Category: events

Franklin County CiderDays 2014 Preview


Franklin County CiderDays in Massachusetts—held the first weekend in November—is now celebrating its 20th edition. What began as a humble harvest celebration by West County Cider is now a New England-wide celebration of orchards, apples, sweet cider, and hard cider.

CiderDays 2014 will be held October 31st to November 2nd. Many events are free and open to the public, but some events are ticketed and other events require a $5 tasting glass to fully drink in the experience. Tickets for ticketed events are available online and I suggest you snap yours up quickly! There’s also a Facebook page where you can follow the latest updates.

If you are attending CiderDays, please be warned that the venues are spread across the entire county. Be sure you know the drive time from Point A to Point B! That way you’ll avoid rushing around and you won’t pick up an unwanted speeding ticket. If you’re using a smartphone for navigation, I’m not sure that you’ll always get signal. I have the locations pre-loaded on a GPS device just in case. Make sure someone stays sober enough to drive safely!

And speaking of West County Cider, it’s definitely worth a brief visit. West County is the first modern commercial cider producer in the US, and they continue to make interesting ciders. I particularly enjoy their rosé cider, made with the red-fleshed Redfield variety. They don’t give tours or let you wander through the production area, but it is possible to purchase 750ml bottles of cider at a reasonable price. I’ve always visited West County in the morning, but I’ve heard that Morris dancers often perform later in the day.

What follows is a preview of the workshops and tastings that most interest me. There are more events scheduled during the weekend than any one person could possibly attend, so please visit the CiderDays site for an up-to-date listing and decide what most interests you!

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Cider Festivals – Autumn 2014

Cider Summit Seattle
September 5-6

The 5th annual Cider Summit Seattle will be held at the South Lake Union Discovery Center. With over 150 ciders being poured from the Pacific Northwest and beyond, you’ll likely need both days to sample everything on your wish list.

Washington Cider Week
September 4-14

Cider Summit Seattle is just one of dozens of different events being held in Seattle, Spokane, Yakima, Port Townsend, and other cities during Washington Cider Week. Oregon Cider Week in June is always a success; both events have done a great deal to raise awareness of cider in the Northwest. Get ready for a number of tap handle takeovers, special cider cocktails, cider/food pairings, and cider tasting flights at bars and restaurants throughout the state!

Great Lakes Cider & Perry Festival
September 6

The 7th annual Great Lakes festival will be held at Uncle John’s Cider Mill in St. John’s, Michigan with 100+ ciders and perries for festival goers to sample. Producers from Michigan and the entire Great Lakes region bring home plenty of GLINTCAP medals each year…so be prepared to taste some great cider! I haven’t seen an official list of what’s being poured, but cidermakers from around the country send bottles to be poured at the festival.

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Cider Week Virginia — Part 1

[This post is by my wife, Melissa, who rarely travels to cider events due to other commitments. Keep an eye out for future posts from Melissa and other guest authors! — Eric]

tasters at East/West Smackdown
East/West Cider Smackdown at Albermarle CiderWorks

My husband and I were too busy to travel to any Cider Week Virginia events in 2012, so there was no way we were missing out this year. We packed the whole family up—newborn son included—and headed to Charlottesville. We carpooled with Eric’s friend Ben, a National-level BJCP judge who proved to have quite a knack for pacifier re-insertion.

Our crew arrived a few minutes late for the sold-out East/West Cider Smackdown at Albermarle CiderWorks, held on Friday, November 22nd. But we arrived just in time to hear tasting room manager Anne Shelton explain how the good fight was going to go down. Twelve ciders—six from the West Coast, six from the East Coast—would be the contenders. We were given a tasting wheel and a note-taking sheet, and then set free to taste each cider at our own pace. The twist? Each bottle of cider was wrapped in brown paper and labeled with a three-digit number so that we wouldn’t know the cider’s true identity. Of course, Eric was saying “I bet this is a Foggy Ridge,” and so forth, but I was truly blind.

This was the most fun with cider I have ever had. I couldn’t believe my good luck! I got to taste 12 different ciders and rate them against each other, without actually having to buy 12 bottles of cider. (Even most of the Virginia ciders aren’t yet available in the Blacksburg, Virginia area we call home.) Courtney Mailey of Blue Bee Cider and Stuart Madany of Castle Hill Cider were also in the crowd, taking advantage of this rare blind tasting opportunity. Diane Flynt of Foggy Ridge Cider was absent, but some of her tasting room staff were there helping Albermarle’s staff pour the ciders.

pouring cider at East/West Smackdown
Anne Shelton pouring cider at the East/West Smackdown

Tasting so many ciders led me to realize that I have quite a wide palate in terms of what I like to drink—from dry to sweet. It also led me to realize that even though the cider resurgence is still in its infancy, there’s a lot of promise in what is out there. Out of the twelve, there was only one I wouldn’t drink, and given the strong, musty smell, it may have been a bad bottle or batch.

Of course, twelve ciders is an awful lot to taste, and especially given that I was limiting my sipping (remember the baby?), it was hard to keep each one straight. I wasn’t the only one with this problem: another woman leaned in to share notes with our little group, and I saw by the time she had gotten to the bottom of her sheet, she had written “I like it!” instead of the detailed aroma and taste notes she had at the top. One way to mitigate this would be to have a slightly more tutored tasting, perhaps regrouping two or three times during the evening to discuss. (Anne would later tell us that Tom Burford and Chris Lehault led the ceremonies in 2012.) As it was, it was a free for all until the end, when we were able to cast our tickets for our favorites.

I cast both of my tickets for a bright, full-bodied cider with a heady aroma that I couldn’t get enough of. When Anne called its number out as the winner, there was an immediate uproar of people wanting to know the name behind the number.

The top five vote getters were:

  1. Snowdrift Cider Co. — Cliffbreaks Blend (Washington)
  2. Blue Bee Cider — Aragon 1904 (Virginia)
  3. Foggy Ridge Cider — First Fruit (Virginia)
  4. Whitewood Cider Co. — Old Fangled (Washington)
  5. Tieton Cider Works — Tieton Blend (Washington)

The remaining seven ciders were, in alphabetical order: Albemarle Ciderworks Ragged Mountain, Alpenfire Ember, Castle Hill Celestial, Dragon’s Head Cider Manchurian, Finnriver Artisan Sparkling, Old Hill Yesteryear, and Potter’s Craft Cider Farmhouse Dry.

The West had beat out the East with three of the top five ciders. Snowdrift is one of the premier American cidermakers (in Eric’s opinion) and Cliffbreaks Blend is his favorite cider of theirs, so it wasn’t surprising that it finished on top. (Snowdrift now ships to 43 states if you’d like to try it.)

How I wish I had the chance to taste them all again, knowing the name of each, so I could associate a taste with the name! It’s hard to keep twelve different ciders straight using three-digit numbers! Ah, well. One interesting thing that I didn’t realize until I had a chance to look at the results was that the Smackdown wasn’t just an East/West competition. All of the East ciders were from Virginia, and all of the West ciders were from Washington state. Virginia didn’t stack up too poorly, and I was pleased to see our closest cidery, Foggy Ridge, was among the top three!

The cider tasting was fun, but the night wasn’t over yet. Because Ben is an avid cyclist with the metabolism of a teenager, we then sought out Milan Indian Cuisine and feasted on some scrumptious Indian food. Afterwards, we crashed at the nearby Super 8, resting up for Saturday’s Cider Fest at Castle Hill.

Ben, Eric, and Heron enjoying Cider Week Virginia
Ben (r), Eric (c), and Heron enjoying Cider Week Virginia

CiderDays 2013 Preview

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Franklin County CiderDays in Massachusetts—traditionally held the first weekend in November—is now in its 19th year. What began as a humble harvest celebration at West County Cider is now a county-wide celebration of apples, sweet cider, and hard cider.

This year’s CiderDays will be held on November 2nd and 3rd. Many events are open to the public, but some events are ticketed or require a $5 tasting glass to attend. Tickets for ticketed events are on sale at the CiderDays website and I suggest you snap yours up quickly! There’s also a Facebook page where you can follow the latest CiderDays updates.

What follows is a preview of the workshops and tastings that I’m looking forward to. There are plenty of other events happening during CiderDays weekend, so visit the CiderDays site for a tentative schedule and further details.

If you’re headed to CiderDays, I can’t wait to meet you! Leave a comment below so we can share a cider together.

Apple Varieties for the Organic Orchard
Tom Burford and Michael Phillips
Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls
Two of the most knowledgeable apple growers in the country team up to discuss which varieties are most suitable for growing with organic methods. Michael is passionate about organic and beyond-organic methods, and his books The Apple Grower and The Holistic Orchard are both excellent. Tom is not particularly known as an organic advocate, perhaps because existing organic techniques do not fare well in his native Virginia. But Tom does travel regularly to the world’s major apple growing regions and certainly knows a thing or about growing apples, organic or otherwise! These two were paired up for a talk in 2011 that was highly engaging, like listening to two musicians effortlessly improvising and playing off one another’s riffs.

Finding a Great Cider Apple in Your Backyard
John Bunker and Claude Jolicoeur
Apex Orchards, Shelburne
John is the man behind Fedco Trees and was recently featured in an excellent article by Rowan Jacobsen. Claude is better known for his cidermaking prowess, but is surely knowledgeable about varieties that thrive in colder northern climes (he’s a native of Quebec City). The title of the talk leads me to believe that it’s about taking whatever apples you have access to and making great cider with them…which would be welcomed by many amateur cidermakers who get their start by collecting fruit from the trees of friends, neighbors, and abandoned properties. Once you’ve assessed what the apples you have access to are lending to your cider, you can then plant or source varieties that make up for any deficiencies. As much as I enjoy listening to Tom and Michael, I will be at Apex Orchards on Saturday morning to hear what John and Claude have to say!

Author Signings
Jolicoeur, Phillips, Burford, Bradshaw, Watson, Traverso
Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls
There is a bumper crop of excellent books on apples and cider this fall. Stop by the author table and chat with the wonderful people who have shared their expertise with us. Here’s a list of the latest books from each author, with a link to the book on Amazon:

The New Cider Maker’s Handbook – Claude Jolicoeur
The Holistic Orchard – Michael Phillips
Apples of North America – Tom Burford
World’s Best Ciders – Bill Bradshaw (& Pete Brown)
Cider, Hard and Sweet (3rd Edition) – Ben Watson
The Apple Lover’s Cookbook – Amy Traverso

3:00-4:30 and 5:15-6:45
Cider Salon I and II
Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls
Advance Ticket Price: $25/session
The highlight of CiderDays for hard cider enthusiasts. Unlike many tasting festivals, there are no drink tokens or tickets to be purchased; you are welcome to as many samples as you can reasonably consume during the session. Ben Watson, who organizes the Cider Salon and vets the participants, told me that this should be the largest collection of ciders at a CiderDays yet; looking at my program from 2011, there were 29 producers and 58 different ciders, ice ciders, and perries on offer. The Shelburne Buckland Community Center will host the Cider Salon this year, which is a slightly larger venue than the one at Old Deerfield…so fighting through shoulder-to-shoulder crowds should be a thing of the past. The evening salon will likely sell out before the day of the event, so don’t wait around to buy your ticket!

CiderDays Harvest Supper

Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls
Advance Ticket Price: $40
I didn’t attend the supper in 2011, but I heard that it was fantastic. This year’s lineup doesn’t look like it will disappoint! My understanding is that vegetarian options are available, but there is only one type of ticket available for purchase online; I will do some research and edit the post with details for those with special dietary needs.

Apples for Juice and Cider
Claude Jolicoeur
Brook Farm Orchard, Ashfield
Alan Surprenant is the orchardist at Brook Farm, caring for a hundred or so apple trees that were planted in 1990 on Antonovka rootstock. During my 2011 visit for a similar workshop, I was fascinated at how Alan had aggressively pruned the trees to keep them at a reasonable height, quite unlike what you’d expect to see in a standard orchard. Claude and Alan were offering fresh-pressed juice to attendees as they arrived in 2011, quite a warm welcome! I look forward to revisiting Brook Farm this year and learning more about what makes quality apple juice and cider.

So You Want to Be a Commercial Cidermaker
Steve Gougeon and Andy Brennan
Bear Swamp Orchard, Ashfield
I have no plans to become a commercial cidermaker, though many cider enthusiasts do dream of “going pro” someday. If that’s you, then you’ll want to drive out for this session! Steve is the orchardist/cidermaker at Bear Swamp in Ashfield and Andy is the orchardist/cidermaker at Aaron Burr in New York’s Hudson Valley. Both gentlemen have adopted a traditional farmstead approach to cidermaking: Steve uses his own organic apples and doesn’t employ commercial yeasts, while Andy’s flagship cider is made with foraged apples from local homesteads. Andy in particular is very outspoken about his reverence for “true cider.” So these guys are passionate about their craft and have deliberately chosen to take the high road with regard to producing quality ciders.

Spanish Cider Tasting
Jim Asbel
Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls
Advance Ticket Price: $25
Most people—if they’ve tried Spanish cider at all—walk away thinking that all sidra is strongly sour, acetic, with almost unapproachably funky aromas and flavors. While some traditional sidra could accurately be described this way, many progressive cidermakers in Asturias produce a balanced cider that is pure in a way that few North American ciders can approach—traditional sidras are spontaneously fermented, unfiltered, unpasteurized, and uncarbonated. Mention this to any beer geek and it sounds like a dream beverage! Jim Asbel (Ciders of Spain) imports a diverse selection of sidra from Asturias, including Guzman Riestra Sidra Brut Nature—a dry, bottle-conditioned cider made with French bittersweet apples—and Diamantes de Hielo, a “frost cider” made in the spirit of Quebec ice cider. While I can’t guarantee that Jim will be pouring these exact ciders at the tasting, I can guarantee that you’ll emerge with a stronger appreciation for the Asturian cidermaking tradition.

North vs. South Heritage Apple Tasting

John Bunker and Tom Burford
Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls
Advance Ticket Price: $20
This is Part Two of a tasting that began at CiderDays in 2011. My notes from Part One indicate that John Bunker brought Black Oxford, Esopus Spitzenburg, Gray Pearmain, King David, Lincolnville Russet, Pomme Grise, and Newtown Pippin to face off against Tom Burford’s Arkansas Black, Ralls, Stayman, Virginia Beauty, Winesap, Yates, and Albemarle Pippin. My recollection is that the audience preferred John’s Northern apples in that tasting, so I know that Tom will have sought out some especially flavorful Southern varieties for this year’s bout. Count me in for Part Two!

Cider and Cheese Pairing

Murray’s Cheese (NYC)
Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls
Advance Ticket Price: $25
If Murray’s believes that cider pairs well with cheese, then you better believe it! A mainstay in Greenwich Village since 1940, Murray’s stocks a surprisingly good selection of bottled ciders in addition to their vast array of cheeses and other gourmet foods. I don’t consume much dairy, but reading The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese a few years ago opened my eyes to the hundreds of small-scale cheese operations that are thriving around the country. I love fermented foods in general and I’m always interested to hear perspectives on pairing cider with food, so I will definitely be in attendance at this session.

Pour The Core Cider Festivals

On my recent trip through New England and Quebec I arranged to meet with Andy Calimano, an event organizer and promoter based on Long Island, New York. Andy’s company Starfish Junction Productions has recently begun organizing cider tasting festivals in Philadelphia and on Long Island called Pour The Core. Andy also publishes Hard Cider News, a monthly online newsletter that summarizes important happenings from the world of cider. We met for lunch on the North Shore of Long Island as I was driving east to catch the Cross Sound Ferry to Connecticut.

Andy got into the event promotion business purely by accident. While studying in an entrepreneurship program at NYU, he volunteered to help put on a beer festival that turned out to be a financial disaster. Undeterred by the initial failure, he helped organize a second festival mostly just to recoup the losses from the original event, and the rest is history. There were a few detours along the way into events like scrapbooking that were ultimately dead ends, but Andy has narrowed his focus exclusively on the beverage industry: beer, wine, tea and coffee, and now cider.

Festival goers enjoying the inaugural Pour The Core in October 2012. Photo courtesy Starfish Junction Productions.
Festival goers enjoying the inaugural Pour The Core in October 2012. Photo courtesy of Starfish Junction Productions.

The first Pour The Core festival was held on October 20, 2012 at Peconic Bay Winery on the North Shore of Long Island. Andy recognized the potential in cider but was cautious with regards to attendance at the initial festival, hoping more just to see what did and didn’t work at a cider festival. But much to his surprise, the event sold out and was a huge success. (I would later speak with Jim Silver—business manager at Peconic Bay Winery—who estimated that attendance at the first Pour The Core was close to 1,000, with women outnumbering men.) Admission to the event was $40 and included an unlimited number of two-ounce pours and access to seminars on cider mixology, cooking with cider, and making your own cider at home. Alan from Corks, Caps & Taps posted a recap of his experience complete with brief tasting notes.


For 2013, Pour The Core is expanding to a second location at The Navy Yard in Philadelphia to be held on September 28th. The Long Island edition will be held the following Saturday—October 5th—again at Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue on the North Fork. The offerings include fewer local cider producers than what you’d see at the Cider Summits, though it’s impossible to deny the appeal of any festival that celebrates all things cider! Here’s a tentative listing of the cider brands that will be available at each Pour The Core:

Philadelphia and Long Island
Doc’s Draft
Michelob Ultra Light Cider
Stella Artois Cidre

Philadelphia Only (full listing)
Domaine Dupont
Fox Barrel
Frecon’s Cidery
JK Scrumpy’s
Original Sin
Spire Mountain

Long Island Only (full listing)
Angry Orchard
Curious Traveler Shandy
Samuel Smith’s
Standard Cider Company (True Believer & True Companion)

Tickets for both events are available online at Pour The Core also has a Facebook page at Learn more about Starfish Junction Productions at and be sure to sign up for the monthly newsletter from Hard Cider News at