Hard ciders often get a bad rap—for good reason. Most mass market ciders are cloying and taste more like wine coolers than traditional hard ciders. Until recently, I was unaware of the rich history of cider. I also didn't know that cider originates from three distinct regions in Europe. Jeff Alworth, my fellow beer blogger, is the author of a soon to be published cider book. In anticipation of Cider Summit Portland, Jeff penned a few excellent posts covering the differences between these regions. I highly recommend you read his posts (here and here) to learn more about the differences between English, French, and Spanish ciders.
Armed with my newfound knowledge, my wife and I recently visited the 4th Annual Cider Summit Portland. Held for the first time in The Fields Neighborhood Park in the Pearl District, the venue offered great views of the Fremont Bridge and had plenty of wide open space. Many of the cidermakers and cidery owners were present and eager to chat about their ciders. Here's a rundown of some of the memorable ciders I tasted:
- The Passion, Reverend Nat's Hard Cider: I love sour beer, so it's no surprise that I enjoyed this one. Made with passionfruit puree, this cider has loads of tropical flavor—and is SOUR! Mouth-puckering sour. I went back for a second taste. Not for the timid.
- The Mitten, Virtue Cider: I previously tasted and wrote about The Mitten, a bourbon-barrel aged cider. I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Ryan Burk, Virtue Cidermaker, about his approach to making this and other ciders in the Virtue lineup. This was my wife's favorite taste of the day.
- Three Pepper, Seattle Cider Co.: I love spicy food, but have never been a fan of heat in beer. I asked Joel Vandenbrink (owner) for advice on which of his ciders I should try. Without hesitating, he suggested Three Pepper. Made with jalapeno, habanero, and poblano, this cider has plenty of spicy pepper in aroma. It starts with pepper heat, and just when I was expecting the fiery heat to kick me in the mouth, a light wave of sweetness emerged to finish the taste. Excellent!
- Sidro, Birra Baladan: This Italian cider was spontaneously fermented with wild yeasts. The most memorable of the bunch, this cider had the aroma and taste of funky cheese! While I wouldn't drink a full pint of this, I enjoyed the sample.
The price of admission to Cider Summit isn't cheap. $30 (at the door) buys you a tasting glass and 8 tasting tickets. Additional tickets are $2 each. In full disclosure, the festival gave me a media pass, and I paid for my wife to get in. Although it's spendy, it's an excellent and rare opportunity to sample and learn about a broad variety of GOOD ciders in one place. Very few examples of the overly sweetened (usually with high fructose corn syrup), mass market apple swill were present—and that's a good thing.
So if you're exploring ciders, I highly recommend you attend Cider Summit Portland when it returns to Portland next June. The festival organizers also hold similar events in Seattle, Chicago, and Berkeley. If you're interested in cider and live near one of these cities, check out the festival website to learn more.
As cider grows in popularity, I expect we will continue to see more cider-only festivals. Fortunately, consumers will finally be exposed to what cider can and should be.