Humans of the Keweenaw: Interview with Tom Adolphs & Phil Kelm
"You can’t have a business that doesn’t focus on a community. We want to do the cidery all organic and as local as possible. We are doing foraged, wild, fruit of the Keweenaw with our cider, and that involves the help of our community members."
This is the ninth in a series of planned interviews highlighting humans in Houghton and Keweenaw Counties who are working to improve our community’s quality of life.
Interview conducted on 10/26/17 by Hailey Hart
Photos provided by Tom Adolphs
Please, tell us a little about yourselves.
Phil: “I grew up near the city of Coloma, in southwest Michigan. In my younger days I would help out at the local cider maker, where I caught the “hard cider” bug. I began brewing when I was very young and have had a passion for this craft for most of my life. After attending Michigan Tech for Mechanical Engineering in 1987, I began brewing commercially at Atlanta Brewing Co. In 1997, I attended Siebel Institute in Chicago where I received my brewing degree and accepted my first international brewing assignment in Kazakhstan.”
Tom: “I was born and raised in Hancock Michigan. My undergraduate degree was spent at Michigan Technological University, Western University, and then finally finished at Northern Michigan University’s School of Art and Design. I then studied Communication and Philosophy for my Master’s degree at MTU’s Rhetoric and Technical Communication program. I continued this path at MTU for my PhD, while teaching Graphic Design, New Media, and Photography through the program. I’ll be defending my dissertation and receive the PhD in the spring of 2018. For almost a decade, I’ve also been a local wedding Photographer. Two years ago, a position for the Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Finlandia opened. I applied for the position (ABD – all but dissertation), and have been running the Graphics program ever since. During these past two years, I’ve been using my graphics, photography, and marketing knowledge to aid and build up Gitche Gumee Ciderworks.”
How did the two of you end up connecting?
T: “I had known about Phil for years. We had a mutual friend Dave, who was a librarian at Michigan Tech during the time that I was teaching there. Dave would always help me when I had my classes for the first couple of years. Shortly before he had retired he, asked me if I had wanted to go out with him to get some Chinese food and somehow it lead to a friendship. He would always talk about Phil, who wasn’t in the states at the time. Everyone kept telling me that we would either like each other or hate each other.”
And what do you think it turned out as?
P: “It’s a work in progress.”
T: “Well, I liked Phil right away.”
Where did the cider business come into play in your friendship?
T: “At this point, I don’t even remember how we got started into the cidery. When I met Phil, the garage that now holds the cidery was just a hollow shell.”
P: “That’s right, I had built it but not finished it. It was framed but it wasn’t finished.”
So Phil, the cidery had already been your plan before meeting Tom?
P: “Oh yeah. I had first built this building for a brewery but when cider became my passion that was the way to go. I had always been into cider.”
T: “Phil has fermented just about anything. You even fermented a banana once, right?”
P: “Well, yeah. Even back in 1990 I was fermenting cider. When I was a little kid, our neighbors used to have apples, and we would go over there and eat all of them. My mom would complain that we would never eat our dinner because we had been eating too many apples.”
Now since Phil is doing all of the cidery parts, where did Tom’s skills come into play?
P: “I would say Tom came in handy for my need for graphic arts and marketing. There are so many facets to this business that just one person can’t do it alone.”
Would you give yourself the marketing title for the business, Tom?
T: “I wouldn’t claim full responsibility. One thing I am grateful for is that it’s a learning experience for me, too.”
Why would you choose Hancock over any other location to have a cidery?
P: “Well it isn’t the winters. But this is where the apples are. I can’t imagine a better place for apples and they are perfect for what I want to do. The apples here are just falling onto the ground. It’s a shame. Someone needed to do this. I felt obligated because I knew how and I could see the whole thing from A-Z. There’s no way it couldn’t work.”
How would you say that your business ties into the community?
P: “In our mission statement, we got the words ‘local’ and ‘community’ right there. You can’t have a mission statement without the word ‘community’ and you can’t have a business that doesn’t focus on a community either. We want to do the cidery all organic and as local as possible. We are doing foraged, wild, fruit of the Keweenaw with our cider. We also pay local community members to pick apples for us. They supply us with apples and we supply them with compensation.”
Do you think that you will expand on the amount of community help that you need in the future?
P: “I hope so. We’re going to keep growing. I’m not sure how it’s going to shake out but with the growth of business there will always be a greater need for community involvement. We make sure to put flyers in every public place in Baraga, Keweenaw, Houghton, and Ontonagon counties. I try to make sure that whoever wants to go out and get serious about it knows what we are doing. I would have to say that this year was a banner year for the amount of help and the amount of apples that we received.”
Do you think it was just your involvement in the community that word got out more this year or was it
just a better year for apple production?
T: “I think it was a combo. I think it was a really good year for apples but our name is beginning to get out there more and more.”
P: “It was definitely a good year for apples. Apple trees are biannual, so one tree will do well this year but not next year, and then in two years it will do well again. So it seems that in some areas, this year was the good year for apple production.”
Since you took part in the Keweenaw Community Foundation’s Keweenaw Brewfest this year, would
you say that helped get word out for your business?
T: “It definitely gave us extra exposure to the community. We even had people come up to us to tell us they were so proud because some of their apples were involved in making our cider. It’s kind of a neat thing that people feel a special connection to the product.”
Now this business must take up a lot of your time but what else do you do with the time you are not
at the cidery?
P: “I still work with other people doing many different kinds of things involving cider. I’m leaving soon to help put a cidery in India; This will be the first decent commercial cidery in India. I’ve provided professional brewing services in 5 out of the 7 continents, so a lot of my time outside of Gitche Gumee Ciderworks is still involved in the brewing and the cider business.”
T: “I try to be involved in the cidery as much as I can in my spare time, and sometimes it just means I have a couple days at a time to dedicate to the business but otherwise I spend a lot of my time in the Graphic Design department at Finlandia.”
Is there a way that you would like to see your business connect more with the community in the
P: “I would love to be able to work with all kinds of local restaurants and businesses; People that are really passionate about their food and the area. We’re trying to keep things local for now before testing out any deeper waters.”
Where would you like to see your business in the next 2 years?
P: “We will probably outgrow this place so that means we will have to look for another place. We won’t be leaving the area though. This is where the apples are, this is the whole reason we’re doing this. So, in a couple years, a bigger place and more capacity, maybe we’ll hire a couple people full time.”
T: “Different styles and variations of the cider are already in the works as we speak so we will be able to expand on that front.”
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