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!