Cider has been on the upswing recently. While usually neglecting to realize that cider has an entire aisle at a beer store like Binny’s, it makes sense to have an entire event dedicated to this sweet, sometimes dry, nectar. Upon hearing about last year’s event from two of our guests and friends (Kim from Hail to the Ale and MC from Worth 1000 Beers), I decided to cider it up on Saturday, February 27 for the 4th annual Cider Summit. And I use “I” in the loosest sense of the word. You’ll see why soon.
To learn more about some of the ciders at the summit, check out our Cider House Rulez episode. Big thanks to Kim Leshinski of Hail to the Ale, MC Johnsen of Worth 1000 Beers, and Steph Byce of The Girl and Her Beer for capturing the moments of the elusive John Apple.
The venue: Navy Pier’s Grand Ballroom was the site for Cider Summit for the second year in a row. Beautiful views of Lake Michigan coupled with a well-thought out and executed layout made this a fest that never felt too cramped or crowded at any point. Having booths ring the outside of the main floor with a small island of booths in the center was absolutely the correct decision, limiting congestion at all the booths and providing ample areas to just hang around in a group and talk. The second floor was also used ingeniously, housing more stateside cideries, the international ones, as well as cider mixed drink stations. Hopefully someone from the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild was in attendance and took notes to implement at FOBAB. But I’m not holding my breath.
“Craig” was in attendance: While that’s the name on the ID they had to check, Craig was nowhere to be found. If you ran into him at the Cider Summit, you met John Apple.
Who’s John Apple, you say?
John Apple is the “grown-up” Johnny Appleseed. He’s the Chief Executive of Mergers and Acquisitions at The Orchard. Ciders are booming right now, so he’s getting in on the ground floor, scooping up various cideries and making the number one cider conglomeration. Soon, The Orchard will push out all the small batch cideries from bars, and both undercut other cider companies with a lower price point for everyday cider and make luxury cider housed in hollowed-out apples for $100 a 375 mL bottle. And people will love The Orchard.
Mr. Apple was easy to spot, as he was wearing his formal head pot, which is only used for the snazziest cider events. Along with the vest and work boots, the pot says, “I’m a hard-working cider guy like you!” while the French silk tie, dress shirt and slacks say, “I close the deal.” He was also equipped with business cards and “Sold” signs, just in case. He “purchased” the top three cideries as well, but more on that later.
Mr. Apple feared his only competition, unlike events like GABF where it’s like beer comicon cosplay, would be the Fruit of the Loom apple, but he doesn’t go anywhere without the rest of the gang, so John Apple was the star of the summit!
Biggest miss: I asked multiple times where The Northman booth was, and multiple times I forgot to go. They were making some cider cocktails, which will be available at The Northman bar (4337 N. Lincoln).
Ciders of Spain – Sidra Avalon (5.5%) – Extremely dry and very funky, Avalon could easily be mistaken for a saison and really opened my eyes to what other cideries around the world are doing with the drink. I even got the “long pour!”
Farnum Hill – Extra Dry (7.5%) – Even drier than the Dooryard Cider we had on the show (but not quite as dry as the Avalon), it was one of the few domestic dry ciders at the festival. A standout for sure, it leaves me wishing for more of this type of cider available.
Vander Mill Green Mill Barrel Aged Cyser (6.8%) – A collaboration with Greenbush, Green Mill had a nice mix of apple and booze on the nose, while the cider itself was a bit sweet and boozy going down.
Orchard Gate Imports – Thistly Cross Whisky Cask (6.9%) – The whisky was the star of this one, with a kick of booze and sweetness complementing the base cider. I was recommending everyone I saw to try this one.
Uncle John’s Moscow Mule and Old Fashioned cider cocktails – I preferred the Old Fashioned to the Moscow Mule, but both were well made. The cider cut the alcohol burn and added a touch of sweetness to it. Definitely would like to try more cider cocktails in the future.
These are awarded to the cideries that were pouring 3 or more ciders, all of which were quality. John Apple, as CEO of Mergers of Acquisitions, decided to “purchase” them (as evidenced by the “SOLD” sign).
Shacksbury (Shoreham, VT) – Pouring Classic, Farmhouse, and Arlo.
We already discussed the Farmhouse on the show, and the classic was very similar in profile, with a slightly thinner body due to the lack of being “light barrel aged” as the Farmhouse. It had the right amount of apple sweetness and dry finish. The Arlo, on the other hand, was quite a bit sweeter and had a fuller mouthfeel; it was my personal standout from them. All three varieties, along with other special releases like the Basque, are available in Chicago.
Sea Cider (Saanichton, British Colombia, Canada) – What best way to cap off Cider Summit than by trying some of the highest alcohol ciders available. Even with what was most likely cider palate fatigue, Sea Cider’s offerings of Pippins (9.5%), Kings & Spies (8.0%), and Prohibition (12.5%) stood out. Prohibition, despite its alcohol heft, never felt too boozy. Fermented with Champagne yeast and aged in rum-soaked bourbon barrels, it was sweet, boozy, and chocolatey, with hints of rum spices and vanilla. Kings & Spies was not as complex and much crisper, and the Pippin was dry and had more fruit notes present. Their website says they are available throughout Illinois, and Bottles and Cans (4109 N. Lincoln) appears to be the only one in the city carrying Sea Cider.
Cider Brothers (California) –Someone told me to try these guys, and, boy, I’m glad I did. Pouring three different treatments of their Pacific Coast Cider (Pinot Grigio, Strawberry, and Wild Cherry), I was wowed by all three. The strawberry and wild cherry were semi-sweet with the fruit and the apples mixing together well. The Pinot Grigio poured like Crystal Pepsi with less carbonation (but you could see right through it) but with a much drier profile. I went back multiple times to try them all. All three (plus a fourth one) are thankfully available at Binny’s and will definitely be joining my carousel of refreshing, low alcohol summer drinks (which includes Lizard King, Yuzu Fierce, and Flywheel).
A fun event at a lovely location with (luckily) great weather made this year’s cider summit sparkle. The spacing made it seemed much less crowded than it actually was and the collection of ciders was astounding. As with most festivals, I was able to try new things and find a few that stood out above the rest. I will definitely be going again next year (maybe as John Apple again?).
John Apple Stat Sheet
Number of times I was called a “pot head”: 12. Eleven so I could hear it and one in a whisper that I still heard.
Number of people that suggested improvements: 1. Pot with an aerated bottom, as my formal head pot was surprisingly very hot.
Number of people that thought it would be funny to strike the formal head pot: 3. This is why more people don’t go around wearing pots on their heads. That’s a societal loss, to be honest.
Number of people who dented the formal head pot with their strike: 1. They know who they are.
Number of people mildly displeased with the costume: 4. Good show, Cider Summit. A bunch of cool people in the cider community.
Number of cideries that asked about Johnny Appleseed information to a not-entirely-all-there John Apple: 1. I’ll get you for that Bantam. (John Chapman was born 27 miles from Bantam, FYI).
Biggest beer fanboy highlight: Joe Short (of Short’s Brewing and Starcut Cider) asking to take my picture. Cool.