(First published in the November 7, 2019 issue of City Pages)
There’s a new hard cider on the market, brewed right in Wausau
Andrew Heinzl in his production facility of Blue Elk Orchard.
Andrew Heinzl remembers holding the siphon for his dad during his family’s home brew sessions when he was a kid. And as a former employee of the long-gone micro-brewery pub Hereford and Hops in Wausau, and its successor The Great Dane, he’s had a connection to brewing most of his life.
Today that connection has been turned into business, with the creation of his hard cider brewing company, Blue Elk Orchard, at 157664 Land Art Road in the town of Wausau (off Hwy. 52, just outside of the city). It’s been a work in progress for a few couple of years now, but officially started production of hard cider in June and made its first sale in August.
Heinzl’s hard ciders, which come in two varieties, are available locally at The Milk Merchant and at Sconni’s restaurant, and he hopes to expand that soon as he approaches more businesses about carrying the cider, which he makes from locally produced raw apple cider.
Right now, Heinzl doesn’t have an orchard that produces apples, or his own press to make the raw cider, which he ferments into the alcoholic form. Heinzl’s original goal was to use cider only from Wisconsin orchards, and so far he’s done that. He processes cider from Helene’s in Merrill, and a few other orchards around the state. But Heinzl has learned there are far more apples than cider to be found, and as his operation grows, he will likely have to look for cider from Michigan and even Washington state.
He plans to solve that by eventually buying his own press, and is in the process of growing his own orchard as well. Finding apples to press into cider he can then ferment will be a lot easier, especially once his young orchard starts producing, Heinzl says.
He operates Blue Elk Orchard out of property around his home. Heinzl and his wife, Ruth, bought the house and its surrounding land in 2017, with the intention of turning a building already on site into a cider operation. Today the two-floor structure houses brewing equipment on both floors, and a small counter where customers can buy cider directly from him. On the second floor Heinzl does his bottling, and creates the bottle labels in-house. “We basically started a printing press in our living room,” Heinzl says.
Heinzl knew he wanted to produce alcohol but wasn’t initially sure which variety. He learned cider is becoming popular and has some of the best tax laws, so that’s what he decided on. Right now he produces about a barrel per week, which equates to about 20 cases (each case contains 24 bottles).
People can comes out to Blue Elk Orchard and buy cider directly from him, and although he doesn’t expect many to hang around the farm in winter, it will be a fun experience come spring. Running about on the property are a variety of colorful chickens and roosters, and ducks including some fluffy white varieties. Although customers now can try a sample of cider on site, the idea is to have tasting events in the future, when people to try the cider and spend time on the property.
Heinzl hopes to see the business grow, but not so much that he isn’t involved in the production. He wants to continue giving the business his personal touch.
Blue Elk Orchard typically is open 9 am–7 pm Mon.–Sat., and 11 am–5 pm Sundays, but call first, 715-302-4841, or check its Facebook page before visiting.