I am something of an agnostic on festivals, of any kind. Even cider festivals. They tend to be more effort than fun, more crowds than compatriots, and more “meh” than “hey!” Such was my thinking as last year’s (the first annual) and this year’s (the second annual) PA Cider Festival approached.
In case you missed my talk, it boils down to this: cidermakers have been doing that same thing since at least 1690.
Despite that, I was excited both years because, along with tasting ciders from across the state, I was fortunate to present on cider history. Last year I spoke about recreating historical ciders. This year it was on the continuity of cider culture over the last 300-plus years. While that sounds like the typical historian-being-a-buzzkill sort of talk, I was hoping it was more a love letter to ciderists everywhere.
I didn’t know what to expect of this year’s fest. Last year was fun, partly because it had the energy of being the first one ever. It was easy to stand in the heat (and it sweltered) waiting to try ciders from across the state. Many I had only heard of and probably would have little chance to try again. My memory is that, while the creativity was high (jalepeno and peanut butter ciders were available), the range was limited to sweet (even what was called “dry” was pretty sweet) or syrupy ciders. It was disappointing that raw and natural ciders weren’t represented.
In part this could be because cideries making that kind of cider are perhaps not producing a volume that allows for large-scale tastings. My Blackledge ciders are small-batch and probably wouldn’t last the day with what we produce in a year. Perhaps the difference in production suggests a difference in scale and, thus, fest presence.
I was concerned that the cider represented at this year’s festival was going to be the same as last year’s. Happily, it wasn’t. While there was still plenty of sweet and syrupy, there were also some truly dry and still ciders. A few were even wild yeast fermented.*
It’s encouraging that a more diverse range of ciders were present this year, ones that were complex, interesting, and natural. Here’s hoping next fest has even more. And that I can be part of that evolution, in some way, again next year.
* Maybe I missed wild yeast ciders last year, but I truly don’t remember any.