As I think I’ve mentioned previously, finding a nice place to have a cider while travelling, or better yet a local cider to enjoy, has become an essential part of my travel planning in recent times. From a stop at the local bottle shop before departing Inverness in Scotland, to planning several evening stops while in Portland and Vancouver, WA last May, to visiting a meadery on Kauai (not many apple orchards in Hawai’i), I try to find a new brew to collect on Untapp’d as I go about my travels.
Most recently, I went to Phoenix for the SLA annual conference. As this is a professional networking opportunity, I decided to extend an invitation to join me to my colleagues. Anticipating about 5-6 people, I was blown away by the epic response. As the forum “Me too!” posts ballooned to the mid-20s, I transitioned over to a more formalized RSVP survey process and watched the responses roll in while I pursued contact with a few different craft beer places near the Phoenix Convention Center.
I had already begun this process and found there weren’t that many cider makers in Arizona, and the craft beer places in Phoenix typically had 1 cider on-tap and a few more in bottles, all from other states, but at least the options weren’t the mass market types you can find in your local chain grocery store. At my initial inquiries, I mentioned that I had a group of about 10-15 interested, and wondered about the space available in their venues and if there was any chance they might be willing to obtain the one locally brewed cider I had found. The idea of convincing a venue to bring something in for us was a dream primarily placed under the “it doesn’t hurt to ask” heading and, mostly, I wanted to give the venues a heads-up so they would maybe bring in a few extra bottles and not run out too quickly.
Of the 4 venues I contacted, 3 of them either didn’t respond or said, “sorry, we don’t really do cider, just have a few token bottles.” But one of the venues was particularly responsive and seemed willing to look into options for us.
As the RSVP list continued to grow, the owners of Rott n’ Grapes Wine & Beer Bar started doing research and reaching out to their local industry colleagues. Just under a week before the scheduled cider meet-up, we had a planning call where I found out they were MAKING EFFORTS for us. Instead of dismissing our requests, they said, “we don’t normally have cider on-tap or mead, but you know what? Let’s do cider on-tap and mead!”
Just for us, they decided to bring in everything I had asked for! They would have a slim keg of Desert Dragon cider from the local Desert Cider House, a new cidery in the area. They would also bring in a case of Superstition Mead which I had inquired about. The split case would have 3 varieties available:
- Marion – Has won multiple awards over the years, including a Gold Medal at the Mazer Cup International in 2016. This craft beverage is an excellent expression of honey and berries.
- PBJ – Mead aged on peanuts and blueberry juice, which tastes amazingly like peanut butter and jelly.
- Tahitian Honeymoon – Honey wine fermented with Tahitian vanilla beans.
In response to their enthusiastic good will, I was able to give them the good news that we were up to about 40 RSVPs, and I was confident we would be able to meet the minimum spend they required for their efforts. It was starting to look like a good night!
Meanwhile, the head count kept growing as people got wind of the developments, and I finally had to close the RSVP survey when the count climbed to 55 people and we were at risk of blowing the doors off the bar!
I really should have kept better track of how many people came out that night. Some of the people who had RSVP’d were unable to make it due to flight delays or unexpectedly long dinners, but other people showed up who hadn’t RSVP’d in advance. I do know that over 20 people boarded the light rail with me to arrive as a group at 8:30.
I think we ended up with around 45-50 people, all there to excitedly try the local cider and mead, and have a great time networking the night before the conference officially began!
I am still a bit amazed by how successful this event was and give all kinds of kudos to Keith and Patty of Rott n’ Grapes for their supreme customer service and willingness to go above and beyond to give us exactly what we wanted.
Some of the other reasons I think it was successful:
- It was an unofficial meet-up the night before the official goings-on really started, so people getting in that day were looking for a low-key social event to get started;
- Unlike many of the official receptions at the conference, it wasn’t sponsored by any specific topical division or geographic chapter, so there was a lot of cross-pollination of professional types;
- It was an enthusiastically-driven and semi-spontaneous event, with a cider focus that was unique from previous conference planning; and
- What can I say? Cider is awesome!
I would say about half the RSVPs were enthusiastic cider and mead drinkers before the event. The rest of the people figured it sounded fun and they’d try something new! If anyone didn’t like the cider on offer, I didn’t hear about it. Several people were very happy with it, and enjoyed more than one pint.
For me, my reviews are thus:
- Desert Dragon, from Desert Cider House – A very serviceable cider, quite drinkable, although not a stand-out in my opinion. Not too sweet, not bitter. As I said, others among our group liked it quite a bit.
- Tahitian Honeymoon, from Superstition Mead – I can’t say this was the favorite mead of the group. It was quite sweet, which I acknowledge is to be expected of a honey wine, but was also a bit funky. Some said it had a Chardonnay quality; I do not like Chardonnay. My own taste buds found it skunky upfront, with the taste of honey on the tail.
- PBJ Crime, from Superstition Mead – Good, rich, sweet, but not a standout. I didn’t taste it as “amazingly like peanut butter and jelly”, but it was fine.
- Marion, from Superstition Mead – This was my favorite of the evening. Good rich dark berry flavor, but not syrupy or otherwise too sweet. It actually had a bit of a tart tanginess to it that was quite nice. As there was an unopened bottle left at the end of the evening, I purchased one to bring home with me to share with Steve.
By the time I was putting the finishing details on the plans for the evening, I was feeling confident enough to dub this the 1st Annual SLA Cider Meetup. Steve thinks I should start a cider tourism business. I admit the idea may have merit, but I’m not certain the tour planner and guide would be quite as free to imbibe as the guests can. Based on the response both before the event and the enthusiasm afterwards, I am excitedly looking forward to planning the 2nd Annual SLA Cider Meetup in Baltimore next June. Baltimore – what have you got for us?