Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Cider Con 2017 Part 1: An Industry Growing Up

The United States Association of Cider Makers and the Big Picture 

Every year that I've attended, CiderCon feels like an event hosted by a developing organization. The United States Association of Cider Makers improves and challenges itself to learn more and do more each year. I remember some of the goals from last year, and we've achieved them. And when I think about CiderCon's maturation, it isn't just the parent organization, its how the whole industry approaches having a national meeting. We are learning to make the most of this time: not just to see friends and attend workshops, but to boost cider through timed releases, special events, collaborations and more.

Our hotel even had swank elevator wraps and quizzes

Most notably of the achievements of 2016 for the USACM is Michelle McGrath's hire as Executive Director. It took a long and arduous search but everyone is so happy that they found her. Bruce Nissen, our new USACM president and founder of Jester and Judge Cider (
described the search as a thorough narrowing from an initial applicant pool of 1300 people down to just one. And after seeing Michelle throughout the weekend, I am completely impressed with her energy and organization. 

I want to show a bit more of the evidence I observed that CiderCon is maturing.

I appreciated excellent coordination as shown by the programs with maps, external work with organizations outside of USACM not only with Cider Summit Chicago but Cider Week Chicago, multiple cider releases timed to coincide with the conference, an organized press briefing, on and off site portfolio tastings, and best of all a strategic plan for USACM that covers their goals for the next three years. I've always felt like folks are trying to make the best of our time together at CiderCon, but some of these developments just blew me away.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a press briefing on the gearing up day of the conference. At this meeting each of the United States Association Board Member introduced themselves and their cidery. Each region and scale is represented on this board. The current board members are: Bruce Nissen, Dan Wilson, Eleanor Leger, Trevor Baker, Ryan Burk, Paul Vander Heide, Ben Calvi, Marcus Tieton, Brian Shanks, Dan Young and Eric Foster. As they each introduced themselves, they said a little bit about their cideries.

Board members also poured samples of their ciders; this is the tip of that iceberg

Michelle led the meeting and introduced us to what USACM is doing. The organization actively represents cider to the government to improve legislation of the industry. This is the year that the CIDER act goes into effect which reduces the tax burden on many cideries, particularly those making a sparkling cider.

The next legislative push is for the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act which you can read about here:

Another major project of the USACM includes developing labelling for cider that will allow consumers to have a better idea of what they are purchasing. Though this is not yet developed early comparisons use the Riesling Taste Profile from the International Riesling Foundation as a potentially useful model.

Still on the subject of cider education, we got an update on the Cider Certification Program from Paul Vander Heide of Vandermill Cider. The first level of the CCP is now available to study and take online, with reduced pricing for USACM members. I was part of the inaugural class of CCP takers last February and vouch for the quality of information used for the test and training. The program is designed for everyone who wants to learn about cider in a serious way but is especially well suited to folks working in the hospitality industry or interacting with the public about cider. Learn more at the website:

Another significant goal for the USACM is the comissioning of third party economic data that's more granular than what's available through Nielsen and more inclusive of local and regional producers. The industry needs better coverage of cider's “long tail” when such a large proportion of our businesses are very small and often very young.

Opening Session
This year we also played host to some very special visitors from two cider making regions of France: Brittany and Normandy. Ghisilaine Davy from Cidrerie Daufresne to share his Poire(Perry), Dominique Le Brun from Cidres Le Brun to discuss keeving as a fermentation technique, and Guilliaume Drouin from Christian Drouin, bringing his Calvados and cidre.

At the opening session, we heard (via video) from Oregon lawmaker Representative Earl Blumenauer about continuing bipartisan efforts to improve the regulations and taxation that govern cider as a beverage. He's a charming speaker who championed the CIDER Act that already promises to give some producers a number of beneficial legal changes.

Another highlight of the opening session for me was our welcome video. This includes cideries from all over the country and a few sly jokes if you know the personalities and companies involved. Even without these little hidden gems, the video is a fun window into the quirkiness of cider makers.

The most exciting part of the opening session though was finding out about next year's location for CiderCon. In 2018, we'll convene in Baltimore. I anticipate lots of seafood pairings and events that show me a city I've never seen.

Our opening panel discussion

Up next, I'll share my experiences at the panels, workshops, and tastings of CiderCon 2017.

Wednesday evening Cider Share

Monday, February 6, 2017

Cider Review: Citizen Cider's Barrel-Aged Cider & Chicago Cider Week

Usually, I start with my review and then share any cider news, but I want to make sure Chicago area cider lovers know that this event is already happening! Chicago Cider Week runs from February 3-11 with a plethora of cider opportunities for sipping, pairing, and learning!

Tons of fabulous cider things happen at The Northman ( and this week is anything but an exception. We can meet Pete Brown (cider and beer author), Ria Windcaller(of Cider Chat:, and some super start cider makers.   

Pairing dinners and tap takeovers are also happening all over town! Check out the event list:

And as a way of transition, today's review is a cider by Citizen Cider out of Burlington, Vermont. They have already started a full series of cider events just by themselves this week for both Cider Week and Cider Con. 

I reviewed the bRose in 2014:

More recently, I stopped at their taproom and production facility in Burlington this past summer as part of my Cider Tour:

To learn a bit more about Citizen Cider, please check out their website:

Today's review is of their Barrel-Aged Cider. I'll share the official description, but here's a spoiler, I'm not going to pair it with steak. : )

This cider is aged in reclaimed oak bourbon barrels. We take our finest cider blends, let them sit in these American oak barrels, and while they get to know each other, a beautiful relationship emerges. Best enjoyed with a big steak and a friend.
Reclaimed American Oak Bourbon Barrels are going to impart a lot of flavor, and I bet it will smell and taste boozier than its 6.9% ABV, but there's only one way to find out.

Citizen Cider was kind enough to list some additional pairing options. Here's the list, "Pairings: Lamb Stew, Veal Ossobuco, Pumpkin Pie, Dark Chocolate Souffle, Blue Cheese and Smoked Blue Fish." There aren't a ton of vegetarian options in there, but I'm never going to argue with dark chocolate souffle or pumpkin pie.

Appearance: brilliant, lots of visible bubbles, medium straw 

Like all of Citizen's ciders, this has a perfect sparkling brilliance. Its easy to see lots of active bubbles throughout the glass. I'd call the color medium straw, neither particularly light nor dark.

Aromas: almond, cherry, apple, barrel

The cider smells intensely of barrel, but that's far from the only note. I can also get wisps of apple, cherry, and almond. It smells rather like pastries altogether, but I'm guessing it will be less sweet than it smells. 

Sweetness/dryness: semi-dry

I get a bit of initial sweetness but the cider tastes dryer as the tasting experience goes on; its like many barrel-aged ciders in this way.


Flavors and drinking experience: vanilla, cooked apples, bourbon, buttered toast

Let me say first that this cider has a lot going on in terms of flavor intensity! The best part is that all of these flavors go together beautifully. I tasted this first when I toured the facility in August; my thought then was that this cider would be perfect for winter. So, I bought a bottle and saved it until the beginning of February. And I don't disagree with past Meredith. What a brilliant winter cider.

This is so vanilla, bourbon, almond, buttered toast good. All of the flavors really do cascade together over the tongue. The apple flavor is soft like the apple has been cooked or pressed into pomace. This helps the overall impression of unity I get from the flavors. 

In terms of texture, the Barrel-Aged Cider offers up great strong bubbles in bountiful quantities.  The cider also features great retro-nasal aromas: weird to say but great to experience.

I noticed when looking around online that this cider has made a few lists of ciders that beer aficionados could enjoy, and I agree. This is a particularly emphatic and well balanced cider with cohesive flavor and real verve. I'd heartily recommend it to beer and cider drinkers alike. I had mine with local cheese and Miche bread: no steak anywhere in sight, and it was totally delightful.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Cider Review: Downeast Craft Cider: Cranberry Blend and Counting Down to CiderCon

Today, I wanted to share my first review of anything by New England's Downeast Craft Cider. I'm starting with their Cranberry Blend. Though they've not appeared on the blog before, I've had a few of their ciders. The company is based out of East Boston, but their cans appear all over the North Eastern United States. They have a tourable cidery and a tap room.

I found a funny thing on the website too good not to share.

One one passes this gatekeeper, you can learn about the company and their ciders online. They were founded by college friends in 2011. The focus, as they describe it, is as much about what they don't do or add to their ciders as what they choose to do. Here's the priority directly in the words from Downeast.
where others have used juice from concentrate, “natural flavorings,” “essences,” artificial sweeteners, and an endless list of excuses, downeast cider house has a firmly established policy of NO SHORTCUTS. no matter the cost to us, we are fully committed to using only fresh-pressed juices and pure, natural ingredients in our cider. when it comes to flavor, there’s no substitute for the best, and that’s what we stand by: simple, honest, authentic.
One other element one the website struck me as particularly interesting is that they have two sections about their cider: fresh cider pre-fermentation and hard cider after production. 

Check out the website for yourself here:

And this is how they describe what I'm reviewing this evening: Cranberry Blend
FRESH-PRESSED CRANBERRIES MAKE FOR A TART, CRISP FINISH.after every batch of cranberry blend is finished and ready for the conditioning tank, a cider-maker finds tyler and hands him a small cup. tyler takes a sip – contemplating the flavor, the body, the finish, the metaphysical implications of spinning around a dying star on this piece of rock we call planet earth – before making the declaration as old as time itself: “more cranberry.” and so it goes, a ceremonial dash of cranberry caps the batch and it’s whisked off to a cold, bubbly destiny.

This cider has a relatively low ABV at 5%.  The ingredients listed are: "freshly pressed apple cider, fresh cranberry juice, and ale yeast".  Downeast describes the cider as being lightly carbonated. Knowing all of these things helps me form more specific expectations when approaching the cider, something I always appreciate.

Appearance: watermelon, cloudy, many visible bubbles

The first thing I noticed was how pretty the color looks; it reminds me of  watermelon flesh  or tangerines. Its just gorgeous. I also saw tons of great big bubbles. Significant debris at the bottom of the glass, like the size of fish flakes. All of their ciders are described as unfiltered, so this isn't a huge surprise. 

Aromas: fruity, applesauce, butterscotch, cranberry

This cider smells very fruity, like applesauce but also dusty in that uniquely cidery way. the second thing I notice about the aromas is how very ripe the fruit notes. They almost meld into a butterscotch or jammy sort of smell. There are definitely cranberry notes, like a cranberry butter. 

Sweetness/dryness: sweet

The Cranberry Blend tastes sweet from start to finish, it does not have the controversial zing of cranberry.

Flavors and drinking experience: fruit punch, hint of tart

Interesting! This cider reminds me of fruit punch or summery sangria with notes of cranberry. But the specific cranberry notes taste cooked more like a homemade cranberry sauce. I'd definitely call this cider sweet and straightforward, but not unbalanced. There's  no funk and no bitterness. Several cider lovers out there are cheering as they read that because not everyone like bitter in their cranberry. I do get a little sourness, but not like actual cranberry juice. There are low but present levels of tannins.

This cider tastes best in big sips. Its very sessionable and easy drinking. The other thing that immediately strikes me is how good  this would be for a cocktail component. This won't be the cider for everyone, and I do miss the aggressive bite that I associate with fresh cranberry, but for other folks this will be just perfect. 

And...I'll  be headed to CiderCon 2017 in Chicago in 8 days! If you are joining us (and I hope you are) come say hi! And if you can't make it, follow along by seeing what's happening on social media. I know a few of us will be sharing with @cidercon or #cidercon on Twitter and Instagram.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Cider Review: Gowan's Heirloom Cider's 1876 Heirloom

The first cider I got to try on my San Francisco trip was a Gowan's cider at a really neat Indian restaurant in the Mission. I was meeting a friend with my husband at Babu Ji ( after coming in from the pouring rain. While we were drying off and waiting a moment, I asked about cider and was thrilled to hear about a local choice on tap. So, I thought I'd share my impressions of the only Gowan's Heirloom Cider I've had the chance to try: Their 1876 Heirloom. But first a bit about Gowan's Heirloom Ciders.

This business grew out of Gowan Family Orchards. That business is known for wholesale fruit including the rare Sierra Beauty apple for 140 years. There's not as much information about the actual cider elements in comparison to the orchards, but perhaps that will grow with time.

If you like gorgeous photos of apples, please visit their websites. You won't be disappointed.

And now, moving to the cider I was so lucky to find. The official description of the 1876 Heirloom reads, 
Our ‘1876’ wine-style cider celebrates the first harvest here with a select blend of fresh heirloom apples, capturing the complex aromatics of late fall orchards: rich earthiness, floral, stone fruit and honey. 
Lightly sparkling, this cider is refreshing, complex and crisp, with a medium finish. Imagine walking through a late fall orchard.
I'm not quite sure what a medium finish entails specifically, but this does give me a few good expectations. Ciders that can be described as earthy are often winners for me, and readers know I'm a huge fan of using heritage dessert fruit while our cider specific orchards in the United States are still so few and so young. Let's see how this tastes.

Appearance: brilliant, few visible bubbles, old gold color

As the picture reveals, albeit dimly, this cider looks totally brilliant. I'd describe the color as old gold. There aren't too many bubbles, so I'm not expecting an intense sparkle. 

Aromas: melon rind, fresh watermelon, wet apples, bakery

Perhaps its the limitations of a pint glass of cider in an Indian restaurant but I had a difficult time honing in on the aromas of this cider. I could detect watermelon rind, wet apples, and bakery, but I feel like there was more I was not accurately perceiving.

Sweetness/dryness: semi-sweet to sweet

I noted in the official description there were few hints to point me to how dry or sweet this cider might be.

Flavors and drinking experience: fig, caramel, baking spice

This cider reminds me of ripe figs, caramel, and baking apples with spices. There's also a note reminiscent of  Johnny Chapman by New Day Craft. (See that review here: I think the notes of salted caramel are what reminds me of molasses, but lightly so.

The richness in the mouthfeel comes from the sweetness without any doubt. The cider is only lightly bubbly, as I anticipated. The 1876 offers up medium low acid compared to many similarly heritage fruit ciders from the east coast and a similarly low level of tannins. I has a lingering sweet mouth coat that finishs cleanly and tastily.

This was a great cider for a spicy meal. Spicy foods bring out the best in sweet ciders, if you ask me. I enjoyed this cider and the whole experience mightily, and I hope I get to try more Gowan's ciders in the future.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Cider Review: Quebrada del Chucao Sidra Brut Nature

One of my favorite things when I travel is to try exciting ciders that I've never seen before and last week I had a few chances in San Francisco. I didn't make to all of the cider stops I wanted to, but I knew when I saw a cider from Chile that I had to taste it. I was at The Jug Shop when I saw Quebrada del Chucao Sidra.

I was able to find out a little bit about this cider company through the importer that brings it to the United States: Brazos Wine Importer. According to them and the Quebrada del Chucao website, the company has been around since 2010 in Chile. It is a colaboration between an fruit-producing family and a university trained winemaker. The back of the bottle describes the orchards from which the apples came as being more than 60 years old. There are loads of cider producers working with much younger orchards.

Check out the beautiful website:

I found a description on the website that goes into a little more detail about this particular cider.
A bright light golden color with subtle green highlights, the Quebrada del Chucao apple cider recalls all the characteristics of the apples from which it is made. It’s very dry taste, due to a Brut Nature character, balances well with its natural acidity, giving it the freshness to be a very good compliment to various savory foods. Tiny natural bubbles help enhance its freshness. Ideal to pair with pork and cheese or to have it on its own as an aperitif.
A few more facts drawn from the bottle: 7.5%ABV and bottle conditioned for a natural sparkle.

So, I apologize for the glassware in this picture. I do not travel the beautiful breakable glass I prefer, so I make do with the finest picnic ware my hotel had to offer. ; )

Appearance: bubbly, harvest moon color, brilliant

This cider pours foamy and stays very bubbly in the cup. The dark colour reminds me of a harvest moon. I'd call the cider brilliant, but sadly I cannot show that with the pictures I have.

Aromas: sweet, briney, a bit of funk

Intersting, the sidra smells sweet and briney: a little French, a little English somehow. From the aromas I suspect a high acid cider. There are some gently wild notes that veer toward the funky. My curiousity is definitely piqued.

Sweetness: dry to off-dry

Oooh! So often when a cider reminds me of the french style of cidermaking in its aroma, I expect it to be on the sweeter side. This surprised me! Its definitely more toward the dry/off dry line.

Flavors and drinking experience: bubbly, wild, english, tannic 

Surprises abound! This cider has notably high tannins, high acid, and lots of sparkle. So many of my favorite features are coming together with with some fun and modestly funky wildness. These apples are from Chile, but this cider tastes pretty darn English in its style! (Very happily for me!) Wow, this is very good.

In terms of actual flavor notes, I primarily taste mellow tropical fruit—not fresh fruit but fermented fruit. There's a lot of mango, a bit of brown sugar, but its not sweet as such. The  tannins are woody and astringent with apple skin notes. Overall the cider tastes mature, gently bitter and austere. This is not a cider for beginners, but it's really good. Just a leeeetle olive in the flavor but not too salty.  The acids linger in the chest: again, I get more tropical notes than appley ones. What apple I do get has wisps of bruised apple along with walnut or almond. 

The cider is refreshing, farmy, funky and fun. The 7.5% ABV is neither masked nor hot.  In terms of mouthfeel the bubbles are insisten and fairly large.

I enjoyed this cider as the main event of a little hotel room picnic on my second to last night of vacation. We had sugar snap peas, brie, wheaty crackers, cut fruit, red pepper and walnut dip, and finished the meal with dark chocolate toffee covered in crushed pistachio nuts. Heavenly.

The last note, I'd like to leave you with is a closer view of the gorgeous label. One of the main folks behind this cider is a graphic designer and that shows beautifully  here. I hope this cider starts being more available soon!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Cider Review: Embark Craft Ciderworks' American Hopped Cider also CiderCon 2017 is coming!

Back to summer cider notes once more this week. I tasted this cider on my back porch in July, and I've had it several times again since then. My review is therefore overdue. I was reminded of this cider when I had it recent at The Watershed (

Embark has only appeared in this blog as the creators of Cider Fest 2016 which was part of Finger Lakes Cider Week last year. I guest poured there and had a fabulous time.

Embark Craft Ciderworks describes the people behind their company as, "As farmers first and foremost." The cidery has grown out of Lagoner Farms just outside of Rochester, New York. The cidermakers, Jake and Chris, both come from local agricultural backgrounds. They write about local food, the importance of apples, and their growing orchard filled with apple varieties chosen for the qualities they bring to cider. 

Theyalso have a taproom you can visit on the farm. 

You can read more about Embark Ciderworks on the website:

And keep up to date with events and recent developments on the Facebook page:

But for now, let's turn to the American Hopped Cider. This is how it is described by the folks at Embark:
Estate grown Autumn Crisp apples fermented and then dry-hopped with Cascade, Centennial, & Columbus hops that we sourced from a neighboring farm. A brillantly balanced cider with just a touch of sweetness and hop aromatics that add to the complexity of an already complex cider.

Appearance: brilliant, creamed honey color, lots of visible bubbles

The American Hopped pours with a head that doesn't vanish as quickly as some. I would describe the color as creamed honey. This cider has plenty of very fine visible bubbles. It makes my mouth water to look at it. This picture doesn't show how brilliant this cider is because of the condensation on the glass, but rest assured, you could read through it.

aromas: fresh apple, hops, mint

Immediately, I can smell fresh apples from the cider. Because it is often sold in cans, I'd recommend pouring it into a different vessel if you want to enjoy the full aroma. The particular type of hop smell that accompanies the apple is a clean and herby one with secondary citrus characteristics. The smells meld together such that my notes are cold apple and mint as well as hops. Very summery.

Sweetness/dryness: semi-sweet

The American Hopped Cider is unambiguously semi-sweet and accurately labelled as such on the back of the can. Great job, guys, accurate labelling is surprisingly rare.

Flavors and drinking experience: high acid, balanced, easy drinking

As strange as it sounds today, this cider is perfect for a hot day, but its also lovely when in a warm and bright place. The semi-sweetness is balanced by its high acid. The hops and apples work brilliantly in concert to make a unified taste experience that doesn't drown out either element. Cheers, this is my number one goal for a hopped cider! I did find the hop flavor to be piney, citrusy, and a little sweaty, but oh so pleasantly so. The citrus struck me in a particuarly lemony way.

As for pairing, I paired this with relaxing on the porch in summer and just watching my back yard. Most recently I paired it with local bakery bread, tomato garlic dipping oil, and unwinding with the best coworkers on the planet at The Watershed. Both worked brilliantly, and I predict it the cider would also work well with a corn and potato chowder and warm afternoon at home. 

Also, don't forget we are now less than a month away from Cider Con in Chicago!! 

There you will find multiple tracks of the best cider education, business planning, operations help, tasting, socializing and general cider merriment. I've attended twice, and I now look forward to it all year. Join us!

The link for registration is

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Cider Review: Starcut Immortal Jelly

January is here, but I'm thinking about fruits, berries, and sunshine, even though I know for the most part these things are months away. So, I am returning to a cider I tasted back in June while visiting dear friends. We walked outside with bare arms. Hence the un-cropped silly picture; it captures the casual pleasant moments of reviewing this cider.               

Based in Michigan, Starcut Ciders just celebrated their second birthday! This cidery is an enterprise that comes out of Short's Brewing Company. The folks wanted to take advantage of Michigan's bountiful apple crops, so started a cidery. This marks my first review for them.

You can find out plenty of additional information on Starcut's website:

Here's the company's Facebook page:

I'm including Starcut Cider's description of their Immortal Jelly:
Immortal Jelly is a semi-dry hard cider inspired by Short’s Brewing Company’s Soft Parade. Immortal Jelly is fermented with Michigan apples and a blend of raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. This cider is rose in color and has scents of tart fruit. Immortal Jelly’s complex blend of berry fruit flavors provides a big tart acidity up front before a semi-dry finish.
They list the ABV as a relatively low 5.1%.

Appearance: beyond cloudy, ruby, no visible bubbles

This cider's Color is opaque ruby, and as the picture shows its almost entirely opaque. Both of these facets separate the appearance of this cider from most. Its lovely and very different.

Aromas: Beer yeast, cranberries, lots of aroma, fresh apple.

What I notice most when smelling this cider is the beer like notes. Secondarily, I get aromas of tart berries like cranberries and blackberries.
Dryness/sweetness: semi-dry

One aspect of the Immortal Jelly that's particularly neat is that it's very fruity but not too sugary. I'd have no trouble calling it a semi-dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: beery, sour, raspberry

This cider has a SUPER beery first taste, after which the bubbles go crazy, and quickly it creates a wall of sour, raspberry flavor. This is a nice quick three-part experience. Beer, then the carbonation crests, then I taste berries. Lastly, I get a pleasant bready finish that reminds me of fresh sourdough.

This cider offers up high acids and low to middling range (but present) tannins. The flavors come across as bright but not aggressive in either sourness, beeriness, or fruitiness. The mouthfeel is decently full tasting. I can detect one very little note of funk, but nothing overly challenging. Rather, it reminds me of a lambic or a sour beer. A solid combination of very accessible while still being decidedly interesting enough to talk about. What a neat cider. I look forward to trying more things by Starcut Ciders as I see them.

And just for a last picture. This company has really neat labels and fabulous label art. Feast your eyes.

I didn't pair this with much aside from relaxing and friends. I think we had some tasty fruit and cheese on the table, but our focus was on conversation and being in the moment. Were I to pair the cider again, knowing its flavors, I think it would be ridculously fun as brunchy cider with a tofu scramble or some big wheaty waffles and butter. You could also be a bit more restrained and have the Immortal Jelly with a salmon under a creamy custardy sauce. Treat it like a dry raspberry lambic, and you will go in the right direction. But I really wouldn't change a thing about activities for the cider; enjoy it with people you care about. Relax into this interesting cider.