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