Nina Zinn, the Western North Carolina Green Building Council’s development and outreach coordinator, is excited about this year’s CiderFest. “Instead of five cider makers, we have 16 this year,” says Zinn, the creative force behind the festival. Last year’s inaugural event, a small-scale benefit that wasn’t expected to sell 100 tickets, wound up attracting 425 visitors and five producers.
The 2014 edition will happen Sunday, Nov. 2, at the WNC Farmers Market, and Zinn expects to sell upward of 750 tickets. “It’s a great chance for cider makers to meet each other. We have 13 hard-cider makers from North Carolina alone,” she reports. The proceeds from ticket sales support the Green Building Council, which promotes environmentally conscious construction practices with a focus on energy efficiency and more sustainable materials.
Why is the local cider industry flourishing? “I think because there are so many breweries in the area, it really helps open people’s minds to a different kind of beverage,” says David Bowman of Black Mountain Ciderworks.
“There’s already an interest in craft beverages,” adds co-owner Jessica Puzzo. “We love beer; we didn’t get into this because we don’t like beer.” At the festival, Black Mountain Ciderworks will be pouring Pomona, its flagship brew, and Viking Blood, a blend of cider and tart cherry mead.
Jeff Anderson, the marketing and creative director at Urban Orchard Cider Co., says the event’s rapid growth doesn’t surprise him. “We live in a town where craft, things that are made from scratch, and keeping tradition alive in Appalachia are important to a lot of people,” he points out. I personally was not surprised at how fast the tickets went,” says Anderson.
Urban Orchard will also be pouring at the festival, and Anderson encourages attendees to stop by the booth and see which of its six current ciders will be on offer. “Our menu is constantly changing,” he explains. “We always have three mainstays, but that leaves room for the three other taps to be filled with experimentals.”
Besides dispensing cider, Urban Orchard will also have an informational table concerning the proposed Cider Act, which would amend a section of the Internal Revenue Code in a way that would significantly benefit local producers.
“The law hasn’t caught up to cider yet,” says Puzzo. “Cider is legally a wine. Our permits are wine permits, so we get taxed like a wine, but when you open up a bottle of wine, generally it is going to be between 10 and 14 percent alcohol. Ours are half that or less, because we make our beverages more like a beer. It is taxed unfairly, because we’re not selling it for those prices: We’re getting taxed based on how it’s defined and not on what it actually is.”
Fourteen other cideries will also be at this year’s festival: Noble Hard Cider, Blake’s Hard Cider Co., Sidras Bereziartua Sagardoak, Bold Rock Hard Cider, Bull City Ciderworks, Fishing Creek Hard Cider, McRitchie Winery & Ciderworks, Naked Apple Hard Cider, Red Clay Ciderworks, Sourwood Brewing Co., Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards, Three Sisters Cidery, Windy Hill Orchard & Cider Mill and Woodchuck Hard Cider.
The Jon Stickley Trio will provide the soundtrack as attendees browse the booths of crafters, apple growers and artisanal food purveyors. Hendersonville’s Three Sisters Cidery will be demonstrating apple pressing, and a hard cider-making 101 panel will cover homebrewing basics.
For her part, Puzzo is encouraging beer aficionados to take advantage of the chance to broaden their palates. “Because cider is served alongside beer in a lot of cases … it’s an easy transition,” she maintains, adding, “In fact, if a beer drinker likes our cider, we are really pleased.”
To learn more about the Cider Act, visit ciderassociation.org/cideract.