This past weekend I attended the 4th annual Cider Rite of Spring cider tasting event in Portland Oregon. My husband and I drove down from Seattle (about 4 hours away) and stayed overnight. It was a whirlwind with a lot of driving in two days, but fun. This is the first of a series of posts about my Portland cider weekend, and will cover the event itself, with a forthcoming post with tasting notes on the ciders I tried. Also refer to my preview of the event here.
This cider tasting event was held from noon to 6pm on a Saturday at a three-story indoor event space near downtown Portland (The Evergreen PDX). It featured nearly 100 ciders from 31 cideries. The event cost $25-$45, depending on if you purchased a regular or VIP ticket, and pre sale vs. at the door. Entry included 8 drink tickets and a tasting glass. VIP tickets also included access to an upstairs VIP lounge. Each cidery had a booth with a cidery representative pouring 1-4 ciders, a mix of draft and bottle pours.
The event was hosted by the Northwest Cider Association, and also served as a fundraiser for the organization, which aims to bring cideries and cider lovers together to share knowledge, experience, and live the Northwest cider culture. They promote cider and sponsor classes, workshops, events, and more.
I arrived a bit past noon with my husband and a friend of ours who lives out of state that we don’t get to see often enough (her parents live in Portland so she visits often). There was a line to get in when they opened, as it required the typical ID check, wristband application, and check in (printed tickets vs. will call tickets vs. ticket sales). We stayed about four hours total, tried over a dozen ciders, and bought some bottles to take home.
The VIP lounge on the top floor.
My favorite parts:
- The hourly VIP tastings. They were all exclusive and/or rare releases, listed in the event program, and only being poured in the VIP area. Each hour featured a different cidery and cider to taste, no tickets required. The VIP lounge also included snacks (mostly cheese chosen to be paired with cider from Whole Foods) and some cider options available the entire time (although the one I tried was literally just cider apple juice, not fermented?).
- Getting to try Oregon ciders which I don’t see in Washington, from cideries which don’t even distribute out of Oregon yet. Several cideries hadn’t even had their official launch yet.
- The bottle shop. Many of the offerings were sold in the bottle shop (except some draft-only options). It was regular retail price, but proceeds went to the Northwest Cider Association, and many are difficult or impossible to find in stores.
- The event was well-planned. There was sufficient information available online beforehand. There was sufficient signage and it was laid out well, although squished. The venue was nice besides the size, and indoors, so no weather to deal with. It was even decorated with fresh flowers (very Spring-like). They had water and non-alcoholic cider available, and jars to dump unwanted cider into.
- Affordable ticket prices, as low as $25 plus a couple dollars in fees for pre-sales.
The bottle shop offerings.
My least favorite parts:
- The crowds! It was literally elbow to elbow push & shove to get anywhere in the building, verging on dangerous. At first the air conditioning wasn’t even on so it was starting to get very hot with all the bodies in the small space, but thankfully that kicked in after awhile. Apparently this was a new venue for this year and they had approximately double the attendees as last year (900), so significantly more than they were expecting. However, I really think they should have capped ticket sales before it got that bad. There is already talk of a larger venue for next year. I don’t mind lines (especially as it ensures you don’t drink too quickly and encourages you to talk to folks you are in line with), but it was difficult to even know where lines were, and to get between them. There were less chances to talk to the cidery folks as someone was always behind you waiting. Even the VIP lounge was overcrowded, which defeated part of its purpose. This was tied for the most crowded tasting event I’ve ever been to.
- Lack of seating, or even standing tables to set down your glass and take notes.
- No early entry for VIP ticket holders. Often events let you in an hour early, which is nice to get one-on-one time with cidermakers. I had been hoping to get that in the VIP lounge, but it was busy there too.
The event space and crowds.
The in between:
- Pours were on the smaller side. This can be good or bad…it enables you to try more ciders without feeling like you have to drink more than you want to or dump some out to try more, but it is easy to run out of tickets quickly (extras were being sold for $2 each).
- This was a medium sized event. Less options than the Cider Summit events for example (which also typically includes some imports and aren’t as regional, with cideries outside of just Oregon & Washington for the Seattle event for example), but more than Summer Cider Day in Port Townsend WA.
- Lack of food options. The only option was sushi, which seemed an odd choice as many folks don’t like it, and usually more carb-rich foods are better to go with alcohol. There weren’t however any lines for food as is typical at events, as it was a quick prep item (and possibly as there was less interest than typical food offerings). It was also priced low, especially for sushi. However, this was announced in advance, so it wasn’t an issue; we ate lunch before the event and I always travel with snacks.
- The downtown location. This enabled us to stay at a hotel which was a cheap Uber ride to the event, restaurants, and cider bars, However, hotel prices and parking are more expensive downtown.
Event map and VIP tasting schedule.
My general cider tasting event tips:
- As with any event, it is best to arrive early. If you arrive 5-10 minutes before it starts, you can be among the first in line and get some cider tasting in before the space fills up.
- Wear comfortable closed toe shoes. Although there may not be much walking involved, there is typically a lot of standing. I was surprised how many women I saw wearing heels and/or sandals. I’m not a fan of having my feet hurting and toes stepped on…
- Eat beforehand and bring some snacks. Crackers are a good choice to absorb alcohol and cleanse your palette. Not having to stop and eat a meal can save time as well (although sometimes taking a decent break is nice too).
- Bring a bottle of water, although often it is easy enough to fill your tasting glass with provided water between ciders.
- Bring a pen/pencil, and possibly a notebook. You may want to at least note on the program what ciders you don’t want to miss, which you enjoyed and want to purchase bottles of (or if you are like me, take tasting notes).
- If possible, plan what ciders you want to try ahead of time. It is unfortunately impossible to try everything. They didn’t release the cider list in advance this time, but I looked through it off the bat to get an idea of what I wanted to taste. I suggest prioritizing ciders that are expensive, special releases, and/or not found in your area. If possible, taste from dry and simple to sweet and weird. What you taste before another cider can impact the next. At least however avoid spicy (hot) ciders until the end of the day, as those wreck the palette the most.
- Consider trying multiple ciders from the same cidery/booth. That gives you a good idea of the range of the cidery’s options. Often they will pour you a smaller sample of each offering for a single ticket if you ask / if they aren’t too busy.
- If they will have a bottle shop, bring a bag you can put some ciders in, and/or a bottle bag. At this event they were selling them for $5, or giving them away with the purchase of 6 bottles. We ended up buying some ciders midway through the event as we weren’t sure if they would sell out, so a backpack was handy to keep our hands free.
- For outdoor events, bring a sun hat, sunblock, and a jacket.
I liked the cider aspect of the event of course, especially all the new-to-me Oregon ciders/cideries, and the VIP tasting opportunities were awesome. However, I wouldn’t consider attending this event again unless they were going to hold it at a much larger venue with some breathing room and seating. I have every confidence they will remedy this for next year.
I really do like the indoor events though, as for me alcohol + sun/heat isn’t a good combination, and indoor toilets always beat port-a-pottys. Besides a larger venue, another option for them may be to split it into two sessions (with ticket sales for a specific session), which should then half the crowds.
Next time we do Portland we’ll definitely stay at least 2 nights and take some time off work. Doing the drive on two days in a row is rough, and made for a very long day to drive, attend the event, and go out that night. Plus now I’ve been playing catch up all week with all my usual weekend stuff, like house chores and blog posts.
Square Mile had a tiny house on display outside that they will be giving away in a contest…it must have been interesting to navigate downtown and park the large pickup truck with trailer!
Stay tuned for Cider Rite of Spring 2017 post 2/2 covering tasting notes (NOW AVAILABLE – see here), as well as posts about my visits to Reverend Nat’s tap room and Bushwhacker Cider.