Photo: Nathaly and Jeff Nairn at their first event: BC Cider Fest 2018
Our little company, Windfall Cider, now has one full year of beer and cider events under its belt. From panicked purchases of festival equipment to interesting encounters with patrons, it’s been a nutty but all-round solid learning experience for us.
Flash back to May 1, 2018 when Windfall’s first production of cider was being packaged into kegs and cans. Our can production wasn’t without hiccups. The company that printed our sleeves had messed up big time: colours weren’t right and sizing wasn’t to spec, so at the last minute we just had to can without sleeves. There was a lot of stress and we were on a tight deadline. After our first fermentation period, five months long, our inaugural event was to be last year’s BC Cider Fest, at that point only four days away. The most important thing was to get that cider kegged in time. Two days before the event we packed five kegs into our Jeep and took them home for safekeeping.
We knew what a jockey box was—those nifty portable coolers set up behind the banners that chill and dispense your favourite beverage. And thanks to Chris at Dan’s Homebrewing for setting us up with one on super-short notice. Having attended many beer festivals in the past as Joe Public, I just didn’t know what goes into setting things up as an exhibitor. We arrived for set up early. We were nervous. The two 5-pound CO2 cylinders that we brought seemed like enough until the other cider makers started arriving with their 10-pound numbers.
Confidence shot and nervous energy abounding, we proceeded to set up. I had set it all up and tested it out at home but this time there were a few things missing. Where did all of those washers go? And why didn’t any of the exhibitors have any extra washers? We had to MacGyver a couple of washers from some plastic tubing that we found at the festival and it worked when set up. Fingers crossed. Confidence high(er) again. Gas turned on and tested. What was the right PSI for dispensing? Again, no one seemed to know. Turns out ten is supposed to be just about right but it never seems right to me. Sometimes the gas pressure runs up too high, other times too low. Maddening. But once the guests started coming in, we had other things to think about.
Festivals are always about you, the consumer. We want to meet you and you want to meet us, ask questions, and get to know something new. But I haven’t been to a festival yet that wasn’t crazy busy. It seriously limits the amount of time with each guest. As much as we’d like to explain our cool up-and-coming products, it simply isn’t possible. It always ends up as: “this is our dry, this is our rosé, and this is our latest small batch. Which do you want? OK, here you go. NEXT!”
Here are a few amusing personalities that you run into at almost every event. We’ve probably all been one of these at some point.
THE OLD SCHOOLER. Like the nice lady who turned sour when she found out our apple cider wasn’t sweet. She showed genuine interest, asking several questions before narrowing her decision down to a particular pour—but upon tasting, developed a scowl. “You’ve done something wrong here!” was the memorable quote. Turns out she was more of a Growers type. Like an Old Milwaukee drinker at an IPA festival: what can you do?
THE GUSHER. “Oh my gosh, I love your cider! Can I have a bigger pour?”
THE RATIO PLAYER. These people just wanna have fun. They spot the biggest alcohol by volume (ABV) and keep coming back. It’s like the game of “ratio” from my times at a local craft beer bar with many, many taps: a beer costing $7 and having an ABV of 7% has a ratio of 1:1. Anything below 1:1 is poor value; anything above is dangerous and yet coveted. The same math goes on at festivals. You notice people returning for your strongest pour over and over again. Maybe it’s because that one is your best, but perhaps there’s another motive.
THE LAST CALLER. The staff move about the room announcing, “last call in 15 minutes.” Like a bloodhound on the hunt, this last pour chaser quickly sniffs out the vendors who are slow in closing up. Look around at your next festival once most of the taps are removed. Who’s in the biggest lineup?
We’ve been caught a couple of times ourselves, but you learn fast because you don’t want to run afoul of the festival organizers. Pay attention to your watch, remove the tap, and say sorry to those you turn away.
All in all, working the festivals has been a great experience. We’ve been able to chat about our product, met some genuinely interested consumers, and above all, gotten to know many of the terrific people that devote their lives to our burgeoning craft beverage industry here in BC. We’ve met some amazing people so far. Thanks for having us out!