artisans

Lehman’s Orchard branches out into beer and pub in Buchanan

By Marshall V. King / Photography By Marshall V. King | June 14, 2017
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Lehman's Orchard Brewery & Farmhouse is now making its beer at the new location in Buchanan, including Raspberry Robust Porter using the orchard's fruit.

Last summer, when Steve Lecklider’s Chicago customers came to him at Lehman’s Farm Market & U-Pick Orchard, he learned a few things.

He learned what they did for a living and why they loved Lehman’s Orchards products. “They’re foodies,” he said. “I had no idea some of them were retired chefs.”

At the Niles orchard, which his family has operated since 1929, they made time for a conversation rather than just the 10-second transaction typical at a metropolitan farmers market.

For 15 years, Lecklider, who now oversees the family business, had taken Lehman’s products to the Chicago markets. There were years that he went five days a week. He’d been at 15 different markets over the years and worked his way up at some of the best markets in the city.

Market Changes

The last few years, he noticed changes. Grocery stores offered more varieties of fruits, something that had always distinguished Lehman’s. “They could do what we were doing,” he said, but they could do it year round.

Lehman’s Orchards was producing and selling more of its amazing jams, jellies and dried fruit, but less fresh fruit in the markets. At the same time, the business was selling more of all of those at the 55-acre orchard in Niles.

More customers were coming to pick their own fruit. In the last several years, U-pick business has grown as Lecklider and his family expanded offerings so that numerous varieties of fruit are available when the orchard and its market are open May to October. For most of that time, it’s not a question of whether Lehman’s will have U-pick, but what is ripe at the time. On a July weekday, 100 people may show up to pick, and on weekends it could be triple that.

Photo 1: A stream flows underneath the new Lehman's Orchard Brewery & Farmhouse, which is in the process of fully opening in Buchanan. The brewpub, store and production plant is in a former building of Clark Equipment Company.
Photo 2: Steve Lecklider, a former musician and instrument repairman, runs his family's orchard in Niles and is opening Lehman's Orchard Brewery & Farmhouse in Buchanan.
Prior to last year’s Chicago market season, Lecklider stopped making the trip three days a week to five big markets, just as a few years prior he’d stopped going to Florida for four months to sell the trail mixes and dried fruit Lehman’s packaged.

Last summer, instead of getting up at 4am and getting home at 7pm, he worked at the orchard and a new venture in Buchanan. “It was nice to use that extra energy to build at home,” he said.

A New Brew

In early 2015, the family purchased a building on the edge of what was the Clark Equipment Company campus, which produced heavy machinery. The building in Buchanan once housed engineers for Clark with 8,000 panes of glass and a stream running underneath. It had a few other tenants along the way, including Carbon Golden Malted Waffles, but is now the home of Lehman’s Orchard Brewery & Farmhouse.

Lecklider and his employees are brewing beer with flourish. Two 30-gallon batches are usually made a day, giving the business six to eight beers at a time.

A brewpub is in the works as well. Lehman’s Farmhouse will offer grilled sandwiches and eventually have a pizza oven. Much of what Lehman’s produces will find its way into the offerings. “We’re doing a lot of value-added products already. I think like a farmer. I think, ‘What else could I use this for?’” Lecklider said.

He’s a former teacher and musician who moved from Minnesota to fix instruments at Woodwind & Brasswind. He started working at the family orchard and eventually took it over. Now ideas spring out of him and result in new processes and products.

He hopes the Farmhouse can have farm-to-table events and guest chefs. He wants the still to produce brandy and eau de vie. On the farm, new European plums are being planted.

 

The rows of brambles and trees laden with fruit are a gorgeous sight at the orchard. It’s pastoral and picturesque. Now in the nearby town, a new form of beauty is emerging.

Lecklider removed the siding from the building, exposing block. Recycled bowling lanes are being used as counters and tables. Light streams in the banks of windows adjacent to the high ceilings. Soon, there won’t just be bottles of beer and wine from the farm, but taps that dispense them to customers willing to sit for a bit.

In the building, they can make more products and more rapidly. The new space came about in part by the space created by not going to the city with a truckload of products every week. Customers will find their way to this building with its homegrown products and a story.

Lecklider expects to see more of those folks he misses from Chicago. “I think we’re going to probably attract even more of those customers,” he said.

 
Lehman’s Farm Market & U-Pick Orchard
2280 Portage Rd.

Niles, MI 

U-pick May–October
 
Lehman’s Orchard Brewery & Farmhouse
204 N. Redbud Trail

Buchanan, MI
Mon–Thu 2–6pm

Fri noon–6pm

Sat 10am–5pm

Sun 1–5pm
Hours will expand when the brewpub opens
 
 
Five great products to try from Lehman’s Farm Market & U-Pick Orchard
 
Currant/Raspberry Jam. The label touts that “fruit is the first ingredient” in the jam. The second and only other one is sugar. A range of jams and jellies, some of them sugar-free, are made and sold by the orchard, but this one features the tart currant that is tiny and prized.
 
Bourbon Barrel Hard Cider. A range of ciders are made and bottled at Lehman’s, but this one adds a note of smoke to the tart, crisp cider to become something that will surprise and delight.
 
Raspberry Robust Porter. This dark beer brings in red berries to offer a slightly tart finish.
 
Donut peaches. Just one of the dozen of fruit varieties available for picking and purchase at the farm market, the donut peaches are flat and full of flavor. They’re available in late July or early August and demonstrate there’s really no substitute for going to the source for fresh-picked fruit.
 
Dried cherries. This dried fruit selection features some of Lehman’s crop and results in a plump, flavorful piece of fruit that will make you want to replace dried cranberries in almost any use.

Find it

2280 Portage Rd.
Niles, MI
269.683.9078
Article from Edible Michiana at http://ediblemichiana.ediblecommunities.com/shop/lehman-s-orchard-branches-out-beer-and-pub-buchanan
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