Cider is something new to me, though I do not drink much. I’m slowly making my way up to the 4.99 bottle of vino at Trader Joe’s almost three years out of Northwest Indiana. The Cider Summit at Navy Pier’s Grand Ballroom gave me the chance to sample something I was totally unfamiliar with.
Cider, for those of you who don’t know is a fermented alcoholic apple beverage. The Summit, which took place on Saturday Feb 7th, gave me a chance to try ciders of different types from around the globe. I went in with an open mind, a growing crowd of enthusiasts, and an invite from Alan Shapiro of SBS Imports, one of the event’s organizers. My game plan was to try at least three kinds: scrumpy, cider, and ice cider.
This is the traditional stuff of squeezed apples left to age with no filtering, flavoring or other additions. It’s cloudy -not clear- and for me, not very sweet. According to a vendor, scrumpy is a variety that takes a while for novice tasters to get used to.I imagine that this might be appreciated like single malt scotch for cider folk. Being cloudy, it reminded me of how fresh pressed cider looks- but not tastes- fresh off the press.
You can say Cidre (French), Cyder (British) or Sidra/Sidro (Spanish). I’ll just call this category “popular” for now until I get a better handle on the nomenclature. Whereas scrumpy is the “raw feed” that is aged, cider is the more filtered product. Most of the cider I saw (and tasted) was clear like most white wines. You get the taste of apples (spoiler alert!) but it’s a bit more wine-y. There’s definitely a range of ciders, with some having more body than others. One flavored with ginger really impressed me and could be enjoyed on its own or with Thai Curry Mussels. I couldn’t get around to ones flavored with cherry, apricot or pear. Other attendees were happy to tell me about them, though. This makes a large gathering like this fun- remember, kids: cider + time = chatty!
3. Ice Ciders
Ice ciders really surprised me. Like ice wine, ice cider is the product of the fruit- in this case apples as opposed to grapes- that are left on the tree in winter so the sugars can concentrate before picked. It is definitely sweet- but a rich, round flavor for a very adult treat. It’s definitely a dessert “wine.”Colored darker than other ciders, ice cider is rich and the most decadent of those I tried; strongly flavored, sweet but not cloying.
Considering that there were forty different vendors with at least two varieties each, there’s no way I could try them all and remain vertical. That’s how I found out that cider folk are friendly. The crowd I met was happy to discuss, critique and suggest among the ciders offered. No snobs here. What I experienced was a group of tasters who wanted to try this amazing drink on their own terms. Some sampled like Oenophiles, others like cider aficionados. My tasting notes had an assortment of hieroglyphs that included smileys and pictures. So much for formality.
We compared tasting notes and I got a lot of great advice. Next time I’ll bring protein or cheese to snack on. I saw a few who brought their own snacks, along with a seasoned pro who had a plastic container for a lunch and “disposing” the rest of her samples.
Maybe I’ll also read the publications available for those interested in all things cider. There were copies of Sip Northwest that celebrates wines, beer, ciders and spirits. Also Cidercraft- this is a ‘zine that covers only cider and does a nice job of introducing makers, the history, and even recipes.
I came away from the Cider Summit with a newfound appreciation of something unexpected, a taste for something new, and a broadening of my drink horizon. Next time I BYO, it might just be a bottle of the apple, not the grape.
Komala Hayes is from Gary, IN and resides in Chicago where she obtained a Master’s degree in Sociological Theory, Culture and Food. For Komala, the perfect meal can be had in many places, and inspiration fuels discovery, experimentation, and learning. She draws culinary inspiration from her mom, Julia Child, PBS and libraries -as they all take her to different worlds. She is currently working on a short science fiction story based on the concept of imaginary time.