MORE THAN AN APPLE A DAY

STORY AROUND (269) | IMAGE MATT CARUSO CISLANDER ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

More than an apple a day
at Schultz Fruitridge Farms and Texas Corners Brewing Company

Not much says “Michigan” better than a crisp apple in the fall or, increasingly, a craft brew. Fortunately for the region, the Schultz family has found a way to provide both and a whole lot more.

Schultz Fruitridge Farms is owned by a third-generation farm family out of Mattawan. The grandparents of the current co-owner, Bill Schultz, started the farm back in 1951. Today, the family grows a variety of crops—from asparagus and cherries to sweet corn, peaches, grapes, and apples. The farm even has a small herd of bison, a few of which they slaughter for meat each year. “We are farmers by trade, and it’s our heritage,” said Bill. “We work the farm every single day of the week.”

What’s in a name? Honeycrisp and more
Bill Schultz shared, ”With apples, it’s challenging, because you plant a tree and it takes three years to pick your first apple, and seven years to hopefully break even. You have to project how it pays off eight or ten years from now. Which varieties will be popular then? It’s very, very challenging in that respect. The most popular apple on the market right now is the Honeycrisp, but will that be the apple people want in the future?”

“The Honeycrisp apple was a special hybrid variety out of the University of Minnesota a few years ago, and it first came on the scene in the 1990s. I can remember when we first started selling them and people asked, ‘What’s that?’ Then Oprah Winfrey talked about it on her show one day and ever since, it’s been off to the races with that variety.” Can they be made into pies? Possibly, but the Schultzes wouldn’t recommend it. “You’d want something like an Idared or a Jonathan,” offered Andrew, Bill’s brother. “My grandma always used Jonathans.” Did she have a recipe? “She’d never share it, if she did!”

I like my cider hard and my craft brew cold
“The last 10 to 15 years have been a bit of a struggle with the weather, which is the one thing completely out of our control,” said Bill Schultz. After a particularly bad weather cycle a few years ago, the Schultzes decided that diversification was in order. “We needed to think a bit outside of the box, and we decided to pursue the concept of hard cider. We grow 20 varieties of apples on about 45 acres, so a supply of fruit was not a problem. And besides, we thought if anyone should be doing hard cider here in this part of the state, it should be Schultz Farms, right?”

In 2013, the Schultz family obtained its license to make hard cider, and began producing. With a farm market, the Schultzes already had a family and seasonal venue, but they decided that to really succeed in the industry they needed a place to sample the product, year-round.

One day, the Schultz matriarch noticed a building for sale in Texas Corners, near Portage and only a few miles from Mattawan. Bill’s father and his brother Dan stopped by and ended up buying it on the same day. “At that point we were pretty well committed,” told Bill. “We also knew, of course, that the craft beer scene is huge in this part of the state, and we wanted to be part of that to complement the hard cider we were producing.” They soon invested in a five-barrel brewing system and built a food-grade production room on the farm. Then, they began crafting hard cider and beer and started retailing it down the road in Texas Corners. The Texas Corners Brewing Company was born.

Ciders and ales and IPAs, oh my!
If you want to drink something that is complex with more flavor, you’re bound to find it at the Texas Corners Brewing Company. The cider and beer lineup usually includes six or seven beers at any given time and typically two or three hard ciders. Recently, the chalkboard list on the wall showed a Session IPA, a summer wheat, a porter (which is kept all year long), a blood orange variation of the summer wheat, a double IPA called Summer Stampede, a Spanish version of the house IPA (with a hint of ghost pepper), and, of course, a dry cider, and a cherry cider. “Cherry cider is our most popular,” said Andrew Schultz. “Since the farm produces so many different fruits, we also try to do a lot of fruit beers. We just finished trying out a strawberry-rhubarb ale that we brewed with strawberries and rhubarb from our farm. Next month, we’re working on a peach version.”

Craft beer deserves craft food.
“We thought the people in this area deserved more than peanuts and popcorn with their beverages, and, since we also are producers of food—and passionate about food—we thought, ‘You know what? Let’s do a farm-to-table restaurant.’ Our menu at the Brewing Company is crafted every day, and, like our cider and our beer, everything on our menu is made the right way,” said Andrew Schultz, who serves as General Manager of the Brewing Company and its restaurant.” Look for the bison burger on the menu—the meat comes from the Schultz herd in Mattawan.

Something always seems to turn out right with the Schultz family, and they have evolved with the times. It began with peaches back in 1951, and continues with the orchards, vegetables, and the farm-to-table approach with the restaurant.

All in the family
Schultz Fruitridge Farms and Texas Corners Brewing Company remain family-run operations. Bill, with his parents, Bill Sr. and Denise, and brother Dan manage the farm, and brother Andrew manages the Brewing Company restaurant. A sister, Robin, lives in Ohio, but comes back to work on weekends in the fall. Seasonally, the workforce at the farm fluctuates, up to approximately 25 during peak time. The pub employs another 25 or so. Andrew laughed, “In terms of creating jobs, I’m the best example. I was not living in Michigan or working here before the Brewing Company business began. It created an opportunity for me to return home from Texas after college.” Andrew’s father kept trying to get him to come back home, and as opening day at the Brewing Company got closer and closer, Andrew finally realized that it was a great opportunity to get in on something at the ground level … and that it really was all about family.

Andrew Schultz reflected, “To me, one of the most gratifying things in my job is actually being able to employ people. I do all of the hiring, and we have very little turnover, which is great. Giving people that opportunity to be employed is very satisfying.

Apple of his eye
Apples are a versatile fruit. From applesauce to apple juice to hard cider, the only limitations are on imagination and varieties. Andrew noted that he pretty sees much has apples every single day, in some way, shape or form. “Fresh apples? Yeah, I don’t get tired of them. I love apples. They’re good for you.”

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