” business manager Andy Schaefer said.

The owners and contractors spent more than a year transforming the former office space at 311 Fuller Ave. NW near Michigan Street into a tasting room. They tore out workspaces and carpeting and added plumbing, a second bathroom, a bar, tables and a new ventilation system that Schaefer says will change out the air every 10 minutes. Outside, crews ripped off rotting wood siding to reveal brick, which they painted. They also fast-tracked plans to install a concrete patio overlooking Fuller Park which will eventually host live events, according to co-owner Christopher Schaefer, who also lives down the street.

(A February 2021 photo shows the outdoor patio at Pux Cider Taphouse on Fuller Avenue NW in Grand Rapids.)

“We made plans based on real life as it was and then that kind of all got messed up. And so … we’ve done a lot of adapting,” Andy Schaefer said.

Before the pandemic, Pux Cider had planned to open its taproom in May 2020. Andy Schaefer says the family business, Schaefer Cider Co., has weathered the financial hit from a delayed opening because of a slight bump in its apple sales through distributors.

“I think a lot more people are staying at home, so a lot more folks are buying stuff at stores and bringing it home with them. So that’s gone up a bit, (and) that’s been kind of nice,” he explained.

INSIDE THE TAPROOM

Elements from the Schaefer family farm are weaved throughout the tasting room’s urban space.

Wood and steel joints from retired apple crates wrap around the bar and nearby walls. The letters and numbers stamped on the wood hint to their history.

“(The joints) have been very weathered because they’re on boxes that are from 1961 and 1980. That’s what these numbers are,” Schafer said. “’W. A. S.’ is W. A. Schafer. That’s our great-grandfather’s farm.”

Barrel staves ripple across the floating ceiling above the bar and hooped lighting mimicking barrel rings hangs over the tasting room.

(Andy Schaefer and a neighbor put the finishing touches on Pux Cider Taphouse the day before opening.)

Andy Schaefer said the red wood panels used for patio fencing outside and merchandise displays inside came off a flatbed truck from the farm.

“We want to have the place feel like it’s comfortable, like it’s a place that they can hang out, enjoy good drinks, have good conversations. We’d like to… bring some of the things that we grew up with at our home to town and have people enjoy it with us,” he said.

Colorful pieces by Grand Rapids artist Reb Roberts spill across the main wall of the taproom.

“It really brings the place up a notch, I think,” Andy Schaefer said.

(Work by iconic Grand Rapids folk artist Reb Roberts hangs on the wall of Pux Cider Taphouse, ready for purchase.)

Each artwork was created in Roberts’ signature style, which is also visible on utility boxes and public spaces throughout Grand Rapids.

“It just brightens up my day… makes me smile. And that’s what’s fun about it,” Andy Schaefer said.

Roberts will have private showings at the taproom. Each piece hanging in the business will be available for purchase.

The tap house furniture may be familiar to some craft beer lovers. Andy Schaefer said they reused tables and chairs from the former Arcadia Brewing Company in Battle Creek.

BUILDING A STANDOUT MENU

Andy Schaefer said while Pux Cider favorites will be available, the tap house will primarily focus on hard ciders you can’t find in stores, including experimental mixes and brews made exclusively from one variety of apples.

“There is a lot of hard ciders out there and you got to do something to stand apart from everybody else. So we like to like to look at what everybody else is doing and say, ‘OK, well that’s already been done. Let’s try to do something that’s a little more unique,’” he added.

Christopher Schaefer said the tap house will serve up a mojito-inspired cider cocktail, as well as warmed clove cider that was aged in orange liqueur bourbon barrels.

(Pux Cider lines the shelves inside the Schaefer family’s new tap house in Grand Rapids.)

The starting menu will also include Pux’s Orchard Brut and Rose’ along with pineapple-cherry, mojito mint, raspberry-key lime, and a cinnamon-ginger-pear hard cider Schaefer says won second place in the world’s largest cider competition.

While the Schaefer family has owned about 300 acres of orchards in the Conklin and Sparta areas since the 1850s, its hard cider venture is relatively new.

“About seven years ago, we started getting into the hard cider business kind of for fun,” Schaefer said. “It just kind of seemed like something that was a good market to get into and share our passion for it.”

(A friend shores up the bar at Pux Cider Taphouse on the eve of its soft opening.)

What started as an experiment involving friends and family branched into another business for the Schaefers. Pux Cider is now sold throughout West Michigan and the Detroit area.

The hard cider industry has grown significantly in the past five years According to the Michigan Cider Association, our state went from 15 operations where the focus was hard cider to about 22 businesses now. That doesn’t include the numerous Michigan wineries also churning out their own hard ciders.

Schaefer says Pux Cider separates itself from the pack by focusing on hard ciders made from a small section of apples grown in the family orchard.

“We like to use a lot of heirloom apples, which are a little harder to get ahold of. And since we actually grow them, that’s something that’s a little more unique that kind of sets us apart. Some of the other guys can get some of the varieties, but we’ve got probably the widest variety… to choose from. So we’re able to control our blends a lot better,” he explained.

The tasting room is partnering with The Cheese Lady’s neighboring shop for food pairings and provide some of its own snacks, which will be available in the coming days.

PANDEMIC PROTOCOL

Pux Cider Taphouse is ready to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines..

“We’re going to go right to the letter of what the health department recommends,” Schaefer said.

That includes encouraging social distancing and following capacity restrictions, which will limit the number of customers to 24 during opening weekend.

Guests must wear a mask when they’re not seated and drinking. Hand sanitizer will also be available.

Pux Cider Taproom will be open 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. The business plans to open its patio to guests in spring. The taproom also sells ciders to take home and will eventually offer online ordering on its website, https://puxcider.com/

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