Brilliant blue sky. Warm autumn sun. Notes of live music hanging in the air. Friendly groups playing lawn games. Smells of good cooking luring you to the food trucks. And a slew of some of the best craft hard ciders just waiting for you to sample.
All this and more awaits you at the Hard Core Cider Tour.
Enter the Hard Cider Mecca
Now in its third year, the Hard Core Cider Tour brings together some of the best hard ciders from California (and elsewhere) and creates fun events in local parks where attendees can enjoy cider along with our lovely West Coast fall weather. And not only does the Tour benefit hard cider aficionados with quality ciders, but each tour stop benefits a local cycling-related nonprofit through a donation and publicity.
How to Rock Your Tour
It’s easy to have fun at the event, right? Simply take your tasting mug from booth to booth and taste many ciders.
It is that easy, but with a little preparation and few easy tips will help you enjoy your cider-centric afternoon even more.
A Few Days Before
- Make a List of the Ciders You Want to Try
The Hard Core Cider Tour showcases about 25 hard-cider companies, and each vendor will bring more than one cider. As adept as we know you are at sampling ciders, it’s possible you’ll run out of time (or ability) to sample all the ciders at all the booths.
So to really enjoy the flavors, check out the Hard Core Cider Tour website and take a look at the vendors who will attending your city’s tour. Jot down your A-List (must try) and B-List (want to try) ciders, and bring the list to the event.
This will help narrow down the field and help you target those you most want to taste while the day is still young.
- Stay Curious, Open-Minded, and Adventurous
As you look through the vendor list, and during the actual event, keep a sense of curiosity. One of the best things about the Hard Core Cider Tour is the range of hard ciders available to taste. Take advantage of this broad selection and try a few cider companies you either haven’t heard of or a style you may not be familiar with.
Along with curiosity, try to leave your expectations or preconceptions at the entrance. Just like with craft beer and small production wineries, the joy of craft hard cider is the unique expression each cider maker brings to his or her product.
Not every cider will be dry, light, and carbonated. Makers may use hops in varying amounts, age in different types of barrels, use single-variety apples, use other fruits, capitalize on the natural yeast flavors, or make other decisions to create their unique ciders. That’s part of the fun trying new ciders and developing our cider palates. With a little experimentation, you just may find a new favorite cider.
- Designate Your Driver or Reserve your Uber or Lyft
As you get your friends together to attend the Hard Core Cider Tour (and remember to get the cool Cider Squad package if you have eight or more people in your group), designate your driver(s) ahead of time. And lavish them with gifts for the sacrifice they will make to get everyone home safely.
If you’re going to hire someone to drive, reserve a couple days ahead to be sure your ride is locked in.
The Day Before
On Friday morning, start hydrating by drinking lots of water—8 oz. every hour. This will help you get hydrated before the event, which will help with both metabolizing cider and dealing with the effects of a possibly hot autumn day.
We know… it never rains in California.
But, just in case, check the weather the day before and prepare either for unlikely rain showers or the more likely bright sun and warm temperatures.
Bring what the weather calls for: rain jacket or umbrella for a sprinkly day, or a hat, sunscreen (tip: apply to the tops of your feet and backs of your legs), sunglasses, and a large water bottle for a typical sunny day. And drink from your water bottle often.
Tour Day Dawns
Finally! The Hard Core Cider Tour is here and you can barely contain yourself. But be patient. The doors will open in just a few hours.
In the meantime…
Have a substantial late breakfast or lunch before the tour starts at 1:00. Include protein, good fats (like olive oil or avocado), and some complex carbohydrates. This will help you maintain level blood sugar and better metabolize the hard cider you’ll be sampling.
- Keep Hydrating
Drink more water in the hours leading up to the opening. Especially if the weather will be hot, coming to the event hydrated will go a long way in helping you enjoy it.
During the Hard Core Cider Tour
After you get your age-verified wristband and tasting glass, the fun begins. Here are few tips to have a blast for the next three hours.
- Pace Yourself
Remember the A-List you created a few days ago? As you walk through the entry gate and survey the rows of vendor booths, take a few minutes to review your list and see who’s located where. It’s really tempting to jump right in and start tasting at the first booth, but your patience will pay off by rewarding you with the ciders you came to taste early in the day.
If there’s time and capacity after your A-List and B-List are checked off, you can always sample others.
- Take Breaks
In addition to pacing yourself according to the ciders you most want to try, take a couple breaks. Play a game of corn hole. Listen and dance to the live music. Drink more water. Sit in the shade.
- Meet the Cider Makers
Another great thing about the Hard Core Cider Tour is to opportunity to talk with the cider makers and learn more about their process, their passion, and their products. Like any artist, most are excited to share their work and love to talk about the craft.
As you sample ciders, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and then see if you can taste the results of their cider-making decisions.
- Eat Again
The Hard Core Cider Tour brings in some great local food trucks, so take a break about halfway through the afternoon for a good meal. Find a place to sit down and enjoy good food, talk with people, listen to the live music, and take in the vibe of the event. And try to wash down your picnic with good old water.
- Afternoon Plans, Part Two
Make your plan for the second half of the afternoon. Are you making progress on your A and B lists? (Do you remember where your list is? Do you know where you are? If not, hunt down the closest food truck; it sounds like you need to eat.)
But seriously, now’s the time to consider whether you want to revisit a few ciders or try some new ones.
- Decide What to Take Home
At the Cider Store pop-up tent, you can buy bottles of the ciders you like the most and official Hard Core Cider Tour swag so you will be the envy of your friends. At the SLO Hard Core Cider Tour, nosh on apple-themed bakery items from Great Flavors (don’t tell anyone they happen to be gluten-free…just like the Gopher Glen apples they’re made from).
Until Next Year, Thanks for Coming
The next time you open a bottle of hard cider, think back to this fun day of tasting, exploring, and learning more about the hard cider world you love, and remember the part you played in creating a successful Tour. You can also come back to our event recap articles to re-live the event through photos, music, and videos and share memories with your friends.
Keep enjoying the hard cider lifestyle, and we’ll see you at next year’s Hard Core Cider Tour!
Be sure to share comments about your event with us and the Hard Core Cider Tour page.
Cider Tasting Tips
Just like with any fermented beverage, it’s fun to try to name the aromas and tastes, and deduce where they came from.
Ideas to play with:
Smell the cider. What are the first aromas you get? Floral? Herbal? Earthy? Look at the color. Is it pale, deep, clear, murky? Then taste it. Hold the first sip for about 30 seconds. What do you taste? Do the tastes match the initial aromas? Does the taste change as you hold it? With the next tastes, do you pick up different things?
Can you tell if the apples were gathered from an orchard that was next to a eucalyptus grove or in the smoke flume path of a wildfire? Can you taste or smell the naturally occurring yeasts (some may be earthy or funky, but not unpleasant)? Can you taste the barrel used for aging? New oak (vanilla tastes) or neutral oak? Can you tell if the barrel held wine or bourbon before? For single variety ciders, what are the difference between each apple? If other fruit was used during or after fermentation, can you taste it?
How does the carbonation (or stillness) affect the taste or overall character?