the best hard cider festival you’ve never heard of

Feature image courtesy of Cider Days. Words by LE Journal Editor.

The world’s longest running hard cider tasting has been quietly happening in the bucolic towns of Franklin County, Massachusetts for 23 years. It’s called Franklin County Cider Days, and every November since 1994, just after the late-bearing apples have been picked, hard cider fans have journeyed sometimes great distances for the two-day celebration of their favorite alcoholic beverage. Among them, I made the voyage to Western Mass for my seventh consecutive year and, as usual, it didn’t disappoint. (Hey, I’ll take any excuse to wear a flannel shirt and raise a glass of the good stuff with friends.)

In the beginning, Cider Days was a tasting event of just four local farms offering tastes of their ciders at their own orchards. The first event was actually part of a release for a book called The Art of Cidermaking (because drinking is better than a book signing.) The organizers realized they were on to something and it took off, drawing bigger and bigger crowds. Today, it’s a way for newbies to discover this often-overlooked beverage, and for the growing numbers of enthusiasts meet their kin.

If you’re not yet a cider fan, just hear me out: Cider, like an angsty teen, is often misunderstood. Thanks to the more widely sold varieties from larger companies, people can think it’s too sweet. What they may not know is that there’s an incredible array of ciders, that it’s a deep and complex beverage with as many subtleties and notes as craft beer or wine. Fact is, everyone could love cider if they just found the right one for them, according to me, who is totally unbiased.

Still not convinced? Consider this: for beer lovers, there’s a hopped cider. For whiskey lovers, there are ciders aged in bourbon barrels. For those with a sweet tooth, there’s ice cider, a smooth and deliciously sweet aperitif. And, if you haven’t guessed, all those and more are available for tasting at Cider Days.

Perhaps the most popular event is the Cider Salon, an hour and a half tasting of hard ciders from brewers all over the United States. This past year was one of the largest with over 120 ciders from over 40 different cideries. But they have other events too, like lessons in homebrewing, how to pair cider with cheese and an amateur cider competition.

Maybe the best part of Cider Days is the feeling of community. Year after year you’ll meet returning visitors. Everyone touts their Cider Days’ anniversary like a badge of pride.

“I remember you from last year.”

“This is my third year.”

“We’ve been coming for five.”

In fact, I meet the same people every year, that it feels less like we’re there to taste cider, and more like we’re celebrating a family get together. With refreshing beverages.