Cider Chat: Alan Shapiro – The Genius Behind Cider Summit

Cider Chats are articles based on interviews with those in the cider industry. For this Cider Chat we had the opportunity to discuss the Cider Summit with its founder – Alan Shapiro of SBS Imports.
“This is an amazing idea!” was the first thing that I thought when we visited the first Cider Summit in Chicago in 2014. Sean and I were excited to be at a tasting event dedicated solely to cider. And so were many other people. According to Alan Shapiro of SBS Imports and the founder of the Cider Summits, the first Cider Summit in Chicago pre-sold 1100 tickets, expected maybe another 300 people at the gate but ended the night with almost double that number. In fact the organizers had to borrow glasses from Crispin to keep the party going.
The first Cider Summit was held in Seattle in 2010, but the idea for a cider tasting event was spawned by Alan several years earlier. In 2002 Alan, who had worked for Seagrams for several years, incorporated his own company and began importing artisanal cider in 2003 when he brought Aspall Cider from Suffolk, England into the States. A lunch meeting between Alan and Mark Bronder, co-founder of Pete’s Brewing Company, helped spark the idea of holding a craft cider festival to bring new awareness to one of the oldest drinks in the country. Alan formed the idea over a few years before launching the first Cider Summit.
Since 2010 the Cider Summit has expanded to Portland (2011), Chicago (2013) and San Francisco (2014), which is impressive considering the Summit’s humble beginnings. When the first Summit was held, Alan had no idea if anyone would show up. He hoped that since the Pacific Northwest already had a strong cider awareness that there would be interest from the general public as well as cider markers. That first Summit had about a dozen vendors, 45 ciders and 400-500 attendees. Since then SBS Imports and the Seattle Beer Collective has gone on to produce events in 4 cities with large numbers of vendors and attendees at each one. Additionally each Cider Summit supports local charities. For Cider Summit San Francisco, which will be held April 23, 2016 from 12 – 5 pm, the Summit will support the Institute for Myeloma & Bone Cancer Research and the Berkeley Humane Society.  The Summit also provides support to the California Cider Association.
One of the many things that Sean and I love about the Cider Summit is how it highlights artisanal cidermakers and regional companies. Through low participation fees (typically $250) and paying for the product poured, Alan has done a great job at making this event accessible to cider imports and smaller cider companies especially those who don’t have the larger media budgets. In turn this has provided a great educational experience for consumer introducing them to the presence of the companies outside of the bigger brands. It’s also great that Cider Summit does not exclude these bigger brands either. Alan commented on how this allows a consumer who may have entered the market through ciders produced by companies like Angry Orchard, Crispin or Woodchuck taste their favorites next to regional cidermakers (like Vander Mill or Virtue) or imported ciders (like Aspall or Sidra Natural Fanjul). We have noticed this education paying off in the stores with the increased availability of ciders made by smaller and mid-size companies.
Another thing that we love about the Cider Summit is that they are always looking to keep things fresh and interesting to bring in new and old visitors every year.  One of those new ideas was a the Oregon Fruit Products cider challenge launched in 2015. Cider makers used fruit puree (comped by Oregon Fruit Products) to develop a new cider for the Summit. First debuted in Seattle in 2015, seven producers at the Chicago Summit participated. Alan noted how the consumers were very energized and the challenge was won by Farmhaus Cider. We expect that there will be even more excitement for the Challenge in San Francisco with double of the number of producers participating.
Sean and I wish we could be in San Francisco for the Summit in a couple of weeks (especially since it is snowing in Chicago in April – where is spring?!?) and Alan mentioned it will be an amazing event. The Summit will held outside at the Civil War Parade Ground in the Presidio, an amazing National Park. Accompanied minors and dogs will also be allowed at the event. In fact, the Summit has partnered with Berkeley Humane to host a “Dog Lounge” where dogs can beat the heat with volunteers that keep the dogs hydrated. The one-day event will highlight over 50 cider producers and a few mead producers. True to the Summit’s commitment to regional cidermakers, over two-thirds are from California (which gives me and Sean some new places to try when we visit the area in June). And over half of the products that will be poured are new to the San Francisco Summit!
We know the Summit can be a bit overwhelming and you only get eight sampling tickets (even though more will be available for purchase on-site) so we asked Alan “what is the best way to navigate the event?” Alan mentioned that an event guide will be available in advance of the Summit and it is best to review it and start plotting a strategy based on ciders that grab your attention, remembering to allocate your sampling tickets among a nice cross-section of ciders and ask a lot of questions. To achieve this cross-section some recommendations are:
  • An English Cider (like Aspall Dry);
  • A Perry – an all pear drink in the style of a cider (like EZ Orchards Poire);
  • A cider from France – which Sean discovered are traditionally poured in this (like Domaine de la Minotiere Organic Cidre Fermier Brut);
  • A cider from Spain (like Sidra Natural Fanjul);
  • Something unique (like Eden Ice Cider);
  • Something regional (like Tilted Shed Ciderworks);
  • A fruit cider challenge; and
  • Something you think will be amazing.
And the main thing Alan wants you to remember when navigating the Summit is that the whole experience was developed to help you “push [your] boundaries a little bit” and “see all that is possible from apples.”