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Convention of American cider makers in Chicago Feb. 5-7 will draw 300

Cider Summit, a public tasting expo on Feb. 8 at Chicago’s Navy Pier, expected to draw up to 2,800 cider devotees.

Cider con logoWith hard cider’s popularity sweeping the nation, members of the year-old  United States Association of Cider Makers (USACM)  will gather in Chicago on Feb. 5-7 for CiderCon, the industry’s the annual meeting and conference. 

Educational workshops and a trade show will be held at the Westin on Michigan, with the focus on stewardship, the conference’s theme.

“Cider is quickly setting itself apart from the rest of the beverage industry,” Mike Beck, owner of Uncle John’s Cider Mill in Michigan, and current USACM president, said in a press release. “With this increased visibility, comes a greater sense of responsibility. We chose stewardship as our theme in order to focus on how to grow our industry together in the best way possible.”

Beck added in a telephone interview: “We’re all in this together. There’s plenty of room in the market for everyone. We’re all in an open, sharing environment.”

This year’s CiderCon is sold out and is expected to draw 300 attendees from the most recognized U.S. cider brands as well as small craft cider makers and orchardists.  Beck said attendance is up substantially from last year, when USCAM was established. USCAM now has 149 members.

From 2007 to 2012, hard cider revenues more than tripled in the U.S., from $178 million to $601 million, according to the market research firm IBIS World.

In addition to business sessions, the conference will feature workshops focused on production, marketing, research and apple growing and sensory tasting seminars featuring cider and cheese pairings, apple brandy, and ice cider.

A day prior to CiderCon some attendees will explore cider houses Vander Mill and Virtue Cider on a bus tour to Michigan.

Separately, on Feb. 8, Cider Summit, a public tasting expo, will take place at Navy Pier, with sessions from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Alan M. Shapiro, president of SBS Imports, of Seattle and the Seattle Beer Collective, organized cider Summit. Shapiro, who imports Aspall ciders, said this event, too has grown substantially in terms of vendors and attendees. He expects to Cider Summit to sell out at 2,800 tickets. The first Cider Summit was held in Seattle in 2010; Portland was added in 2012, Chicago in 2013 and in April, a Cider Summit will take place in Berkley, Calif,

The Chicago Cider Summit will feature more than 100 ciders from 36 producers throughout the U.S., England, Scotland, France, Spain, and even New Zealand.

“It’s 1988 in the craft beer world for cider right now,” said Shapiro.

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Cider makers form national trade group

America’s hard cider makers are banding together.

A group of cider makers meeting last week in Chicago announced the formation of the United States Association of Cider Makers (USACM)

The group’s mission, according to a statement, is to gather and share information about cider and perry production, regulations concerning the production of hard cider and perry (pear cider), and pear and apple growing; as well as to help members improve their operations, raise the public’s awareness of the products produced by its members, and promote the interests of the cider and perry producers in the United States.

The association’s formation comes as U.S. sales of hard cider are exploding, growing at double-digit annual rates and cider makers are attempting to obtain federal standards for cider making

Brad Page, founder and owner of the Denver-based Colorado Cider Co., says about 100 cider making companies attended the industry conference at which the association was established, “I’d think there might be upwards of 150 and growing fast,” he added in a email.

In addition to Page, the association’s inaugural board of directors, which reflects the industry’s diversity of regional distribution, production volume, and growth, include:

Greg Hall, co-founder and former brewmaster at Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Co.  and now the owner of Chicago-based Virtue Cider, said in a statement: “I started out in the craft beer industry in the 1980s, and as a craft brewer for 25 years it is thrilling to be here at the dawn of the USACM. There are so many similarities between cider now and craft beer in the 80s, beginning with the passion of the people leading this effort.”

The meeting to form this new organization preceded the annual CiderCon  industry trade show in Chicago and Cider Summit,  a consumer tasting event.

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Pour the Core Cider Festival: Tasting the tart, the sweet and the unusual


The scene at Pour the Core Festival at Peconic Bay Winery

Pour the Core, the cider fest at Peconic Bay Winery, couldn’t have been better. The sky was blue, the temperatures comfortable and the ciders plentiful.

Some 700 people attended this first-ever cider festival on the Long Island’s North Fork on Oct. 20 and some 26 producers poured almost 50 different ciders. Also, there were wines from the festival’s host and beers from five brewers, food from Riverhead’s Maple Tree BBQ and well as t-shirt purveyors and, gasp, a cigar seller (those fumes overwhelmed the delicate apple scents of ciders being poured too near).

Pouring True Believer Cider at Pour the Core.

For me, this event was about cider. Many producers offered fruit and spice flavored cider variations, but purist that I am, I shunned most them.

The choices included a dozen from New York, others from New Hampshire, Vermont, California and Oregon, a handful from England and one from Spain. Alas, none of the wonderful farmhouse ciders of Normandy, France, were to be found.

Still, there were many wonderful ciders to taste. Ciders made from eating apples, ciders from cider-specifc apples (such as crab apples), single varietal ciders and blends. There were ciders almost as full bodied as some beers and, regrettably, some that were little more than flavored water. There were ciders fermented with cider yeast, Champagne yeast, and even ciders produced using Irish Stout and Belgian Trappist ale yeasts. There were apple ciders, pear ciders (called perry in England), ciders made from concentrated apple juice with added water, and some with added malic acid and sugar and other sweeteners. Lord knows why. And, yes, a hopped cider.

Festival participants appeared to like McKenzie’s Seasonal Reserve

My tasting notes (ciders listed alphabetically):

Anthem Hopped Cider.  From Wandering Aengus Ciderworks in Oregon. Honey Crisp, Gala, Granny Smith, and Golden Delicious apples form the base. It’s dry hopped with Cascades. Apple cider meets Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Weird.

Angry Orchard Traditional Dry, Boston Beer Co.’s entry, is golden with intense, complex apple flavors.

Aspall Dry Draft Suffolk Cyder. From England, this off-dry, balanced cider offers up baked apple flavors.

Bellwether Liberty Spy, from the Finger Lakes. A hearty semi-dry cider made from Liberty and Spy apples. Comes off more dry than sweet.

Blackthorn, an English cider. Tastes like a bad chemistry experiment. Why is this a worldwide top seller?

Cliffton Dry Premium Cider. Paler than pale, a Finger Lakes cider with 14 apple varieties, added sugar and malic acid.  Light, easy drinking, like Corona beer, but where’s the apple flavor?

Castañón Natural Cider, an extremely dry, tart Spanish offering with notes of funk. Think Cantillon lambic beer.

Crispin Landsdowne. From MillerCoors. Made with molasses, organic honey and Irish Stout yeast, this cloudy cider is for gingersnap fans.

Doc’s Hard Apple Cider, from the Warwick Valley Winery in the Hudson Valley.  Sweet without being cloying with just a touch of acidity.

Farnhum Hill Door Yard No.1212, from New Hampshire’s Poverty Hill Orchards in, this kegged cider was still, extremely dry, earthy with a zingy citrus-like finish.

Harvest Moon Rippleton Original. From Cazenovia, NY, this is light-bodied, but deeply flavored, bubbly, extra dry cider made with champagne yeast and a touch of maple syrup for bottle conditioning.

Magner’s Original Irish Cider: Red tinged, bubbly, sweet apple water.

McKenzie’s Original Hard Cider, from the Buffalo area, is flavorful, medium-bodied, crisp dry cider.

McKenzie’s Seasonal Reserve Hard Cider. Not  my cup of cider, but extremely popular among festival attendees for its apple-pie-in-a-glass character derived from added nutmeg and cinnamon.

Michelle Ultra Light Cider, pale in color and tasting like water kissed by apples. Why bother?

Naked Flock Hard Cider Original, from the Applewood Winery in Warwick, NY, Made with Champagne yeast and local organic honey. The honey is quite evident.

Naked Flock Hard Cider Draft, fermented with Belgian Trappist ale yeast with a hint of organic maple syrup, this cider has a complex flavor profile without the tang you’d sometimes get from the maple.

Peconic Bay Winery True Believer:  Bubbly, honeyish. Tart and sweet baked apples with cinnamon. Finishes dry.

Peconic Bay Winery True Companion. Molasses and orange peel added. A deep golden cider, drier that True Believer and with more depth of flavor and balance.

JK Scrumpy’s Farmhouse, from Michigan. Deep, sweet baked-apple flavor.

Steampunk Cider from the Leonard Oakes Estate in the Niagara Region, a blend of 13 apples, including traditional bitter-sweet apples and the more familiar Fuji and Braeburn. Sweetish, but has nice crisp, tart apple notes and a dry finish.

Strongbow: A UK import that’s crisp, bit tinny in the finish. Made from concentrate with sugar, water.

Wandering Aengus Ciderworks 2009 Wickson: Single variety crab apple cider from Salem, Ore. Dry as brut Champagne with Riesling-wine like flavors.

Wandering Aengus Ciderworks Wanderlust: Dry with bold apple flavors. Defintely a favorite.

Wandering Aengus Ciderworks Bloom. Crisp, juicy, semi-sweet apple, tropical fruit character with Chardonnay like finish. Another winner.

Woodchuck Amber, from Vermont. Apple soda with a moderately long finish. Carmel color added.

Woodchuck Dark. Crisp apple notes.  Some tartness and dryness. Added flavor, caramel color.

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