Alan Shapiro is the founder of Cider Summit which has now expanded to four cities around the USA. We got a chance to chat with him on how he got his start, some of the challenges he faces and where he likes to drink in his hometown of Seattle.
Cider Summit hits San Francisco on April 22 (this weekend!) and you can get tickets here
Read the interview below…
So tell us all about the origins of Cider Summit.
Around 2007/2008, I was having lunch with an old craft beer industry friend, Mark Bronder, from my days at Pete’s Brewing Company. He was unfamiliar with the cider category – especially artisanal cider and began quizzing me about the origins and evolution of the category. After several questions, he surmised that it sounded like the early days of craft beer, where there was still a tremendous amount of mystery to the consumer as to what those products were all about. He commented on the importance of sampling and producers connecting one-on-one with consumers at local festivals and fairs. He recommended creating a series of cider festivals to give consumers that same opportunity for cider.
After sitting on the idea for a couple of years I partnered with my good friends that produce Seattle Beer Week and we created the first Cider Summit in Seattle in September 2010.
Where did you get your start in cider?
After several years of working at fine wine and craft and import beer companies, I decided to create my own specialty beer importing company, SBS Imports. As I was forming the business in 2002 and seeking brewery relationships, I happened to hear from an old Seagram’s colleague who worked for an organization called Foods From Britain. They promoted English brands and assisted companies seeking to export to the U.S.
He introduced me to Aspall Cyder. I really had no interest in cider at the time, but agreed to pay them a courtesy visit as I already planned to be in Suffolk.
When you met the Aspall folks in 2002, what was it about their cider that changed your perspective?
The entire experience was an eye-opener. Cider had never been on my radar and I got to experience it for the first time in a spectacular way, starting with a stunning orchard estate with 900 years of history and cidermaking history that dates to 1728. It was a beautiful summer day and after a tour of the orchards and cidermaking facility, I was intrigued. I then tasted Aspall Dry with Barry & Henry Chevalier-Guild on the patio of Aspall Hall overlooking the moat that surrounds the property. It was beautifully packaged and the elegance of the product surprised me. I was expecting a cloyingly sweet, wine cooler like product, and in fact it was reminiscent of brut champagne. It reminded of the first time I tasted a really good beer or glass of wine. I realized pretty immediately that I had stumbled upon something with great potential.
Anymore Cider Summit markets expected in the near future?
We’ve looked at several cities, but nothing has quite yet worked out. We’re still considering adding one more to the calendar.
What are some of the biggest challenges in the industry right now?
I think cider is still struggling to find its identity a bit apart from beer or wine. There are such a huge variety of products that come under the definition/category of hard cider, which I suspect may be a little confusing to the consumer. Education at both the trade and consumer level will be critical as the category grows and evolves just as it was with specialty beer and fine wine. It’s important to have products that bring consumers into the category, but also important to inform and educate about differences in the different segments that exist in the broader category context.
Where do you see the craft cider scene going in 2017?
It’s really encouraging to see the very solid trends for most of the local and regional brands. I think their innovations will continue to be a very important part of bringing new consumers into the category and helping to educate those consumers. Hopefully we’ll see the category going “deeper” in both off premise and on premise accounts – meaning it’s time for a 2nd or 3rd cider tap handle, better bottled selections in restaurants and store selection that offers products across several cider segments. I think we’ll also see more cider bars and ciderhouses/tap rooms from cider producers.
What are some of the best places to drink cider in your hometown of Seattle?
Capitol Cider was really at the forefront in Seattle, building a beautiful bar & restaurant that is entirely gluten free. Schilling Cider House has also become a leading cider destination and of course the Cider Summit festival in September in South Lake Union! We’re lucky in Seattle that the category has been well embraced for a number of years now, and far more often than not you can find good cider available.
If you weren’t in cider, what would you be doing instead?
Even after selling SBS to Artisanal Imports in 2012, I’ve stayed very active in the industry beyond Cider Summit. I still host an annual collaboration brew at De Proef Brouwerij in Belgium that is imported by Artisanal. This year the collaboration was with Dan Carey of New Glarus. It’s always a treat to spend time with these great brewers. I’ve also recently partnered with two English friends on a new gin called Rendle’s Original Gin. We’ve been selling it in Ontario, Canada for a couple years and are in the early stages of expanding across Canada and into several U.S. states. I also remain involved with the REUNION – A Beer for Hope project with my friends at Shmaltz Brewing which raises funds for the Institute for Myeloma & Bone Cancer Research. As the schedule allows I’m also doing a bit of consulting in the cider industry. I’m keeping busy!