ASHLAND – Since Glacial Till Cider House and Tasting Room reopened after an extensive expansion and renovation project, Manager Sandi DeWitt’s least favorite time of the day is closing time.
That’s because she has to put a stop to the fun customers are having as they sip cider and wine on the new rooftop patio.
“The worst part is telling people we’re closing,” she said.
The downtown Ashland business celebrated a grand reopening on Saturday to mark an end to the 18-month project that nearly quadrupled its square footage.
Construction on the $2 million-plus project started in spring of 2018 and wrapped up for the most part in mid-July, when Glacial Till hosted the reception for the newly crowned king and queen during Stir-Up.
The grand opening for the public was preceded by invitation-only events last week. On Aug. 28 local businesses and the Ashland Area Chamber of Commerce were feted, and last Thursday a celebration was held for all of the people who worked on the project and their families.
The grand opening events were a way for the owners to show their pride in the project.
“It turned out probably nicer than I could’ve expected,” said Glacial Till owner Mike Murman.
Murman opened the Glacial Till Tasting Room in 2010 at 1419 Silver Street. He had purchased the building several years earlier and renovated it to expose the original brick and beams. He used it as a training location for his software business before opening the tasting room.
Planning for the expansion started in 2017 after Murman’s sons – Tim, John and Craig Murman – who are a part of the winery and tasting room operations, purchased 1417 Silver Street.
Once they owned the building, which is located on the east side of the tasting room and was formerly known as “The Odd Shop,” they began making plans for expansion. At the last minute, the opportunity was presented that changed their plans.
“Right before we got the project started, we were able to purchase a second building,” Murman said.
The structure at 1415 Silver Street was the former home of Silver Street Compounding Pharmacy and HOME Real Estate. The purchase of the second building allowed Murman to expand the tasting room even further.
Construction began in May 2018, but there were obstacles from the start. Rain and wet weather caused delays.
“We were two to three months behind getting started,” Murman said.
Work moved along fairly smoothly until a rough winter created more issues, Murman said. As a result, the final completion date was extended from May 19 to mid-July.
Pierce Construction was the general contractor for the project. Murman said the company’s owner, Dan Pierce, dealt first-hand with some of the challenges that cropped up with this project, which took place in the middle of Ashland’s busiest block.
“We’re building a brand new building inside of over 100-year-old buildings right in the middle of town,” said Murman.
Dozens of employees and subcontractors with their trucks, vans and tools descended upon downtown for more than a year. Space had to be carved out in the alley behind the building for roll-off trash containers, and equipment deliveries often posed problems. For example, a crane had to lift HVAC units over a neighboring business to place them on the roof.
“I think (Pierce) did a pretty good job trying not to disrupt downtown,” said Murman.
DLR Group provided architectural and engineering services for the project, with Lee Douglas Interiors lending their expertise to design aspects like furnishings and signage.
The design was done with input from Murman. Keeping as many historic elements from the original buildings as possible, while adding modern touches, was the goal of the original tasting room remodel and remained the focus of the design for the expansion project.
“We wanted to retain the historical look of the tasting room,” Murman said.
The two new buildings had their own history. The building at 1415 Silver Street was a bank in the early part of the 20th century that closed down during the Stock Market Crash of 1929. C.N. Walton, a former superintendent of Ashland Public Schools, opened Ashland State Bank in 1913.
In 2016, then-owners Staci and Dave Hubert uncovered the bank’s original sign, made out of stained glass. When Murman purchased the building, he also acquired the sign and had it restored. It now is the focal point of the private tasting room.
Another original stained glass window, this one from 1417 Silver Street, was also preserved, but has not yet been restored. Murman said the company that restored the bank sign was not interested in repairing the second sign, so he is still deciding how to bring the sign back to its original glory.
“We’ll probably hang it somewhere in the building,” he added.
The original bank vault was also still a part of the building at 1415 Silver Street. With 18-inch thick reinforced concrete walls that extended down to the basement, it was impossible to remove.
“We couldn’t remove it, so we came up with an idea to convert it into a keg cooler,” Murman said.
After adding insulation, the first-floor vault now holds up to 24 kegs of hard cider. The chilled beverage is piped to the bar through an automated tap system. They call it the “keg vault,” said DeWitt.
The original brick on the walls was sandblasted, repaired and in some cases replaced to create the interior look.
“All the walls are original,” said DeWitt.
They also kept the original ceiling timbers where possible. In 1415 and 1417 Silver, however, the ceilings had to be reinforced with steel beams to bear the weight of the second floor. Those timbers were repurposed into shelving for wine display at the front of the tasting room and behind the bar, Murman said.
The table tops are also made of reclaimed wood. Murman said his brother-in-law, Todd Peterson of Wahoo, crafted them out of yellow pine from an old Nebraska barn.
The tile on the floor near the bar and in the restrooms mimics the tile that was still on the floor of the former bank building. Murman said they tried to salvage the original tile, but were not able to do so.
The modern touches include state-of-the-art audio and visual equipment, including video walls on the first and second floors.
“The video wall is basically a gigantic computer screen,” Murman said.
The entire building is wired so the video walls can be used during many types of events, like business meetings or conference and social gatherings such as weddings.
“We have technology there to support presentations,” Murman said.
The expansion project was undertaken for two reasons – to increase square footage for the tasting room and create rental space.
More room was needed for the growing hard cider Glacial Till has been a part of over the past five years. Murman said they started making hard cider in 2014 after frost killed half of their grapes. Nebraska wineries are required to predominantly use grapes grown in the state.
Without enough grapes to make their usual volume of wine, Murman and his sons looked in another direction. They bought cider from Kimmel Orchard in Nebraska City and fermented it to create hard cider.
“It was the fastest growing beverage segment at the time,” said Murman.
Cider was a hit for Glacial Till, and they grew their operation to meet the demand. Murman said they made 500 gallons their first year, and
doubled that to 1,000 in 2015. The beverage’s popularity increased rapidly after that.
“Last year we did 40,000 gallons, and we’ll do 70,000 to 80,000 this year,” Murman said.
In fact, cider has surpassed wine in terms of gallons produced per year by Glacial Till, according to Murman.
“It’s 12 to 14 times the volume of business now that we’re doing compared to wine,” he explained.
Glacial Till sells hard cider in grocery stores and liquor stores and it is served at bars and restaurants across the state and there is talk of going regional, Murman said.
“You can find it in a lot of places,” he added.
They have added new flavors of hard cider over the years as well. These small batches are served only at the tasting room and Murman’s Glacial Till Winery in Palmyra.
“We always try to have maybe seven to 10 different options for people to try,” Murman said.
DeWitt said hard cider is good business for the tasting room.
“We have a lot of traffic that comes in just for cider,” she said.
Hard cider has become such an important part of the Glacial Till operation that they added the name “Cider House” to the tasting room signage after the expansion.
“It’s a better description of what we’re doing right now,” said DeWitt.
The expansion project also created more space for private and public events.
“Our purpose is to either create events of our own or rent out space to individuals or businesses,” he said.
Glacial Till will host “Silver Street Eats and Beats” on Fridays in September. A different musical group will perform live music and food will be provided by rotating restaurants or caterers each week. Murman said they are also planning Octoberfest-type events next month.
The building holds around 900 people according to the State Fire Marshal’s calculations, although Murman said the number is more like 550, if all seats are filled, including the patio.
No matter which capacity figure you go by, the new Glacial Till Cider House and Tasting Room has definitely expanded.
“It’s big,” said Murman.