Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Cider Con Part 2: Panels, Workshops, and Tastings of CiderCon 2017

I love seeing cider friends, making new ones, and tasting unfamiliar ciders at Cider Con, but I'm a cider geek. What makes me look forward to the event months ahead of time is the schedule of workshop, panels, and guided tastings. I love learning about cider more than most anything in the world. 

I started my schedule with "U.S. Cider in 2017 "by Angry Orchard's Ryan Burk. This description does not tell the whole story of the talk, but it says, "Insights and outlook for U.S. cider in 2017, covering the importance of drinker education, highlights and successes from across the country, and the future of apples in the U.S." What we learned was so much more. 

Ryan showed current market data about cider, but then he took us on a journey through the chain of cider production. Almost everyone in the room was reminded to think of a step further away from their relationship to cider than usual. We heard from nursery growers, orchardists, cider makers, distributors, and drinkers about how we can get good cider into glasses.
It all comes down to apples. Ryan talked about why we need more cider varietals grown in the United States and we talked about how to make that economically feasible for every link in the chain of production. And for some encouragement, he called out some love for cider companies providing great long-term commitment by planting their own orchards.

I next attended "Tools for Success: Marketing, Branding & Storytelling" by Caitlin Braam and Kate Bernot. Caitlin is the president of Seattle Cider Company and Kate does all the cider coverage she can get her hands on through Draft Magazine.

This is what I knew about their talk going in, "This session will focus on tools and techniques to take your cider brand to the next level. Whether you’re just starting out or are looking to enhance an existing brand, hear about tried and true tips for increased exposure, assisting with sales and gaining recognition for your brand through media outreach. Learn how to pitch, contact press, and craft the perfect story while understanding the challenges beverage writers face when writing about cider. Caitlin and Kate will also discuss some of the hurdles currently facing the industry, including style definition, Brix scale, macro vs craft and more." These were great presenters, and I appreciated the choice to pair a cider company president with a journalist so multiple angles could be covered. 

Everyone who attended "Cider Trends in the US & Abroad" by Danny Brager and Matthew Crompton from Nielsen and CGA got a great window into some Nielson data presented compellingly.  Here's how they described the talk. “Nielsen and Nielsen CGA will take a look at the Cider category in the U.S., and France, its performance at retail (both on and off premise), as well as the consumer dynamics driving its sales – the ‘why’ behind the ‘buy’. They’ll provide some comparisons to other Cider markets elsewhere, and to the performance of other U.S. adult beverage categories, and offer suggestions for growing the U.S. Cider market." I really appreciated the way these gentlemen broke down some numbers and let us know where and how cider really is selling in America.

Next came, "Online Branding" my talk with Eric West of Cider Guide (find his fine work at https://ciderguide.com/)

We pitched our talk, “Online branding can help or hurt a cider brand tremendously. Frequently, cider fans encounter a new brand for the first time online. That means that cider makers cannot simply let the beverage speak for itself. Instead they need to craft an online identity for their cider company. This talk will introduce people to the why and how of online branding and content marketing strategies. We’ll talk about the types of online communication necessary for a cider brand including: blogging, newsletters, and social media. Plus, we’ll address both basic and intermediate strategies for managing them.”

I feel quite pleased with our crowd and their questions. Eric gave some great granular thoughts about using specific applications and some excellent book recommendations. I stayed a bit more big picture and talked about information, communication, and guiding priciples for the most part. I did give a few tiny tidbits about various social media platforms. Rather than summarize though, I'll just give a link to the slides of our presentation: https://ciderguide.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Online-Branding.pdf

Next came a panel I looked forward to more than most was the “Women in Cider” a discussion organized by the Pomme Boots Society (founded by Gemma Fanelli Schmit, Jennie Dorsey and Jana Daisy-Ensign)

Here's how they introduced the panel, "Meet and learn from women working in different segments of the cider industry. Panelists share their experience, insight, challenges and inspiration from orchard to bottle and tasting room to market. Pomme Boots Society is honored to present a forum for discussion that shares the stories of women in our dynamic field." Also, for those not yet familiar with the group, here's how they introduct themselves, "The Pomme Boots Society is an organization for women working in the cider industry. The group supports positive network connections, education and professional development for women in the dynamic field of cider."

Of course there were many talks I really really wanted to attend but couldn't. First among these was, “Apple Orchard Mythology vs. Reality” by the legendary Pete Brown.

This description made me gnash my teeth for being unable to attend: “The apple is the most symbolic, mythologized fruit in human history. In this talk based on his new book, The Apple Orchard, Pete Brown traces the apple along a faultline between the real world and the mythological, through ancient Greek myth, Arthurian legend and the Garden of Eden, and attempts to answer key questions such as why the apple has such great significance, what was really going on with Snow White? And was the Biblical Forbidden Fruit really an apple or not? The answers shed new light on cider’s core ingredient.”

For those who might not yet be familiar, Pete Brown is an English beverage and culture writer who penned World’s Best Cider (with Bill Bradshaw) among several other beloved books. Luckily, I was able to purchase Brown's latest book The Apple Orchard at CiderCon and get it signed! Wow! For those who want to take a peek at the new book: https://www.amazon.com/Apple-Orchard-Pete-Brown/dp/1846148839/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1487645778&sr=1-2&keywords=the+apple+orchard

My favorite tasting had to be the “Northeast Cider Tasting with Jenn Smith and Ian Merwin”

The description for this one read, "A lively conversation with a focused selection of cider makers from NH, NY and VT, including, Autumn Stoscheck (Eve’s Cidery). Eleanor Leger (Eden Specialty Cider), Stephen Wood(Farnum Hill), Jonathan Oakes (Steampunk Cider), and Dan Wilson (Slyboro Cidery). This dynamic panel will share a tasting of representative ciders and will discuss apples, methods and styles from the Northeastern United States; spirited debate will ensue."

The reality was a bit different as Autumn had the flu and could not make it and there were a few other substitutions. In the end we tasted the five ciders listed in my photo and heard from Ian Merwin in place of Autumn Shosteck.

The talk that made me what to change my life the most, was probably “Selling Against the Trends: Tradition and Authenticity in an Innovation Driven Marketplace” by Lauren Shepard. 

It was described as, "The question of where cider fits into the current alcoholic beverage marketplace has been debated ad nauseam. Within the beer industry, Shelton Brothers is attempting to redefine how artisanal beverages are sold today, by focusing on tradition rather than innovation, knowledge rather than marketing dollars, and competitive pricing rather than uniform margins. This session is for any small or midsized cidermaker who doesn’t want to put their cider in a 6-pack, but knows that they will likely be working through beer buyers in their home market and beyond."  Lauren's talk came from her experiences as a distributor of very fine ciders and beers. I think her points make a lot of sense for a market like Ithaca and several others I'm sure.

The biggest surprise of all came from “History of Apple Culture in the US” by Original Sin's Gidon Coll. Gidon is a friend of mine (I'm proud to say), and I really wanted to see what he could teach us about apple history. A lot as it turns out. 

The description of the talk was relatively simple, “A brief look at the history of apple culture in the United States with a look at historical text documenting the early days of cider production in our country.” Coll planted an orchard in 2012, made up of heritage, rare, and cider specific varietals, in Upstate New York. His talk and his credentials are both so much more than was promised. Gidon brought historical books on apples, vintage nursery catalogues, and shared with us information that wooed everyone into the world of orchard history. If any talks gave me the sense that I have homework I really *want* to do, this was it.

Cider Con ended with a panel discussion and Grand Cider Tasting with our guest french cidermakers. Folks got the chance to ask questions about keeving, the cider market in France, and hear these cidermakers' stories. Plus we got to try a few of their delicious ciders and perries. This was a perfect way to wind up a conference. We'd worked hard and learned a lot, so everyone felt pretty ready to listen and mellow out with some cider.

I know presentations will go online in the coming weeks, so folks who weren't able to attend Cider Con will get to have access to some of this great material. Though this is far from the full experience of Cider Con, I hope you guys enjoyed getting to share some of the ways in which I enjoyed geeking out!

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 (http://jesterandjudge.com/)
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: https://www.wyden.senate.gov/news/press-releases/statement-on-introduction-of-craft-beverage-modernization-and-tax-reform-act.

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: http://www.ciderassociation.org/Certification.

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 (http://www.thenorthman.com/) and this week is anything but an exception. We can meet Pete Brown (cider and beer author), Ria Windcaller(of Cider Chat: http://ciderchat.com/), 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: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2014/02/cider-review-citizen-cider-brose.html

More recently, I stopped at their taproom and production facility in Burlington this past summer as part of my Cider Tour: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2016/08/the-great-vermont-cider-tour-day-2.html

To learn a bit more about Citizen Cider, please check out their website: http://www.citizencider.com/

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.