Thursday, February 11, 2016

Cider Con 2016: My Personal Highlights

Usually in winter, I travel with my husband to Florida to see friends and thaw out a little from the upstate NY temperatures. But at last year's Cider Con in Chicago, we learned that this most amazing of cider gatherings would be happening in February in Portland, Oregon. I knew I had a different sort of escape from winter.

Though the sign seems more Vegas, this is a lovely welcome to Portland
Not only did I get to attend Cider Con, I got to present! This was a huge honor for me because I have so much appreciation and respect for the cider community (and the beverages produced thereby). Eric West (of Cider Guide


While many folks were out touring orchards and ciders, I didn't arrive in time for their early departures. Still, I had an excellent time walking around Washington Park ( which is home to the International Rose Test Garden, Portland Japanese Garden, and my favorite: Hoyt Arboretum. Just seeing so much green in February is good for my soul. 
You cannot know how much I bemoaned baggage check fees when I saw this

But I had plenty of time to check out the cider selections at a grocery store or two and still make the 2 Towns Ciderhouse( Tap Takeover at Cider Bite ( It was a casual gathering, but I saw so many unfamiliar ciders. Tasting in a different region than your own is an exciting experience. Plus, I ran into a few cider luminaries which never hurts an evening, particularly when they are as charming as Tom Oliver ( or as welcoming as Dave Takush (of 2 Towns).

And we were glad to be there!


The start of my official day wasn't until the United States Association of Cider Makers (USACM) business meeting. While I am not a voting member of the USACM, I alway relish the chance to meet with members and learn about what the organization has been up to. In 2015, the big headline was the CIDER Act.

I volunteered at Bill Bradshaw's session on UK Cider. Bill is an amazing archivist and photographer of ciders and cider cultures both in the UK and all over. If you're a cider lover you simply must get your hands on his book, World’s Best Ciders: Taste, Tradition, and Terroir. You can see some of Bill's photo and read about this IAMCIDER project here:

The Crowd for Bill Bradshaw

This led smoothly into the Cider Con Reception with tacos, pizza, tapas, and countless ciders all served in the in the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. What a setting and what a party! They completely turned us loose in a museum while letting everyone taste ciders from all over the world. I have almost no photos because I was simply too enthralled by this night. I'm sorry. Kind of.


We stated the day with one of my favorite activities from last year's cider con, the Clicker Survey. What I love about this is we were all asked pretty basic questions about who we are, what we do, where cider makers get fruit or juice, who is planting orchards, who is getting fruit from their orchards, and whether or not we want to support academic research or apples or cider. 

I got a similar takeaway as I did last year too. If you are growing apples, don't start a cider business on your own; partner with a fermenter. If you love to make cider but have no apples, don't just go on the market; find a grower or three and work with them for the long run. I think a lot of business strength can be gained by folks working together on all steps from sapling to glass.

Next came the General Session, or as I like to think of it: "The Big Talk with Grocery Store Cider Purchase Data." I don't find that data nearly as complete or representative of my cider life or even my cider region as some, but its heartening to see cider growth in every region of the nation.

Ian Merwin and Greg Peck: Two Fabulous Academic Advocates for Cider

But my day was not so secretly about my session with Eric West: "Engaging Your Core Audience Through Writing." We had a packed room and an appreciative audience who asked great questions. Our topic ranged from online brand presentation to working with mailing list applications and many places between. It all came down to communicating effectively online and why using the writing and internet is so potentially helpful for cider companies. 

Giving the talk was a great experience, and it started many conversations for the rest of the conference. Consider me completely grateful. 

That evening we had the first meeting of Pomme Boots ( a new professional organization for women who work in the cider industry in one role or another. Meeting everyone was inspiring; there are so many awesome women making, selling, and promoting cider. 


With the talk over, I could focus more completely on the session I attended as an audience member. And I got to spend a lot more time just relaxing and meeting awesome folks  One stood out for me on Friday. The first was "Finding Your Brand Strategy - West Coast Perspective" by Alan Shapiro. What he brought was not only a west coast perspective for understanding how folks understand and buy cider, but also the historical context of his decades distributing wines and beers. As soon as links go up to his presentation, I'm sharing them!

At lunch, Congressman Earl Blumenauer spoke with us about the CIDER Act, and he was the warmest and funniest politician I've ever seen speak. He earned two standing 

We ended Cider Con with the Grand English Cider Tasting, easily the most socially invigorating part of Cider Con for me. The photo below shows the ciders that were shared at each table in the ballroom. We tasted through together with the guidance of Tom Oliver, Neil Worley, and Bill Bradshaw. They brought insight and crackling personality such that folks were nearly falling out their chairs laughing (and it wans't just the cider).

These UK Cider made my evening, and shocked several palates


Perhaps the most exciting part of the trip for me happened after Cider Con. The USACM is developing a Cider Certification Program along with interim program director, Eric West. I signed up eagerly to be part of the inaugural class for Level One.

Eric West talking about cider styles

We had a slew of experts presenting material about apple growing, cider making, cider tasting, and other topics on Cider Certification Program Level 1. This inaugural class also got to learn about storing, serving and pairing cider: all topics close to my heart. The day was long but fascinating. I look forward to the progress of this program and hopefully participating in all coming levels.

Our messy table of learning

It was a long trip and a fabulous one! The education, the ciders, and most of all the people made it a delight each and every day. We grew the event by more than 450 attendees (by my unofficial observations) this past year, and I think its going to continue to grow and improve. If you care about cider and want a educational, enriching trip in February consider joining us next year!

Read more about Cider Con returning to Chicago in 2017 here: