Five Things We Learned at CiderCON
Last week, we headed out to Portland, Oregon for the week of breakout sessions (example: ‘Hydrogen Sulfide Production by Yeast’), trade shows, and sensory analysis training that is CiderCON. This was our second year at CiderCON – last year, since we were in such early stages of our business planning, every moment was eye-opening. It was like we had stepped into an alternate universe where suddenly, people nodded knowingly when we mentioned ‘keeving’ instead of staring at us blankly.
This year, as we’re mere months away from launching our full operations, CiderCON couldn’t have come at a better time. Here are the five things we learned at CiderCON:
5. The cider crowd is really diverse (in some ways) - Cider-makers are a mixed bag. Some come from the craft beer world and fit that demographic (beards, cutoff black denim shorts, hoodies, rock music). Others come from the wine industry and are fresh off of a stint in Napa Valley. There are orchard families that sell cider next to fresh apple pies and cider donuts. There are farmers who have cultivated amazing heirloom apple trees for decades. There are purists who don’t add a single ingredient (including yeast!) to their ciders, and large-scale production cideries that operate like craft breweries, with rotating seasonals featuring hops, chilies, or herbs. In other words, cider pulls from a diverse sect. I’d love to see some other kinds of diversity increase, but for now, it feels good to be a part of a group of people that are united by their love of the beverage.
4. Cidermakers still like beer – There was a lot of cider to consume during CiderCON. There were events each night with rare ciders on tap. We drank each other’s cider all week. But we were also in Portland, often called the beer capital of the world. You can bet I was thrilled to find awesome beers on tap that I don’t get at home – and I wasn’t the only one! Look, just because we make cider doesn’t mean we don’t like beer or wine. CONVERSELY, just because you might like beer or wine doesn’t mean you shouldn’t indulge in a nice craft cider from time to time either.
3. The Cider Act is a game changer. Somehow, in a gridlocked political climate, the fine folks that lead the cider industry were able to get the Cider Act passed last year. The laws are complicated, but basically, there were levels for alcohol percentage and carbonation level that, if crossed, your tax rates jumped. People in the industry felt like these levels were too low and kept cider-makers from being able to experiment with and diversify their products. This Cider Act upped both of those levels, allowing cider makers to create strong, more bubbly ciders without having to pay through the nose. These laws go in effect on January 1, 2017. HOORAY!
2. There are so many things we should’ve done a long time ago! There’s nothing like a week to think and talk about your business to help you realized that OOPS! We should’ve probably done that months ago. For example, the lead time on kegs is longer than we thought; we have a pump picked out but we don’t have any of the fittings so it’s basically useless; we may want to think about our tap handle situation if we want to get our cider on tap in the next month…etc. There’s nothing like a good jolt of fear and panic to get you into the mood to spend a ton of money in a very short amount of time.
1. Cider makers are super-generous. There really isn’t such a thing as a ‘trade secret’ in the cider industry. I went to one panel where the presenter opened up his recipe-maker tool so that we could all see how it worked (and thus see how they make their most popular product). He also showed us his personal password in that session, but I think that was actually an accident. Bottom line, though, is that everyone in the craft cider industry wants craft cider to be good. None of us benefit from a bad cider making the rounds, and all of us benefit from more people getting into craft cider. In-depth tours of production facilities, open-ended discussions about the best yeasts to use and fermentation temperatures to shoot for – across the board it’s a generous group of people who make up the cider industry in the States and we’re really thankful to be a part of it.
0. Bonus! Pigs like bitter apples.