Striking gold at the Cider Summit

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Chicago's first annual Cider Summit took place at Navy Pier on Saturday from 11 AM to 7 PM, and judging from the effusive greeting we got from a couple strangers when we first walked in around 3, the pours had been pretty generous up to that point. Which is actually sort of surprising unless they'd spent some extra money: the entry fee ($20, $25 at the door but it was sold out by the time we arrived) included 10 tasting tickets, each good for maybe two to three ounces of cider—though additional tickets were available for two dollars apiece. Most people there didn't seem particularly drunk, though.

As the afternoon went on and more people arrived, lines got longer and pours got shorter. By 5, many of the vendors were out of cider, and people were still arriving. Still, for a fledgling event this one wasn't bad: there was a little food available, the crowds were manageable, and several dozen ciders were available for tasting. Below are a few favorites.

Virtue Cider Mitten: This was the first cider I tasted and one of the best. The latest release from Virtue (which also makes Lapinette and Redstreak), it's aged in bourbon barrels and then blended with fresh cider and apple juice. It's clean and bright, the barrel flavor subtle: the cider tastes a lot like a sweet, tart apple.

Thistly Cross Whiskey Cask: The complete opposite of the Mitten, this cider aged in whiskey barrels tasted like scotch, peaty and smoky. On the sweeter side, it was still surprisingly well-balanced.

Vander Mill Blue Gold: A few weeks ago I tried and enjoyed Vander Mill's Totally Roasted cider, made with cinnamon-roasted pecans—and that one is still my favorite from Vandermill. But their blueberry cider ain't bad either, tart and sweet with a nice blueberry flavor.

AeppelTreow Barn Swallow: I made the mistake of tasting some of the stronger-flavored ciders early on, which made some perfectly decent, straightforward ciders seem sort of boring. I don't have a lot of notes on this one other than that it's a good basic cider, not too sweet or sour.

Sarasola Sagardoa: This cider from the Basque region of Spain is completely different from the others I tried: it's funky, earthy, and tastes sort of barnyardy. It takes a little getting used to, but once you adjust to the flavors it's incredibly complex.

Julia Thiel writes about booze every Wednesday.

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