By Nikki Rothwell

CiderCon 2020 hit the streets of Oakland, California, earlier this week.

The country’s annual cider (hard cider) conference hosted more than 1,200 cider makers, suppliers, distributors, juice companies and equipment manufacturers to celebrate and learn about all things cider. This year marks the 10th annual CiderCon, and this show has grown from its humble beginnings in Oregon in 2011, where there were only 40 attendees.

The American Cider Association (ACA) (formerly known as the U.S. Association of Cider Makers) sponsors the event with its executive director and an all volunteer board. Currently, Paul VanderHeide of VanderMill Ciders in Grand Rapids serves as the ACA board president, and Dan Young of Tandem Ciders of Suttons Bay is the Midwest representative.

The event kicked off on Tuesday, Jan. 28. It offered four tours that stretched from Sonoma County to Parajo Valley to San Francisco.

Ethan Honke of Suttons Bay Ciders was on a tour that highlighted food and cider pairings across the East Bay area. The group visited cideries in Oakland and Richmond, and Tag and Jug Cider on Treasure Island.

“Each stop had samples of food paired with little food bits that hit the different principles of pairing: match intensity, complimenting, contrast, cutting, and completing,” Honke said. “Pairing cider and food is fascinating, and the tour gave me more ideas to try in the future.”

The meeting began on Wednesday afternoon with a cider share that featured ciders from all regions of the U.S.

CiderCon this year highlighted Irish ciders. More than 10 cider makers from Ireland were on hand to showcase Irish styles, blends, apple varieties and branding. CiderCon 2020 also had representation from Spain, France, England and Japan. I even met a Korean beer marketer who is trying to introduce cider to Koreans. He believes Korea would be a great market for this beverage because many ciders are low in calories and are made from fruit (apples) — two reasons he thinks cider will appeal to health-conscious Korean consumers.

Educational sessions were held for two days in a track-type format. This year, tracks were based around the following topics: sales & distribution, marketing & trends, cider making, legal & compliance, sensory & evaluation, apples & orcharding, and flavor & terroir. There was also an educational poster session that featured cider-related research on apples, varieties, orchards, fermentation and sensory analysis.

Michigan was well represented at this year’s CiderCon.

Cideries in attendance included Farmhaus, Grand Rapids; Phillips Cider, St. Johns; Pux Cider, Conklin; Royal Farms, Ellsworth; Star Cut Ciders, Bellaire; St. Julian Winery, Paw Paw; Suttons Bay Ciders, Suttons Bay; Tandem Ciders, Suttons Bay; Uncle John’s, St. Johns; VanderMill Cider, Grand Rapids, and Virtue Cider, Fennville.

King Orchards, Central Lake and Peterson Farms, in Shelby, were part of the trade show this year.

The Michigan Cider Association (MCA) also kept with their tradition of featuring Michigan ciders at the trade show. The MCA rented a tap trailer in California, and we had 11 Michigan ciders on tap throughout the three-day event. Needless to say, the MCA booth was very popular on the trade show floor!

Cider continues to grow in popularity across the globe. The U.S cider industry has grown to 10 times its size in the last decade, and there are now at least 1,000 cideries in America and more are opening every year. Regional cider sales continued to have double-digit growth in 2019.

As part of this still-emerging industry, we are proud of these accomplishments but know we need work hard to continue this positive growth.

Thank you to the ACA, the MCA, the cider makers, and industry sponsors that bring us such a high quality educational event each year!

Cheers to cider in 2020!

Nikki Rothwell is a Michigan State University Extension district horticulturalist and coordinator of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station.

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