5th Annual Cider Summit Chicago – Part 1: Northwest Pavilion

Note: This is only a small sampling of many of the excellent ciders we had an opportunity to taste. Because of a vast number of producers present we will be highlighting Cider Summit Chicago over several posts. 

Last weekend was the 5th Annual Cider Summit Chicago put on by SBS Imports and the Seattle Beer Collective. This year there were 170+ selections expected from 51 producers. Products from 12 states and seven countries (with 51 from IL/MI/WI), as well as over 70 ciders never previously poured at Cider Summit Chicago.

One of the new features this year was a regional small producers pavilion – premiering with eight cidermakers from the Northwest. Most of these cider makers have limited to no distribution in the Midwest, so it was a great opportunity to sample them at the event.

A couple of years ago I had a chance to try Portland Cider when I was in L.A. (see here). For Cider Summit they brought their Sangria Cider, a blend of orange, strawberry, pear, passionfruit, elderberry, and lime. The cider, which was hugely popular with the crowd, wasn’t too sweet and the apple flavors stood up well to the six other fruits. This fruity blend would be a good introduction to drier ciders (for the super sweet fans) and got us thinking about spring days soon to come.

Nashi Orchards, located on Vashon Island, WA, produces a unique Perry and barrel fermented cider. The Island Harvest Perry is a blend of Shinseki (juicy, sweet, refreshing, crisp like an apple), perry (small and astringent) and seedling (i.e., wild) pears. The resulting perry is fruit forward (due in part to the sweeter pears), but still is dry with a few tannins. Nashi’s Barrel Fermented cider was one of the best that we’ve tried. Winesaps apples that are fermented in French Oak – which imparts a subtle oakiness with a hint of spice. The cider has soft, round tannins which balance well with the bittersweet apple notes and the finish is clean (with just a hint of the oak).

Dragon’s Head, also Vashon Island, produces their Traditional Cider with over 20 traditional English and French cider apple varieties aged for 1-2 years resulting in a bittersweet cider with a nice balance of spice, tannins, and acid on the finish. The Perry is a blend of Taylor’s Gold (juicy and aromatic) and seedling pears. Even with the addition of the sweeter pears, this perry was still dry and astringent with a light pear taste.

Alpenfire is a certified organic cidery in Washington State. Their Pirate’s Plank Estate Bone Dry is a scrumpy style cider made with a blend of bittersharp & bittersweet apples (Scrumpy style ciders can be dry or sweet but are usually still and unfiltered). The apples are aged for 3-4 months in neutral oak (which does not add flavor, rather it is used to soften the cider) with wild yeast. The cider is unfiltered, unpasteurized and bottle conditioned. The resulting cider is bone dry (o% residual sugar), a bit astringent but with a slightly funky finish. The Spark! Semi-Sweet, a blend of traditional cider apples and heirloom varieties, was an excellent balance of fresh apple flavors, slight acidity, and just a few tannins.

Cider Riot‘s (Portland, OR) Everybody Pogo is produced with Hodd River apples and Goldings hops from Willamette Valley. (Side note: most of the first hopped ciders originated in the Pacific Northwest due in part to an abundance of cider apples and hops). The dry cider had floral aromas and lemony notes with a slightly ripe apple taste. (2nd side note: When hops are added to cider, citrus/lemon is the typically the main secondary flavor.) There were a few tannins on the finish coupled with a bit of acidity. The 1763 Revolutionary cider is a blend of Yarlington Mill, Harry Masters Jersey, Dabinett, & Kingston Black apples. Due to the warmer summer of 2015, the apples had a higher sugar content which increased the alcohol levels.  A cedar note runs through the cider which has an earthy, apple skin like flavor and finishes with full round tannins.

One Tree in Spokane Valley, WA had two semi-sweet ciders which blended apple with traditional (Caramel Cinnamon) and unique (Lemon Basil) flavors. The Caramel Cinnamon was packed with caramelized sugar and spice flavors. If a slightly sweetened apple pie filling were liquefied, it would be similar to this cider. The Lemon Basil cider reminded us of a warm (not temperature, but spice) lemonade. The sweetness of the apple melds well with the tartness of the lemon with the basil coming through on the nose.