Phew, is all i can say. A whirlwind 9 day excursion to Portland, OR for CiderCon16 that left me gasping for air and hoarse.

“The most pleasurable, informative and exhilarating week I have spent around cider”.

The USACM (The United States Association of Cider Makers) engaged Bill Bradshaw (The Worlds Best Ciders and The Enthusiast’s Manual) to curate a finale under the guise of “British Cider Traditions”. Bill needed 3 cidermakers from the “craft” world of cidermaking, that covered the regions and had distribution in the US. Oh and they had also better be happy standing up in front of the entire cider making fraternity of the USA while tasting their ciders.

Barny Butterfield of Sandford Orchards in Devon, Neil Worley of Worley’s Cider in Somerset and myself fitted the Bill.

Held in Portland, OR, which just so happens to be the cider capital of the USA as well as being just plain “Weird” was the perfect place for this the 6th CiderCon. Over 1000 people from all over were honed in on what was a week of talks, seminars, tastings, with many many more extra curricular events at night. It was a truly energising event, for people who had cider running through their veins. Orchardists, Cidermakers, Cider Sellers, Cider Distributors, Cider Importers, Cider writers, Cider Bloggers and all focused on getting as much out of the week as possible.

I touched down in Portland PDX  to meet up with my good friend and fellow cider maker from Angry Orchard,  Ryan Burk in arrivals. We shared a taxi to the Hilton and headed straight for the bar and i guess never stopped talking till we left 7 days later, Ryan heading back to the Angry’s superb new facility in the Hudson Valley in upstate NY and me for Ocle Pychard in England and lambing.

We collaborate (with Greg Hall of Virtue Cider, Michigan) on an annual basis with “Gold Rush” our twice fermented cider homage to lambic ferments. The 2016 #4 is the best yet. So drinkable but massive tannins and a good dose of what is unaffectionately known as “band aid” in the US. The true expression of bittersweet phenolics that is just a tough ask for those not familiar with true cider apples and wild yeasts.

Monday dawns after a good but short sleep and it is time for a walk down town and a shot at one of Portland’s famed food trucks. I was after brunch but opted for Anna’s Thai in the end. Then an Earl Grey Tea in Starbucks, i was ready. Back to the hotel to finish off my Perry Presentation and download it to the CiderCon website.  Then over to the Ballroom, register and meet up with Bill and talk tactics for the tasting. Already i could tell the voice was going to take a hammering. So many people, all wanting to talk about cider and everything under the sun and  then Moira “the oh so acceptable face of Newton Court Cider” and Anna from Pixley Berries roar into the bar, 2 more cider refugees from Herefordshire, the volume increases dramatically! With Bill at the bar Alan Shapiro from Cider Summit, our old friends David White and Heather Ringwood from Whitewood Cider and Philippe Bishop from AlpenFire (who gave me one of the best bottles of cider i have ever tasted, the second one he so kindly gave me to take home, i smashed, that means a visit to Port Townsend is a must, next time through!). A trip out to fine dine with Mr Burk and then back to the bar.

Tuesday dawned with 3 organised trips visiting cideries around Portland or Willamette Valley or Hood River. I had opted to do my own tour round Portland, as i wanted to go and meet the Rev Nat West maker of some excellent, beautifully balanced  ciders, full of the the most exotic and unique ingredients. He has a store of 10 year old Oliver’s Cider and we are having an evening tasting on wednesday night to see if they have stood the test of time! At Nat West’s Taproom the Hereford Posse met up with The Angry Orchard Team and headed out to Cider Bite where we got to meet the enchanting  Meredith Collins and then our old friend Greg Hall and the current Virtue gang. The day rounded off with the NWCA Tap Takeover at The Green Dragon. Some great ciders on display including EZ Orchards, Whitewood Cider and AlpenFire Cider and my first meeting with the gregarious and so hospitable “Ladies in Cider” Pomme Boots . PommeBoots

Wednesday dawned with a breakfast meeting from 7.20am and we were off again. Meetings, an interview with beautifully voiced and cider devotee Ria from CiderChat , USACM business meeting and then it was the opening salvo and Bill Bradshaw‘s visual treat at OMSI to get CiderCon well and truly under way. Bill’s presentations  are always a joy and he immersed us all in the sights, sounds and smells of cider with skillfull imagery.

From there Nat West took me up to his taproom for our night of truth. Can a lightly sulphited sterile filtered cider still be drinkable 10 years on? The answer was about to be revealed……but not in private, along with hundreds of others in a very public advertised event. On hand was author and beer expert Jeff Alworth who had visited us for inclusion in his great book “Cider made Simple”. In a one out, one in packed room the verdict was ……….. yes, it was and still is very drinkable, some cider! Thanks Rev Nat, Jim, Gemma and Garrett.

Thursday already and my perry presentation in front of a packed, standing room only crowd who for the most part had probably never tasted perry made solely with perry pears before. The difficulty for me was always going to be keeping the talk within the allotted time. PERRY with Tom Oliver-30 . This was a great experience for me and i think for all who attended. We had bought our Herefordshire bottle conditioned Perry and our Classic Perry to book end the experience. and Kristen from SeaCider  wants to make more perry. Great dinner at Clyde Common (the charcuterie board was excellent) followed with Eric West and my Portland assistant Emily Ritchie who took great care of me all week, along with the Hereford Posse.

Friday and the finale beckoned, described as a Taste of English Cider, it was a magnificent celebration of cider on both sides of the Atlantic. The UK with it’s traditions and heritage and it’s myriad of bittersweet cider apples meeting the force and energy of the youthful re-emerging US and Canadian cider industry, fueled by constantly evolving ciders with a myriad of ingredients and the no shame in failure approach that allows innovation to explode. We all had a ball in the ballroom and it was probably an appropriate pressure release valve after a week of excellent and informative presentations and Meredith blogging as Along Came Cider says .

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So far i have managed to gloss over one of the main reasons for CiderCon, the talks, lectures and seminars. A great selection of many topics, it was always a hard choice to decide what to see but i really benefitted from attending Distributor Views on Cider in 2016, Pasteurization Techniques, Building a Cider Business in Devon, Analytical Approaches to Hard Cider Production, Social Media for Cideries, Going Wild and Cheese & Cider Pairings.

Friday night was The Skimmity Hitchers at Cider Riot’s new premises. I had helped sponsor the Skimiity’s coming to the USA (how could i not after Albert Rixen had spent the previous year telling me how brilliant they are) but the real credit must go to Abram, who took on a herculean task and made it all work. I take my hat off to you.  A superb way to finish the week. Cider fueled scrumpy and western . I also got to meet Alan Foster of White Oak Cider again, the grandaddy of bittersweet cidermakers in Portland, who i had last met in Turin at Salone del Gusto in 2004. A great night made all the more fun by Kristen and Erin from Cidercraft magazine, Jorgon Gorgon and Erin, frequent visitors to our ciderhouse in Ocle Pychard and everyone else involved .

Saturday was the USACM inaugural Cider Certification program which will be developed and will provide a vitally needed tool to inform everyone involved with cider. Facts are so useful especially when linked with Sensory Analysis. Eric West lead a very talented team, not least it allowed me to meet up with Nicole leGrand Leibon from Farnum Hill Ciders again.

Saturday night was a night on the town, visiting Bushwhacker and then meeting up with Ryan and renowned chef Ned Ludd and then dancing, yes i know, i can’t dance but i threw a few shapes and then we were home at the Hilton and to bed. Up early and a shared taxi to PDX with Ryan and the long trip home, where some 27 hours later i arrived.

It takes vision to create a Cider Conference on the scale of CiderCon. Over a 1000 people directly connected with US cider, all in one room, talking and tasting cider with an open mind is a revelation. The scale of the conference will escalate over the next few years, giving the need for an incumbent permanent organiser who the USACM are pursuing as we speak. In 2016 they were celebrating the recent triumph of the Cider Act. The challenge will be harnessing this energy and deciding what shape CiderCon 2017 in Chicago will take?

We left Portland relishing the energy, the emerging skills and the wonderful mix of people involved with cider in the USA and Canada. We felt total solidarity, unified by the burning question on both sides of the Atlantic “Just what is cider ?”.

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Thank you very much to USACM and especially the organising committee, Mike Beck, James Kohn and Michelle Foik .

Steven Shomler this blog is for you and your family.