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Our tires crunch on dried leaves as we pull up in front of a beautiful, rustic red barn. Out my window I see a field with a wide, low medieval looking stone wall and gnarly old apple trees spreading behind as far as the eye can see. As I step out of the car and into the barn the smell of fresh apples mixed with the crisp New England air almost knocks me over. Instead, it just knocks a big smile onto my face. This is my first stop on a 4-day trip and tour of my very first Franklin County Cider Days and I already have that familiar Happy in My Soul feeling. This is going to be good…

Suz and cidermaking friend, Gordon, walking towards the big red barn of Clarkdale Farms

Photo credit: Eric Lewandowski

Simply put this is not your typical drinking festival or boondoggle for those in the industry. It’s informative, interactive, experiential and, of course, fun. So many alcohol events end up simply being an excuse for enthusiasts and makers to drink without any real depth or value beyond perhaps finding a new favorite drink or two. While that’s certainly fun and valuable, here at The Crafty Cask we’re constantly on a mission to spread knowledge about craft alcohol to help bust myths, turn skeptics into enthusiasts and help existing enthusiasts dive deeper into their passions. Franklin County Cider Days is the perfect place to do just that.

This is NOT your typical boozefest boondoggle…it’s an informative, interactive & inspiring cider celebration.

Close up of a table full of apples cut up and labeled for tasting

Photo credit: Eric Lewandowski

Now, before I give you a glimpse into what Cider Days is all about let me preface this by saying it is heavily attended by cider makers and others in the cider industry. There are some consumers in attendance as well, but besides the two tasting salons this currently feels more like an industry event than a consumer facing event. There are pros and cons to this.

For those of us in the industry and consumers alike, it’s pretty freaking awesome to mix and mingle with so many makers and cider experts for 3 days straight. Trying everyone’s cider as we talk is a pretty nice benefit too. However, most of the formal educational content throughout the agenda really is geared towards makers and likely not super compelling unless you want to start making cider yourself or geek out a bit. The content is great for those in the industry but there’s opportunity to bring current and potential cider enthusiasts on an educational journey as well.

This is THE place to geek out with fellow cider experts and makers

Two Cider Days Attendees holding a cider making book with big smiles

Photo credit: Eric Lewandowski

So, with that in mind let’s dive into an overview of the Cider Days agenda. The first thing I love is how many cider open houses there are scattered throughout the towns. And this is one of the things that I think cider enthusiasts love as much as the makers. You can literally spend most of Friday and Saturday simply driving from cider house to cider house (you do need a car and designated driver– all of the events are pretty spread out all weekend) exploring their custom content designed for Cider Days.

From pressing apples on site at New Salem Preserves (holy hell, don’t miss their cider donuts!) to Clarkdale Fruit Farm’s buffet of cider apples and pears for tasting to a workshop on actually growing apples at West County Cider. Each cider house is teaching you something about the process while also letting you sip and buy some incredible local cider, sweet and hard alike.

Close up of cider being poured into a Franklin Counter Cider Days tasting glass

Photo credit: Eric Lewandowski

Next, there are the more formal sit-down sessions in the local community centers with the aim of teaching while inspiring dialogue and debate. And yes, you usually get to taste ciders from the people who are up there speaking as well! Dare I say there isn’t a single event throughout the whole weekend where you won’t get at least one sip of cider while you’re learning?

But as I said, most of these really are more geared towards makers and others in the industry. These sessions range from deeply educational content like “Rebuilding Old Trees” or “Not all Lees Are Gross” to controversial topics like “Sex(ism) in the Cidery” to tasting seminars like “Award Winning Ciders – Taste the Victors!” or the “Cider and Cheese Pairing.”

Learning and tasting with home cider makers to amateurs to the best in the world.

3 Cider Days panelists enthusiastically talking to the audience

Photo credit: Eric Lewandowski

And then, there are the tasting salons on Saturday evening. Currently this is the hot spot for cider enthusiasts at Cider Days. Why? Because you get to taste your way through over 100 different ciders!

What I love, personally, is that this is primarily craft cider ranging from those just getting started to more established and from traditional, heritage cider to modern cider with fruit, hops, and other interesting twists. No matter your opinion and taste preferences there is something for everyone here and likely from cider makers you’ve never heard of before. Which means you’re going home with new favorite makers to support!

Cider maker pouring at the Tasting Salon

Photo Credit: Brandon Buza

Beyond these more formal tasting salons there are also plenty of other opportunities to mix and mingle with makers and taste their ciders. I really appreciate the opportunity for everyone from home cider makers to amateurs to some of the best in the world to get their ciders out there to share.

Some of the events, like the one at Apex Orchard on Sunday, are even limited to home cider makers to swap sips and get real time feedback. There aren’t many other alcohol festivals that are so inclusive and encouraging regardless of where you are in your production journey. And for the little guys just getting started, feedback from cider legends like Andy Brennan of Aaron Burr Ciders or Tom Oliver from Oliver’s Cider & Perry in the U.K. or cider enthusiast consumers can be priceless.

There’s nothing like fall in the New England

Gorgeous fall foliage on both sides of a river with overcast skies

Photo credit: Eric Lewandowski

I’d be remiss if I didn’t pause to mention the atmosphere and ambiance of Cider Days. If you’ve never been to New England in the fall, prime leaf peeping season, you’re in for a real treat. Brilliant oranges, reds and yellows contrasted against crystal clear blue skies. A crisp breeze blowing through the trees lending to a flurry of floating leaves that land in your hair and crunch beneath your feet. It. Is. Beautiful. And reminds you that this region is the American birthplace of cider…making Franklin County Cider Days feel all that more meaningful and special. That being said – it can get downright cold and rainy, so come prepared like a good New Englander!

Mark your calendar…next year is Franklin County Cider Days’ 25th Anniversary!

Franklin County Cider Days Sign with a basket of apples and pumpkins nearby

Ready to join us next year? You should be…especially if you’re an aspiring or current cider maker. It’s an inspiring event that feeds the soul. And if you’re a true cider enthusiast ready to deepen your passion and meet some of the best people behind some of the best ciders out there, you should join us too. For the rest of you in between? I’m working on it!

This is such a great event that I’m talking with some people about potentially creating a track more geared towards consumers and cider skeptics. Why? Because I’ve already turned 8 cider skeptics into cider enthusiasts with the ciders I brought home from Cider Days. Eight! Just from tasting some of these ciders and hearing my stories. One even said they though they were going to stop drinking beer and only drink cider from now on.

No, seriously though, opening this experience up more to consumers while still being careful to maintain the integrity of what Cider Days is could drive incredible growth for the cider industry and the makers in attendance. And for me, that’s what it’s all about Tippler Nation. Getting you up close and personal with the incredible people, places and stories behind craft cider.

Franklin County Cider Days has that in spades and I hope this inspires all of you to experience it for yourself next year. If you want to make sure you don’t miss it, sign up for our mailing list here and I’ll send out a reminder when tickets go on sale for the 2019 25th Anniversary Franklin County Cider Days. We can have our own little Tippler Nation crew!

 

 

Eric and Suz holding 2 of Eric's amazing apple posters in the back of their car on their road tripDid you notice that almost all of the pictures in this post are credited to Eric Lewandowski? Well that’s because he’s an amazing photographer and designer who focuses on apples and cider! He’s also a good friend now, after spending a 6-day road trip together for Cider Days and some other fun cider stops in MA and NY. You can grab his amazing apple art or reach out to him for help with your cider website, labels or other design needs here.

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