A Gathering of Cidermakers: CiderCon15

cidercon-logo-2015How does the burgeoning hard cider industry mature and grow?

Will the hard cider industry be able to move the U.S. Congress toward supporting the growth of hard cider by lessening the tax burden on cidermakers?

What’s the difference between commercial, craft and artisan cideries?

These are just some of the many questions that will be debated and discussed when hundreds of cider makers and members of the hard cider industry convene at the Cider Conference (CiderCon) beginning tomorrow Tuesday, February 3 in Chicago. Organized by the USACM (United States Association of Cider Makers), CiderCon is a chance for the industry to assess where it is, discuss cidermaking issues, understand the politics of cider and alcohol regulation and network with other members of the industry.

While not a lobbying organization, the USACM gelled and formed in 2013 around the issue of The Cider Act. According to James Kohn, owner of Oregon’s Wandering Aengus Cidery and a director of the USACM, finding a way to lower the tax on high carbonation cider, which is now taxed like Champagne, was an issue every cidermaker in America could get behind and formed the impetus for the formation of the national association.

“You’ve got big commercial cideries, regional cideries and the small mom and pop cideries who all have different issues to address and have different perspectives on the industry,”said Kohn. “But on the issue of the high level of tax on carbonated cider as well as the outdated federal view of cider as a wine, we all were able to agree these things needed to change.

Educating USACM members about the Cider Act and what it will take to get passed will be an important element of CiderCon. Representative Earl Blumenauer. will be on had to address the attendees.

But CiderCon is more than politics. Beginning Thursday, attendees will have a number of seminars they will be able to attend from cidermaking, orcharding and marketing seminars to others concerning the evaluation of cider and the business of running a cidery.

The cider industry and the attendees of CiderCon have a lot to consider in these heady days of expansion for the industry. One issue that leaders of the industry want to wrap their arms around are the contours of the industry. How many cideries are there? How much cider is being produced? What is the breakdown of craft cideries versus large, commercial oriented cideries and is their growth rate similar or is one sector of the industry outpacing another.

Another very important issue that undoubtedly will be discussed at the conclave is the desperate need for more traditional cidermaking apples. The bittersweet and sharp apples that make the best craft cider are in short supply, while dessert apples like HoneyCrisp and Golden Delicious are abundant, but they don’t produce the best in the way of traditional hard cider. Is there anything that can be done to increase the number of traditional cider apples trees in a way that will reward growers? Again, this critical issue will certainly be discussed.

In the end, the true mission of the USACM is to educate the public about hard cider—to be an advocate for the drink. As Brad Page of the Colorado Cider Company and a director of the USACM puts it, “The promotion of quality products and a voice for cider in the market as a distinct and historic American beverage is a challenge.”

An important focus of the annual CiderCon gathering is finding ways for the industry to work together to collectively promote hard cider, keep it growing, keep the industry profitable and healthy and to do so in an efficient manner.

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