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Sip and Savor: Cider house rules at Central Coast Cider Festival 

Neil Collins of Bristols Cider House flanked by associates Erich Fleck (l) and Weston Hartley (r)
Photos by Mira Honeycutt

Sixteen cider-makers gather at Atascadero’s Pavilion on the Lake

–Is craft cider trending? From the looks of the 500-plus crowd at the Central Coast Cider Festival held May 13 this much is clear: a cider revolution is underway. The first festival staged in 2016 proved so successful that the City of Atascadero offered its sponsorship again this year. The charming town might even find its identity as a launching pad for the craft cider movement.

The cavernous pavilion with a scenic lake view rocked to the beat of the Erin and The Earthquakes band as a largely young crowd, many sporting elaborate tattoos, sipped and savored craft ciders served from bottles, cans and the tap.

I must admit, I’ve never been much of a cider fan, finding the flavor too sweet for my palate. But the cider world is changing.

“The beauty of cider is that it’s all new and there are no rules,” remarked Neil Collins, co-owner of Bristols Cider House, the original cider pub in Atascadero. “People are doing crazy stuff.”

Hard cider was well established in this country before Prohibition but after Repeal beer took over the brewing business. Much of what passed for hard cider were cloyingly sweet drinks. Those days are now gone.

Chef Jeffrey Scott dishes up a cider-enhancing pig roast dinner

Craft cider-makers are infusing exotic flavors like ginger, lemongrass, cardamom, and jalapeno. Collins himself co-ferments apples with beetroots or pomegranates while making hop ciders. At Reef Points’ station, I tasted a blend of cabernet sauvignon grapes and apples. At Santa Cruz Scrumpy Hard Cider, cider blended with cherries became a “Chider.”

The cider craze along Central Coast was inspired by the early efforts of Collins, winemaker at Tablas Creek Vineyard and owner of his label Lone Madrone. His love for cider dates back to his hometown of Bristol, known for the production of bone-dry cider in England’s West County. He started crafting cider in 1994 when he was working in Paso Robles at Adelaida winery, making a small batch of two barrels at the then Normans winery.

“I bottled it commercially to see if anyone was interested,” said Collins on the noisy terrace overlooking the lake. “But nobody was.”

His passion led him to open the first cider pub on the Central Coast three years ago in Atascadero. He also has spearheaded the cider festival.

Nicole Todd, cider maker of Santa Cruz Cider

Bristols’ ciders, explained Collins, are fermented in different casks, some in bourbon or wine casks, but mostly in stainless steel. The usual alcohol content of ciders can range from four to ten percent.

“The strongest I’ve ever made was 13 percent,” remarked Collins. “They were very ripe apples.”

Most of the large commercial cider companies are able to get the product ready within two weeks. “But we crafty guys need a lot longer than that,” Collins explained, adding that some of his ciders can age in a barrel for one year.

Although most of the cider-makers pouring were from San Luis Obispo County, there were a few producers from Sonoma and Santa Cruz. Mission Trail Cider Co. from southern Monterey County offered jerkum, the traditional English brew made from plums and pluots. Noah Selman, cider craftsman at Krazy Farm Cider Co., pulled three different styles from the draft: Psyko Psyder infused with cardamom and ginger, 51/50 fragrant with cranberry and hibiscus and the Insanely Good flavored with blueberry and mint.

Pop-up shop selling ciders in lobby

Double Cider’s founders, twin brothers Joey and Taylor Kirby, offered a unique approach to cider-sipping with monthly shipments of boxes stocked with rare ciders sourced from US and Canada and shipped to 46 States. At the fest, the twins poured Sea Cider from Vancouver Islands, a ruby rose brew infused with rose and rhubarb; and Snowdrift, made entirely from red-fleshed apples from Washington State.

Sunnyvale-based Red Branch Cider offered an intense dry mead barrel cider at nine percent alcohol and an aromatic pear brew. Among the selection from Santa Cruz Cider Company, owner Nicole Todd pulled her signature Wooden Tooth Special and a dry and fruity Hopped.

At the Golden State Cider station from Sebastopol, I savored a dry cider fragrant with ginger and lemongrass while at Hemley Cider, a not so spicy jalapeno and pear brew. Others pouring wild and exotic blends included 101 Cider House, Dreamcote, Jean Marie Cidery, South City Ciderworks, Tin City Cider, Merkai and Scar of the Sea.

What went well with these ciders? A pig roast, of course, cooked up by chef Jeffrey Scott and his culinary team. The seasoned pork was served with spicy dirty rice and red cabbage slaw, washed down with a choice of 16 brands of delicious craft ciders.

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About the author: Columnist Mira Honeycutt

Honeycutt has more than 20 years of experience as a wine consultant and wine journalist. Currently, she is the California contributor to Sommelier India Wine Magazine. Her wine and food coverage has been published in the Harper’s Bazar India, the Asian Wall Street Journal, Hong Kong Tatler, The Hollywood Reporter, USA Today, Los Angeles Magazine, Los Angeles Times and She was a contributing wine blogger on the highly popular Los Angeles radio station KCRW’s Good Food blog. Honeycutt is also the author of “California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles,” as well as the curator of the soon to be published book, The Winemakers of Paso Robles.

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