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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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Hard cider generates a buzz at LI fest

Pour logoCider, cider everywhere and every drop to drink.

For cider aficionados and a host of newbies among the 2,000 participants at the 2nd annual Pour the Core cider festival on Oct. 9 at Peconic Bay Winery on Long Island’s North Fork, there were hard ciders aplenty from near and far and places in between.

From near, imbibers could sample True Companion and True Believer, both produced at Peconic Bay, as well as ciders from Woodside Orchards down the highway in Aquebogue and Cider 139 from Wolffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack. There were ciders from Upstate New York, New England, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, California and the Pacific Northwest. And there were ciders from abroad, from England, Scotland, France and Spain. There were ciders from small artisanal producers as well as large industrial manufacturers.

And not just apple cider. Pear cider, also known as perry, also could be found, albeit in smaller numbers. And, yes, beer, too.

Apple ciders, however, became my focus as most of the perries sampled were too sweet, too watery or worse.  And beer, that’s just a different story.

Most of my cider picks among the offerings  tended to on they dry side.  Many of the cider offerings, particularly those made in the USA, were more reminiscent of wine coolers or worse, sodas. Swedish ciders, which listed their prime ingredient as local water, also were no-shows as far as I was concerned.

High on my list of favorites were the two cider offerings from Virtue Cider Co., a relatively new producer established by former Goose Island brew master Greg Hall.  His Redstreak was dry, crisp and refreshing with just a hint of apple, very much in the traditional English style. Virtue’s Sidra de Nava, done in the Spanish style, was tart like a beer in the lambic style.

Also very dry and much to my liking were a trio from England’s Aspall Cider, the very pale original and the equally light hued Organic, both were quite dry. Aspall’s Perronelle’s Blush Cider, made with added blackberry juice, also proved to be tart with an unmistakable berry character.

Another English winner, Thatcher’s Green Goblin was deep gold, full-bodies, crisp, some what tannic and with notes of oak.

A Scottish import, Thistly Cross, had a golden Champagne color and was eminently drinkable with its medium dry character.

Bob Gammon of Woodside Orchards, Aquebogue, pours his hard cider.

Bob Gammon of Woodside Orchards, Aquebogue, pours his hard cider.

I also enjoyed Woodside’s Traditional, made from a blend of eight culinary apple varieties, a crisp cider with the aroma and taste of just-picked apples.

Another local product, Wolffer’s 139, also was tart, dry and refreshingly enjoyable.

Anthem Cider, a cider label of Wandering Aengus Cider works of Salem, Ore., made from culinary apples, was deep gold, refreshing and off dry. The Wandering Aengus Blossom Cider, made with traditional English and French cider apple varieties, also was very English in style with an apple-pie nose and a mix of sweet and tart notes.

Another American offering, also on the dry side, was the brilliantly gold-hued Angry Orchard Traditional Dry, dry from start to finish with an occasional sweet note in between.

Four Screw from Harvest Moon Cidery in Cazenovia, NY, was surprisingly dry, tart and winey, and is sweetened, apparently, just a tad, by maple syrup.

Two canned ciders from Pennsylvania’s Jack’s Hard Cider surprised. Jack’s Original was quite dry, crisp with soft notes of apple. Jack’s Helen’s Blend was more piquant and quite tasty, too.

One of the more unusual ciders I’d tasted was the 10% abv  (really an apple wine) from Silver Mountain Ciders in Lempster, N.J. Cloudy from bottle conditioning with oak flavors from oak aging and tart apples notes intertwined. A bit extreme, actually.

Among my biggest disappointments were two offerings from Anheuser Busch-InBev:  Michelob Ultra Light Apple Cider, which had a passing resemblance to water kissed by apples, and Stella Artois Cidre, a sugary offering with notes reminiscent of a chemistry lab.

Also, perplexing was the variety of flavored pear ciders from Sweden’s Rekorderlig, which were served on ice with a strawberry and bit of mint. Not for me!

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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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