Chicago: A Report From The Cider Summit

Fairly recently, I've become a fan of hard ciders. I still love beer, but have found cider to be a tasty (and less filling) change of pace. So I was excited to find out that the Cider Summit would be taking place in Chicago for the first time.

Held in a large hall at the end of Navy Pier this past Saturday, with windows all around offering magical views of the snowy waterfront and skyline, it was in this setting that I exchanged my pass for a tasting glass and a fistful of drink tickets. Time to try some cider! And with 26 cider makers from around the world each offering as many as six selections, there were a lot of ciders to drink.

About five tastes in, I was struck by the variety. Ciders range from dry as the driest white wine to sweet as Sauternes, from refreshing and light to heavy, warming and boozy. Likewise, the appearance differs from nearly clear to completely opaque and in almost any shade in the autumn spectrum — from yellow and gold to deep-red, orange and brown. There were even a couple of rosés.

Though I wasn't able to try them all, here are a few that stood out:

Farnum Hill Extra-Dry/Green Label (Lebanon, NH)

My first taste wound up being one of my favorites. This exceedingly dry, sparkling, crisp and light-golden beverage was described to me as being similar to Brut Champagne. Not off base, but I would say it's closer to a Vinho Verde. ABV 7.5

Uncle John's Melded Reserve (St. John's, MI)

This really tasty, very dry, sparkling cider is made with a mix of English, French, and American cider-specific fruit — over 20 varieties of apple. ABV 6.8

Sarasola Sagardoa (Astigarraga, Spain)

Cloudy, funky and barnyard-y, this is rustic, to be sure. That said, I'm wishing I had a bottle of the stuff in my refrigerator. Not for everyone, but definitely worth trying. Fun fact: Carbonation is created in the glass by pouring this cider from a height of at least three feet! ABV 6.0

Prima Cider Most (Long Grove, IL)

I tried this one late in the day and it really stood out. This cold cellar–fermented cider is dry, light and very refreshing. Just the boost I needed to get me through my last few tickets. ABV 6.5

Virtue The Mitten (Chicago, IL/Fennville, MI)

Just released, the Mitten is a blend of 2011 cider that's been aged in Bourbon barrels then mixed down with fresh-pressed juice from the latest harvest. Dark gold in color, still and a little sweet, this "winter cider" is on the warming side with pronounced flavors of whiskey (vanilla, oak, caramel). With an ABV of 7.0, it's strong enough to be sipped slowly after dinner but not so strong that you couldn't enjoy a glass or two with dinner as well.

Don't think of these as "the best." Out of the three people I was with, none could agree on a single one being our favorite. With all of the varieties, there's at least one cider out there for everyone. Next time you see one on tap, give it a shot. It might open up a door to a whole new world of drinking.

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