CraftCon 2019 an exclusive round-up

CraftCon 2019 an exclusive round-up

I’m sat in a large hall surrounded by a hundred and forty strong crowd (plus presenters, organisers & panelists), with 80 cideries represented. “There has never been a better time to be a cider maker;” the day started with a rousing introductory speech from the Three Counties Cider and Perry Association chair, James Forbes. A day to celebrate the “native wine of the UK” and a “time to rethink cider”.

The first session that followed, “Blend In. Stand Out. Your Shout,” was led by the Godfather himself, Tom Oliver and attended by all. He started with an obvious yet thought-provoking statement that “cider should be all about structure and drinkability”. What followed was an honest and music analogy-filled insight into the art of blending. He shared his process, how to retain purity of smell (no strong aftershaves when blending) harmony, balance and equipment; “for a few quid you’re ready to do the greatest thing on earth... blending cider”.

Tastings throughout culminated with the Keeved #3 Season 2017 with Tom’s introduction “if you like sweet, you’re in for a treat”... boy was he right, such a beautiful drink!

For the next session, I opted to hear from Albert Johnson from Ross Cider and Tony Lovering from Halfpenny Green on “Core Principles”. Having just planted my own orchard I was keen to learn about creating a successful craft cider business. Albert’s encouragement to “be ambitious, go out and find the right market for it,” coupled with sharing his experience and list of key decisions was inspiring.

Tony followed with a very well thought out business plan/model for sparkling cider. The figures were both interesting, especially for those considering increasing production above 7,000 litres, and surprising in terms of the prospective opportunities.  We sampled Raison D’Etre (Ross Cider) and Florin (Halfpenny Green); polar opposites in terms of sweetness but equally full of depth.

It was back to the main building for the first panel discussion about “Market Building”. Packaging was covered by Alice Churchward (The Real AL Company), sharing that there is a real market opportunity with 440ml cans. In contrast, Ross Duncan (The Stable) shared an “increase in bottle sales over the last two months”. The overarching comment from Susanna Forbes (Little Pomona) was that we need to go out and “ask for the good stuff” and “rethink cider”.

Social Media was covered and how important it is to engage in comms in the early days and to not be afraid of it. Felix Nash (The Fine Cider Company) shared tips on focusing on the things that make a difference to your product, while Annie Hallet (Hallets Cider) encouraged attendees to keep putting news out, keep it alive and get your face in front of the camera.

After lunch, my eagerness was built on, following the morning session where Tony covered sparkling cider numbers. I attended Simon Day’s (Once Upon A Tree) talk on “Exploding Myths”, pro tips for making bottle conditioned and champagne method ciders and perries.  A real appreciation for the time, effort and skill was conveyed by Simon to all. The science and attention to detail required to make sure the final product reached just the right level of carbonation and quality brought a whole new level of respect for the makers. Samples of Once Upon A Tree’s Carpenter’s Croft Sparkling Cider, Chapel Pleck Sparkling Perry (both Champagne method) as well as their Wild Flight (more to come on that in the next blog), were a treat.

The next talk I attended was again with that planted orchard in mind: “The Devil’s in the Detail”, a talk by James Marsden (Gregg’s Pit) on how accurate record keeping can help you make better cider and perry. James shared some valuable lessons on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points to ensure any visit from Environmental Health was a good one. He then illustrated (literally) the value of gathering data from all points of the cider making process; harvest, fermentation, bottling, etc. The graphs he produced showed clear patterns and directions of travel that proved valuable insight for his business going forward. An important lesson given our changing climate. We also had the opportunity to sample his 2017 Dabinett and Yarlington Mill, which had a sumptuous mouth feel; look at those bubbles.

The last talk for me was “Arrested Development”, a talk from Martin Berkeley (Pilton Cider) on the art of keeving. It was again abundantly clear that the time, effort and skill to create these drinks is phenomenal. Martin talked through the process, what to add and when and at what temperature to ensure the chapeau brun is created and the process continues.

He then shared how you have to stick with it and be vigilant, including (as he has been known to do), getting up in the middle of the night to check on things. Daily sampling under the pectin gel and testing is a necessity to get your timing right, as Martin said, “when it suddenly becomes cloudy, you know you should have racked yesterday”. Sampling concluded with Martin’s not yet fully released ‘Pomme Pomme’, a keeved cider and quince triumph, which was bursting with tropical fruit, vanilla and a perfect balance of dry and sweetness.

The final panel discussion on ‘#RethinkCider’ was the last event of the day, moderated by Gabe Cook (The Ciderologist) and featured Roberto Basilico (Hawkes), Barny Butterfield (Sandford Orchards), Tom Oliver (Oliver’s Cider & Perry) and Jane Peyton (School of Booze). I’m not going to give much away for this one as I recorded it for Crafty Nectar Facebook Live so you can go and watch the whole discussion using the link below. But highlights include transparency, coming together as a whole cider community, education and cider language.

After closing remarks the day ended with dinner and a cider social; an event I will not forget in a hurry. Many of the attending makers had brought samples of their creations to share with all, from bottles to bag in boxes, hobbyists to some of the day’s speakers, from the four corners of the UK and further afield. Needless to say I sampled many, talked with the makers, shared feedback and celebrated the wonders and nuances of cider and perry.

My reflections on a superbly organised day are of community, success, sharing and development. To be able to attend an event where the very successful and highly skilled are willing to openly share their techniques with other businesses is enlightening. Well done to the Three Counties Cider and Perry Association, to all the organisers, volunteers, speakers and panelists. I cannot wait for CraftCon 2020.

Such a brilliant itinerary...

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