Hi folks–it’s been quite a while. My apologies for that, but it’s been for what I consider good reasons–besides my day job, I’ve been busy growing an apple orchard, starting a cidery with partners (St. Vrain Cidery–our doors are now open, with our own cider production to follow in the next few months!), sourcing and pressing fruit, and scheming with various folks about numerous other cider and mead-related projects.
As I’ve spent some time in Western Colorado recently, I’d like to share some highlights of those experiences with you–in particular, Big B’s Hard Cider Festival in Paonia, CO.
Overview: Western Colorado
For those of you who are not familiar with it, Western Colorado is a large region of Colorado’s Western side which encompasses numerous micro-climates, some amazing scenery, some amazing people, and one of the state’s best apple-growing regions: the South side of Grand Mesa.
Grand Mesa is the largest flat-topped mountain in the world and is the source of the irrigation water which feeds the orchards, vineyards, hay fields, and towns below. The region is otherwise relatively arid; a Google Maps view quickly illustrates the stark contrast between the patchwork of rich, irrigated soils and the stark mesas and high desert in between.
It’s a land of contrasting, beautiful landscapes, sun, more sun, and stark topographical changes, all surrounded by mesas and mountains. My mother grew up in Western Colorado, and my grandmother and great aunt reside there still, so I’ve traveled back and forth between this region and where I grew up (in Boulder County, in the front range) quite a bit.
My apologies to the rest of Western Colorado for giving it short shrift, but as this post focuses on the Big B’s festival, my emphasis here is on Paonia. I plan to revisit the larger region in more depth in future content.
Fall 2016: Big B’s Hard Cider Festival
Delicious Orchards sits just off Highway 133 between Paonia and Hotchkiss, CO. It is…
Part Farmers Market:
Part Tasting Room and Restaurant:
Part U-Pick-It Orchard:
And Part Festival Venue:
Now that you have a mental picture, let’s talk about the festival itself–spoiler alert: it was a ton of fun.
More specifically, there were numerous cideries and ciders from Colorado on hand for a tasting event, several bands providing entertainment, BBQ, donuts, pie, apple pressing, people camping in the orchard, friendly people and sun–lots of sun.
While Delicious Orchards is quite large for a farm stand, it’s quite small for a large festival (I’d guess that there were 500+ folks attending throughout the day); as a result, they had a shuttle running from a nearby high school’s parking lot with a second pickup spot in downtown Paonia which worked quite well.
Given how scenic Highway 133 is, with the West Elks mountains to the Northeast, riding the shuttle was a good start to the festival.
My girlfriend and I arrived early to help as volunteers–we helped man the full-pour booth, where you could buy 12 oz pours of Big B’s various ciders. Most attendees of the festival, however, opted for the Grand Tasting, which was an unlimited tasting package which let you loose on the various cideries in attendance with a commemorative sampler glass. As a result, things were pretty slow at our station and we were able to roam around quite a bit.
The Grand Tasting
With so much going on, so many folks to talk to–multiple members of the Rocky Mountain Cider Association were in attendance, so I spent plenty of time hobnobbing with them–and so many ciders to try (see below), the event moved quickly…particularly once the 12-4 cider tasting session started up.
Given my focus on cider and with tracking down and chatting with certain cider folk, I didn’t pay much attention to the multiple bands there who played throughout the event. Apologies to them on that front, but I do remember the sound being a good fit for the venue and the crowd enjoying themselves quite a bit. See the festival page for more specifics about the bands.
Apologies to anyone I missed, but I believe the cideries in attendance were:
- Big B’s Hard Ciders
- Talbott’s Cider Company
- Stem Ciders
- Snow Capped Ciders
- Colorado Cider Company
- C Squared Ciders
Ciders of Note
While I won’t detail every cider I sampled at the festival–I’ve covered many of these CO ciders elsewhere–but here are a few that stood out:
- Big B’s Snow Daze — a spiced, slightly sweet cider that is very reminiscent of apple pie. This was a crowd favorite and perfect for the fall–while the event was sunny, drinking this and seeing the leaves turning was a pleasant reminder of the holiday season and winter to come.
- Snow Capped Cider’s 6130 Dry — a dry, tart, clean, champagne-like cider from Snow Capped of Cedaredge
- Snow Capped Cider’s Jalapearno — a semi-sweet pear cider with a judicious amount of candied jalapeno which was a good foil for the sweetness
- Colorado Cider Company’s Fresh Hoppah — a fresh-hopped version of their Grass Hoppah, which features hops and lemongrass over a dryish cider.
The event featured BBQ–I had a pulled pork sandwich that was excellent and a good compliment to several of the ciders–donuts (more heavily featured at the beginning of the event but available throughout) and locally-made pie. The farmstand was also open throughout, so their usual juices, fruits, etc, were available. In short, the food flowed as freely as the ciders and was an integral and easily-accessed feature of the event rather than something bolted-on or disjointed as I’ve seen elsewhere.
Wandering The Grounds
While I like ciders, and (most) people, one of the highlights for me was wandering the grounds and the orchards and taking in the activities and scenery. The latter is one of the most unique aspects of this particular festival, and something that the larger, urban cider festivals can’t replicate.
Here are a few highlights:
Overall, it was a memorable event that is not to be missed–I hope to be in attendance next year pouring St. Vrain’s Ciders!
Until next time, enjoy your own cider adventures and remember to #pickcider this Thanksgiving!