By Erin James
The most promising piece I pulled away from the United States Association of Cider Makers fourth annual conference held in Chicago last week wasn’t the impressive statistics. According to Boston Beer Co. and Angry Orchard’s Robert Vail, the number of cider drinkers grew more than six times in the last two years and my hometown of Seattle is the No. 2 market in the country. It wasn’t the 353 cideries, 35 states and 650+ people represented at the conference either. It was the infectious enthusiasm and sincere fervor founding the craft beverage that really engaged me—whether it was banding together against the TTB in a somewhat heated roundtable discussion, pressing the press about how to pitch their story to media or promoting the next door neighbor’s upcoming cider license, the spirit of cider was alive in Chicago.
The number of cideries with plans to have product in the market later this year and even by 2016 was encouraging, from a consumer’s view as well as that of a publishing house that prints a magazine devoted to the beverage…
Bringing in some of the top names in the industry from the big players to the family orchardists, the Windy City was inundated with cider enthusiasts, makers and more. Seminars took place and covered topics from distribution market views and yeast strains to analytical approaches to cider making, starting a small business and U.S. apple crop updates.
The conference was exclusive to members of the industry but once the sun set, cider makers held events throughout the city to spread the good word and excitement behind the craft beverage. The Globe Pub hosted the folks of Artisanal Imports for the U.S. premiere tapping of Aspall’s John Barrington still cider while Kevin Zielinski of E.Z. Orchards and Steve Wood of Farnum Hill tasted and explained their farmstead ciders. Karaoke and cider took hold of Emporium Arcade Bar with 12 lines dedicated to cider and the stage open for all. Fountainhead (a cider hotspot that is also opening the highly anticipated The Northman) held a tap takeover that included E. Dupont, Tieton Cider Works, Vander Mill, Uncle John’s, Original Sin, Ace, Farnum Hill and Wandering Aengus Ciderworks.
As inspiring and romantic as getting a church-full of evangelists together can be, the bottom line is still that cider has a long way to go to catch up with its beverage competition. Although cider is only 1 percent of the beverage consumption market, it is on the rise and is the fastest-growing segment of the beverage industry—with more than 16 million consumers tossing back the drink in 2014 (up from 11.6 million in 2013 according to Statista.com). And that is enough to raise a glass.