Some of the best cider crafters and brewers on the Central Coast and our California neighbors in one room with dinner and music, you say? We’re in!
Hard Cider. Easy Decision.
Flavor Team members Kara and Andrew heeded the call and excitedly signed up for the 2nd Annual Central Coast Cider Festival in Atascadero, California. The event, held on May 13, 2017, featured 16 local cider vendors. Many were from right here on the Central Coast; others hailed from throughout California – from LA to Sebastapol.
It was a beautiful day, and driving alongside the post-drought now-full Atascadero Lake, we saw lots of people out enjoying activities on and around the lake. Paddle boat peddlers, Frisbee tossers, and dogs walkers were out in force. We pulled up to the Pavilion on the Lake building, where a large crowd of cider-thirsty people were already gathered, rearing to get inside and start tasting.
Just ahead, a car was leaving. Obviously, they did not know what huge event was starting in just a few minutes. Our “Rock Star” parking spot procured, we joined the happy cider conga line waiting for the doors to open. IDs officially checked, neon green wrist bands applied, and tasting glasses and dinner tickets in hand, we walked into the window-walled Pavilion that looks out over Atascadero Lake.
The energy of the room grabbed us as we entered the hall. Inner and outer circles of vendor booths filled the hall, and a band – Erin & The Earthquakes – was playing at the front of the room. The vibe was as sparkly and effervescent as the ciders we were excited to sample.
The band was great, and we’d love to hear them at a separate event. Being in the same enclosed room with a few hundred cider fans, however, meant the event was loud. Really loud.
It was hard to talk to the cidermakers, learn more about their journeys and their methods, and have a conversation. Several of them mentioned the noise level as well. We hope the organizers consider different options next year. But truly, that was the only downside of the whole event.
A Thirst for Cider and Quest for Knowledge
So, we high-fived and used sign language as we began making our way around the room. Our goal? To meet and talk with all 16 cider makers and try all the ciders in the room. Would we meet our apple-flavored quest?
We tried to make it around to everyone, and we did a pretty good job. Because we wanted to focus on our core Central Coast ciders first, we started with those on our handy note card, which was provided by the event organizer (great, clever idea).
About halfway through the three-hour event, dinner was served and we joined fun cider fans at the stand-up tables outside on wide deck overlooking the lake. Prepared by Chef Jeffery Scott, the English-style pig roast dinner, with rice and some of the yummiest coleslaw ever, really hit the spot.
We were hoping to have the opportunity to learn more about Chef Scott, as he’s got a very interesting story himself. We look forward to meeting him in the future.
After some good conversation over dinner, we returned to the tasting booths. So many ciders, not enough time.
Here are some of our takeaways, thoughts, and Flavorites contenders from the event, listed alphabetically. (We list all vendors at the end of this story).
What were your faves?
Bristols Cider House – Bristols in Atascadero is a cider icon, and sponsored this event. It’s great to see the camaraderie among cider makers and the shared spirit to bring great ciders to their fans. We’ve enjoyed tasting Bristols ciders at their fun Cider House, and have found Bristols on tap at various SLO county eateries. Tonight we met both cider makers and tried several ciders, including Mangelwurzel (fermented with beets) and Anne Bonny, fermented in bourbon barrels. Yum. That is good cider.
Golden State Cider – Perhaps our Flavorite out-of-town contender, this Sebastapol-based cidery brings some high-quality ciders – in cans, which is a great portable way to enjoy ciders at the beach or wherever. Co-owner Jolie Devoto-Wade shared an exceptional Gingergrass brew (two thumbs up) plus their other mainstays Mighty Dry and Mighty Hops. Golden State gets Flavor Team member Kara’s vote for best logo ever (and covets a t-shirt). We hope to learn more from Jolie about their cidery.
Gopher Glen – A newcomer to the hard cider world, Gopher Glen is not new to the apple-growing world, where they have the oldest commercial apple orchard on the San Luis Obispo coast. On their farm up See Canyon Road, near Avila, they grow more than 100 apple varieties, including heirlooms found only there. Owner and cidermaker Raven (great name) Lukehart-Smith introduced us to their four new ciders. Standouts were the Righteous and Fieldrun, both of which use a blend of apple varieties. Arkansas Black, a variety of apple, is used exclusively in Gopher Glen’s single varietal hard cider of the same name. Gopher Glen’s apple farmstand and cider sales open in July. We’ll keep an eye open and visit in the next few months.
Hemly Cider – Cidermaker Sarah learned her trade in Tazmania, from a leader who’s in the winemaker Hall of Fame – cool, right? What makes Hemly Cider stand out is the use of pears as well as apples. This creates a nice different flavor profile on its own. Then Sarah masterfully blends other things for surprisingly tasty results. The Jalapeno cider? Yes. Trust us. It would be great paired with some Mexican food. Ole.
Jean Marie Cidery – Co-owners Connor and Branden offer two distinctly different ciders: Mama’s Boy and Training Wheels. Both are fresh, crisp, and exactly what you want in a high-quality cider. Training Wheels is made with saison, a yeast used in brewing beer, so it’s got a more beer-like flavor. Interestingly, when the Flavor Team first met the Jean Marie team at the SLO Hard Core Cider Festival in October 2016, we tried Training Wheels and decided it might be an acquired taste. Now, several months later, we tried it again and it’s tasty. Maybe our cider palate is developing and we’re growing into our cider repertoire. Training Wheels seems especially apt for some good food pairings. Anyone have ideas to share?
Meraki Hard Cider – Great to see this Pismo-based team again. Travis and Quincy brought several ciders, all of which were great. A new one had hibiscus for a nice flavor, but Waltzing Matilda is becoming one of our Flavorites. Its blend of ginger and lemon means refreshing, crisp, but not too tart. So good. Another standout is Totem. And what about the name? Meraki is Greek for loving what you do and putting heart and soul into work…and it shows in their ciders.
Red Branch – Our last stop of the evening was at the Red Branch booth. Sadly for us, most of their ciders were gone – a good sign for them and the quality ciders they make. We fondly recall the peach cider from this Sunnyvale cidery, which we tried at the SLO Hard Core Cider Tour last fall. Delish. Next time, we’ll make a beeline for the Red Branch booth.
Reef Points – Local to our Cambria and Morro Bay areas, co-owners and cidermakers Patrick Martinez and Dane Jacobs were pouring three of their delightfully dry ciders including Unhooked, a sparkling cider with a beautiful rosy hue and flavor from aging in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels (from our local Niner winery in Paso Robles – a cool collaboration that we want to learn more about). We also tried Ramblings, which had a tropical flair, and a new cider aged in bourbon and rye barrels with a nice distinctive taste. All fantastic. All Flavorites.
Scar of the Sea – We have to admit: the very cool whale label artwork and nautical feel drew us in. Neither of us Flavor Team members is a huge fan of hoppy cider. After all, if we want hops, we’ll have a beer, do you agree? Scar of the Sea, however, makes an amazing hopped cider. Flavorful, delicious. We learned that Scar of the Sea is also a winery. We’ll have to check them out.
Tin City Cider – Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to get to the Tin City booth, but we have had their cider before. We also recently stopped by their tasting room in the vibrant Paso Robles Tin City enclave of craftspeople and had tasting flights. Definitely some inventive and good things coming out of Tin City.
The Day Winds Down
Like at the school dance, when the lights came up at 8:00, it was time to finish our last tasting and say adios to the 2nd Annual Cider Festival. Near the exit doors, a pop-up sales area provided a convenient opportunity to buy personal favorites from the vendors. Operated by Five Degree Wine Shop, it was a neat idea that we’d like to see at other cider events.
Quest (Almost) Fulfilled
We gave it a valiant effort to get to all 16 booths, and we came close. At least we had the great fun to try nearly a dozen. In addition to tasting some great ciders, we came away with an even deeper appreciation for the craft and art of cidermaking and the depth of a quality in our SLO County and California ciders.
We look forward to learning more about this industry and meeting the people who turn apples into crisp deliciousness in a bottle (or can!).
2nd Annual Central Coast Cider Festival Who’s Who
Central Coast Cider Festival
Chef Jeffery Scott – www.chefjefferyscott.com
101 Cider House – www.101cider.com
Bristols Cider – www.bristolscider.com
Dreamcôte – www.dreamcotewines.com
Golden State Cider – www.drinkgoldenstate.com
Gopher Glen – www.gopherglen.com
Hemly Cider – www.hemlycider.com
Jean Marie Cidery – www.jeanmariecidery.com
Krazy Farm Cider – www.krazyfarmcider.com
Meraki Cider – www.merakicider.com
Red Branch Cider – www.redbranchcider.com
Reef Points – www.reefpointshardcider.com
Santa Cruz Cidery – www.santacruzciderco.com
Scar of the Sea – www.scaroftheseawines.com
South City Cider – www.southcitycider.com
Surf City/Santa Cruz Scrumpy – www.surfcitycider.com
Tin City Cider – www.tincitycider.com
What is Hard Cider (a.k.a Cider Beer)?
Cider is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented juice of apples.
The juice of any variety of apple can be used to make cider, but cider apples are said to be the best. The addition of sugar or extra fruit before a second fermentation increases the alcoholic content of the resulting beverage. Apple cider alcohol content usually ranges from 1.2% – up to 12% (Bam!) depending on style and fermentation methods.[wikipedia]