Cider Corner: What Do You Look For at National Conferences?

Another CiderCon is in the books, with industry professionals from all over availing themselves to networking and educational opportunities neatly packaged under one roof.

Last week, that roof was located in Chicago at the Hilton on South Michigan Avenue — a welcome respite from the bitter cold temperatures outside. 

With a variety of seminars, socials, tastings and workshops, there were myriad opportunities for people to take something back with them to their cideries. 

There are many reasons for professionals to attend conferences. Naturally, we at Brewer Magazine wondered what people at the convention were shopping for.

Katie Morgan, who co-owns Right Bee Cider in Chicago with her husband, Charlie Davis, said there was plenty of incentive to visit a national cider conference situated in close proximity to her taproom, which opened in 2014.

“You never know who that one person you’re going to meet is that’s going to turn into something — that relationship with an account, or that one piece of equipment that’s going to help you,” said Morgan, who said Right Bee was the first craft cidery to open its doors in Chicago. “This is our backyard. We want to let people know who we are and get them to come to our taproom. That means having events every night and making sure the taproom is a fun place to be, especially this week. You can’t come to Chicago and not visit Chicago’s first cidery.”

Atlanta Hard Cider is in a growth pattern, and that’s one reason Lead Cidermaker Lane Williams makes the trip.

“I saw a lot of my vendors on the vendor list — which is nice — and I want to explore some new vendors,” Williams said. “We’re hoping to launch a new facility in the next two years-ish. We’ve got a good footprint in Georgia and I’m wanting to expand that through the whole Southeast, and at that point we’ll try to build another cidery to accommodate that much volume. We’re on our way to that.”

For Graft Cidery Cellar Tech Caitlin Burton, CiderCon was a great learning opportunity.

“I’m still pretty new to the industry,” Burton said. “A lot of this is me learning. I make cider, so it’s good to get to a lot of the classes that focus on the cider-making process. I went to the QAQC seminar, which is good because you learn the steps to making sure everything you produce is consistent and is the quality you want it to be.”

Burton said she found the environment welcoming and met new contacts who may potentially help her in the future.

“Everyone here is trying to help each other grow,” Burton said. “It’s pretty cool and it’s kind of unique. And it’s great to find people who can be resources — people whom I can reach out to down the line who have experience. [For example], knowing the people at the Cornell lab is great because I can send things their way and get some tests done.”

Farmstead Cider founder Ian McGregor said the cider scene in Wyoming is picking up steam, but said he still feels a little far away from everything. CiderCon provides a respite for that and volunteering there encourages him to broaden his horizons.

“I want to cherry pick things I want to see but I’m also volunteering, so I’m being thrown into things I’m not anticipating,” he said. “There are workshops I wouldn’t pick just by reading about them, but it’s pretty interesting what you can learn when you’re forced into doing something you didn’t initially pick.

“There’s a community feel and collaboration here. I worked the production line in Napa and Sonoma before starting the cidery in 2016 and while there were a lot of people to learn from there, there were a lot of closed doors. There’s competition here, but it’s collaborative competition. In the hot tub, there were cider makers from Canada, West Virginia and Wyoming, and that’s pretty amazing. We talked about changes we’re seeing across the country. We have access to wine barrels, but we talked with someone who’s working with Bourbon barrels. That wasn’t a class, that was just talking to someone in a hot tub.”

Ron Sansone owns Spoke + Spy in MIddletown, Connecticut. He said CiderCon helps him stay connected to the cider world. 

“Connections are pretty important, but for me it’s seeing old friends,” Sansone said. “Cider is people, and that’s the most important thing.”

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