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Ciders Grow Up at the Cider Summit 

Wednesday, Apr 29 2015
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I will go on the record as saying that cider isn't always my favorite thing to drink, and not just because when October rolls around and the rest of the country is drinking hot cider, we're all in bikinis. The problem is it's too often sickly sweet, and not especially sessionable; after one, I'm done.

So I went to the Cider Summit in the Presidio this past Saturday with low expectations and a sense of duty that bordered on "get in, get out." Damn, was I ever wrong. The sheer breadth of ciders available was way too big to sip them all — the $35 ticket included 10 tasting tickets, plus a small glass branded with the Whole Foods logo — but the ciders I sampled pushed out from saccharine in all directions, from kombucha-esque acidity to a sauterne-like smoothness. My only real grievance is that there weren't any puns on the suffix -cide, which seems like a "killer" joke that would write itself.

After waiting about 15 minutes to get in, my friend and I zigzagged randomly in pursuit of tastings. Troy Cider, of Sonoma, forages for ingredients around Sebastopol and relies entirely on natural fermentation to get a "farmhouse funk" — as the rep put it, nodding vehemently when my drinking buddy detected a note of dill behind the apple, pear, and quince in the 2013. That one turned out to be a tie for our favorite of the day, which can be frustrating when it's the second thing you taste and even more frustrating when you go back for the 2014 and find that it's not nearly as good.

Several ciders were perfectly pleasant. Finn River's Honey Meadow, for instance, had a lovely honey-chamomile flavor, and Rogue's Fruit Salad was a nice blend of watermelon and strawberry, kind of like candy but without the refined sugar. Other things tried really hard to be what they're not. Although Rogue's 7 Hop cider was a freight train of apple-y tartness, chasing that already-crested IPA trends toward extreme hoppiness turned out to be a highway to bland-ville more often than not. Sometimes, bland can be your friend, though. Red Branch's Hard Black Cherry tasted so strongly of Luden's cough drops that I couldn't scrape it off my tongue fast enough.

What eventually cut it was Treasure Island's own month-old Tag & Jug Cider Co., which put out an effervescent Batch #1 that's fermented with Champagne and aged in neutral oak barrels to round out the dryness.

For the traditionalists, Gowan's Gravenstein cider was exactly what the label says: pure, distilled apples grown for seven generations in Anderson Valley. It could have benefited from a bit more carbonation, but Gowan's Sierra Beauty, with even less fizz, was a wonderful nectar almost like a Madeira. Colfax's Crispin Cider offered pear and prickly pear blend that was equally lovely in spite of its sweetness; sadly, its makers are waiting until they've perfected their filtering process before releasing it to market.

Along with Troy's 2013, the other winner was Worley's Mendip Hills. Hailing all the way from Somerset, England, it was a beautiful golden orange elixir with a corky taste that came close to what you want in a Napa Cabernet. (Worley's other cider, a Special Reserve Keeved, was quite good as well: bright and funky, like Miss Havisham's attic after spring cleaning.) A close runner-up was Neige, a Quebecois company that produces the cider equivalent of ice wine by harvesting apples in the snow. A perfect balance of sweet and sour, its cider is truly exceptional.

The Cider Summit was kind of a bare-bones affair, with plain white tents, a food truck or two, and some Greatest Hits of Dad Rock piped in. The oddest sight was a bumblebee nest, partly taped off, right on the Civil War Parade Ground. Was live pollination part of someone's demo, or were we interlopers on the drones' turf just as they were coming back to the hive after their shift? Turned out it was the latter.

"We just kind of added it to the contingency list," said Alan Shapiro, who was running the event, his 14th. At least it wasn't angry hornets, swarming over all the ambient fructose. (Nobody got stung and went into anaphylaxis, at least while I was there.)

Some of the ciders had ABVs of 11 percent or more, which is a little awkward when you more or less have to drive. (Transit to the Presidio is technically possible, but getting to the Main Post on a weekend is hard. More importantly, while driving under the influence is always a horrible idea, you should never, ever drink and drive in the Presidio. It's federal land and penalties are much harsher.) So I did what any sensible adult would do: I hit the Kettle Chips stand and feasted on free bags of sea salt and vinegar until I felt like I could get behind the wheel. Sometimes, gorging on junk food is actually the most responsible thing you can do.

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About The Author

Peter Lawrence Kane

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Peter Lawrence Kane is SF Weekly's Arts Editor. He has lived in San Francisco since 2008 and is two-thirds the way toward his goal of visiting all 59 national parks.

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