Posts tagged hard cider
CiderCon 2019

Each year the country’s largest collective of all things cider gather together for the industry’s annual conference. Overseen and managed by the good people at the United States Association of Cider Makers CiderCon is the go-to event of the year. This year 1,100 participants descended upon the windy (and very cold) city of Chicago Il. Attendees include industry suppliers, orchardists and farms, cideries and their teams, distributors, and start-ups like Lost Boy. The four day conference provides detailed seminars on topics such as industry trends in branding, case study results of yeasts and the use of nutrients, quality control, advocacy, and orchard management. Experienced panelists lead the seminars which open to questions at the end of the presentation. The burgeoning industry enjoys an embracing atmosphere where greenhorns can easily mingle with second and third generation cider makers. This makes me proud to be a part of cider.  

2019 was my third CiderCon and the first year I had company with me which included my father Marshall and new cidermaker Kevin Storm.  I’m just starting to get comfortable with how to manage the conference, myself, and maintain stamina through-out to maximize the experience.  For those who read my GlintCap post you’ll recall that sleep and alcohol can create problems, especially regarding catching your flight home.  

CiderCon can be overwhelming. Early mornings begin at 8, followed by lunch, continuing into the afternoon, followed by happy hour and the trade show, then dinner and late evenings with a posse of new and old friends.  For any first timers considering going my advice to you is simply this; Self-care is critical.  

With a vastness of topics, opinions, and practices it can be hard to know which way is the “right” way. I still struggle to choose the best seminars to attend, some of which overlap one another.  FOMO on Mary Beth’s Distribution Traps or the presentation by the Yeast Whisperer have literally kept me up at night.   

In regards to Lost Boy’s launch date later this Spring the timing of this years CiderCon was perfect.  Now at the tail end of finalizing our brand I am in the middle of designing our cans and answering big questions about recipes, apple varietals for juice, and maximizing efficiencies in production. CiderCon is a place to network for sure. More importantly for me right now it is a place to ask questions.  There is nowhere else on earth where I can spend 4 days of concentrated time and exposure next to people with proven experience doing exactly what I want to do. For this reason, CiderCon’s value remains uncapped. 

To understand what motivates people is important. Understanding this about someone provides an insight into their heart and soul.  My close friends will tell you that I am competitive. And occasionally to my own detriment. Athletically inclined as a youth sports were the perfect outlet to channel my energy. Something or someone to compete against has in some ways been my motivation in life. I suffered from a learning disability in school and to this day I work to compensate for that. Only recently have I come to understand that my competitive nature came from those hard years in elementary, middle, and high school as I learned how to learn, to fight.  

As I’ve said in the past my journey to cider making has been extremely fulfilling, not with-out challenges. Perhaps furthest from my wheelhouse when I started, understanding the chemistry behind cider making has been invigorating. No doubt, I have only scratched the surface but each lesson, seminar, conversation, lab test, study result, or experimental car boy in my basement yields a wealth of exciting knowledge. Getting out side of my comfort zone in these areas keeps me motivated to create better and better cider. This has become the quest.  

Like all sports, master cider making has no ceiling. There is no perfect cider, recipe, or process. How am I to compete against cider? Is it my adversary, my competitor?  

Curiously, what I would previously have identified as a challenger I view as my teammate. Cider and I are on Team Lost Boy working together to understand how we can operate to support each other. We are unified and unstoppable. Trust that we will honor the good cider making traditions and time tested process of wine making. I hope Virginia’s heirloom orchards are ready for the spot light. It’s game on.  




GLINTCAP: Great Lakes International Cider and Perry competition 

Each year Grand Rapids Michigan hosts the annual industry organized event where fellow cider makers judge cider, perry, and meads by individual category. GLINTCAP is an opportunity to network and enjoy cider friends as much as it is an experience to come close to true cider perfection. It did not disappoint. 

This year I was honored to be invited by the coordinator and take part in judging ciders from around the world. (shout out to my friend Ron Sansone from Cider Culture and Spoke and Spy Cider for making it possible)  

The competition is organized by Eric West of and let me tell you it is quite the show. 2018 saw the most cider entries in its history, nearly 1,500. Each entry is recorded, labeled, boxed, and categorized by style. The ciders began arriving at VanderMill's production floor about two weeks prior to the start of the event and continue up until the night before judging begins.

I only briefly saw the process unfolding and could immediately tell it involves a tremendous amount of work. My hat is off to Eric and his team for their commitment to this and for pulling off such a smooth event.  

I arrived in Grand Rapids Tuesday afternoon, very excited, and a little anxious. I had never formally judged a cider competition. Some of my fellow judges have written books on the subject. Needless to say I viewed the entire event as a huge opportunity to grow my base understanding of all things cider.  The judges experience questionnaire I was asked to fill out 2 months ago was 10 pages long and detailed. I found it humbling. I know little about keeving, wild ferments, etc... 

After landing I Uber'd straight to VanderMill and met up with my pal Monte from 2 Fools Cidery outside of Chicago. VanderMill Cider was founded by Paul Vander Heide, current President of the USCMA and legit host. How would I describe VanderMill? Holy shit! It's awesome. My photos don't do it justice. To start, the tasting room overlooks 14 fermentation tanks totaling over 100,000 gallons of juice. There's also a HUGE 1960's Cadillac just hanging out on the production floor space. I have no idea why a car is sitting in the middle of production but I didn't ask questions because it's badass. And of course I did take the opportunity to test out the drivers seat. Monte and I enjoyed the ciders and the staff comped our flights which was awesome of them. A special thanks to Paul for his hospitality. The event centered around his cidery and his space handles the ciders as they come in and get organized.

Next stop, downtown Grand Rapids to meet my best pal Scott Katsma from Seattle Cider. Scott was an early advocate of mine and he's had a huge influence on me. From there the night becomes a little bit of a blur. What I can confirm is that I know that I smiled and laughed a lot and stayed out too late! 

The official judges schedule started Wednesday morning at 7:30AM with the most rad bus ride out to what Michigonians call "the ridge." About 40 of us joined the tour where we stopped at People's Cider, Robinette's Apple Haus, VanderMill, Ridge Cider, and Pux Cider.  The trip was amazingly informative. We could not have asked for a more beautiful day with blue sky's and 75 degrees.  Each stop include a tour of the property, cider, and oddly donuts. Lot's of donuts which unfortunately I could not part take in with my allergy. They looked amazing!  Does Michigan have a thing for donuts? Cideries there apparently do.

My favorite part of the day may have been talking with the orchard owners and learning more about the apple varieties that they're using, planting, and managing. Cider apples are so special I get goosebumps thinking about all those little guys hanging on the trees. This time of year the orchards are in bloom. As we drove through the ridge we were surrounded by rolling hills of blooming trees with white flowers. They continued, seemingly forever. Speckled amongst the white fields were pink flowering trees. Perhaps one per one hundred. These are important pollinating trees used by the bee population to strengthen the crop. It was breathtaking.  

The bus dropped us off back in town at 5pm with little time to spare for judges training and "calibration".  The training was immensely helpful. Conveniently there was a Starbucks downstairs in the hotel but sadly coffee was off the menu due to it's stringent qualities and the effects it has on your taste buds. I honored this rule until Friday morning when I started to crack under the sleep deprivation and wild ferments I'd been tasting for three days. No one told be about the coffee thing prior to arriving. But now I know what to be prepared for next year!  No coffee, no bueno!!! 

After training a group of us (2 Fools, Seattle Cider, Blakes, Two Towns, Angry Orchard) walked up to Founders Brewery for dinner.  The evening was a blast. I was on fairly good behavior and ready for judging the next morning which started promptly at 7:30AM (Eric, can we discuss this?)  

After shaking off the cobwebs I sat down at my first table of the day across from my fellow judges Emilie Sharboneau from Orginal Sin and Ben Watson author of several cider related books and official cider wizard. Gulp.  Drinking at 8AM?

From there it was off to the races. The next 6 hours we tasted, tested, and judged the most amazing ciders I've ever been around. That said, there were a few, uh hmm, interesting ciders submitted. During training the prior night our coordinator emphasized being kind. I reminded myself of this several times as I completed my judges scorecard.  In all honesty this process was teaching. With each cider I tried to be honest and respectful all the while being thoughtful of what the cider maker was attempting to do. Four 1.5hr sessions later...

The goal of the competition is to reward the entries on aroma, appearance, mouth feel, and over all design, not to be a jerk. At the end of the day the cider maker takes our feedback home and hopefully finds it useful on future ferments and recipes.  I'm looking forward to receiving my score cards in the mail next year and reading the feedback from my peers. And I'll try my best not to significantly offend anyone with my ciders.

Even though some of the ciders didn't hit the mark I have to take my hat off to the cider maker for pushing the envelope and pursuing the goal of creating something unique. Without their efforts cider doesn't advance. And I certainly wouldn't stay interested. Creating is so much of what we are doing here.   

Thursday night was another fantastic time. I love my cider friends very much. We all come from different places and backgrounds. That said, we share the same interests and goals. Make great cider and learn as much as we can about the process. The conversation is a chatter land of questions, statements, laughter, stories, etc... all good stuff.  Perhaps most valuable is my appreciation for their willingness to share. Share about life, and share about cider. I can think of few things of more value than knowledge. 

The details of Thursday evening are boozy and filled with positive vibes. I spent dinner with my inner crew at a pizza/beer joint. After grabbing a bite and gluten free beer I went outside and caught up with my Canadian friends who had a table outside. I sat down as the group was going around the table on each of their biggest fears. I was next. Mine was not to waste my time here doing something I didn't enjoy doing and to be fulfilled. Pretty basic I guess. I was, am, and probably always will be grateful that apples came in to my life when they did. I blinked and two hours passed.  

I ended up in a hotel room with the Canadian's at a cider share that my friend Ryan Monkman hosted. Ryan is a cider maker, consultant, and friendly Canadian whom I met while in class at Cornell. He's quite the guy and he too is chasing a similar dream. His cider, named Field Bird is crazy good. The northern spy single varietal was ridiculous. Ryan puts a personal poem on each bottle about his frame of mind during the making process. The poems are touching. 

Great cider and more laughter. I decided to leave as Dave from Two Towns was taking things to the "next level." I'll leave it at that. It was 1AM. I crossed paths with the Canadians in the morning at breakfast. The party went on past 3AM. Yikes.  

Friday came early, again, and it too was amazing. More cider from around the world. On my final judging table I sat with Helen of Weston's Cider in Herefordshire England. We were justing the final class of modern sweet ciders. They were amazing. We have our gold, silver, and bronze medal together after agreeing on eliminating eight on the eleven ciders sitting in front of us. Helen is a 5th generation cider maker. Her English cidery dates back to 1880.  As we chatted about the royal wedding she pulled out several letters from her bag.  The letters were over one hundred years old and from her great grandfather who had exchanged trade with apple growers in New York and Ohio in his search for new relationships. Fascinating. I'm so glad we met and look forward to seeing Helen again one day in England on her family land.   

The highlight of my trip may have been visiting Lake Michigan with Scott and crew. Friday after judging Scott, Ben, Bobby, Christine and I took off in the jeep and drove one hour west, ending up on a beautiful beach with fifty foot high sand dunes behind us. Not exactly what I think of when I think of Michigan for some reason. We cracked a few cans of VanderMill and talked about life. Walking out to the pier was so much fun. Scott came to this beach as a kid. He was jazzed to show it to us and I'm grateful that he did.  

The remainder of the night was a blast. Everyone was hungry so we headed back out to VanderMill where I found my way back to the Cadillac for an epic photo op. Folks sorted through the remaining ciders and took away what they wanted. From there the evening continued on, and on.  So much so that when I got home at 3AM I was quick to set my alarm for 6:45 in order to catch a 9AM flight out.  

That, um, didn't exactly happen and I made it to the ticketing desk at 9:37. Oops.  

$371 later I was back on track and set to be home at 5pm, just in time to link back up with Katie and head to Mount Vernon for a wine festival. Yay, more wine!!! My mouth was burning and my tongue felt like it was gone at this point but the Rose was very good. And it was very good to see my wife after being away.  

Well, that's GLINTCAP in a nutshell. Feeling jazzed and thankful.