Crooked City Cider founder Dana Bushouse first got her foot in the door as a cider-maker at the 2014 "CiderCon," an annual industry conference put on by the American Cider Association. At the time, she was fermenting cider out of her own basement and hosting tasting parties for friends. "It wasn't illegal," she said of her early cider-making days, "but it wasn't legal either."
Bushouse's basement operation drew inspiration from that of her great uncles — thrice-arrested moonshiners during the Prohibition era, whose legacy she's aimed to celebrate in her own career. "I knew one day that I wanted to start an alcohol business to pay homage to them," she said. The front wall of Crooked City currently flaunts enlarged prints of the FBI case files from her uncles' eventual imprisonment, with their mug shots hung in each of the bathrooms.
Since her early years in the industry, Bushouse has established her Jack London-based taproom as a prominent Bay Area cider distributor, and plans to get back into production as the business expands. Crooked City currently has 30 different ciders available on tap, with a menu that's seen an estimate of over 100 ciders since the taproom's opening in February 2019. Bushouse wants customers to feel comfortable asking questions and trying out different ciders, regardless of how much they know about it. "Education is super important to me," Bushouse said. "People still think of cider as that mass-produced sweet stuff ... that stuff at grocery stores that's brown and nonalcoholic." With such a wide selection of ciders to try at Crooked City, Bushouse hopes to show customers that cider can be "as diverse, if not more so, than beer." Ciders don't have to be sweet at all; they can be "funky, farmy, dry, sour, tart."
It was Bushouse who convinced the cider association to host CiderCon in Oakland this year. January 26-February 2 will be the Bay's first-ever Cider Week celebration, bringing with it a variety of events geared toward cider promotion and education — and inaugurating what Bushouse hopes will be an annual Cider Week tradition. For her, the goal of the week is to make cider "more accessible."
As a 6-year member of the American Cider Association, and founding board member of the California Association of Cider Makers, she sees Cider Week as an invaluable way to bring attention to the industry and the many cideries in the greater Bay Area. At local tap houses such as Redfield Cider and the Hop House, participants will be able to enjoy a wide array of game nights, tastings, and cider-making classes.
Central to the Week's events will be CiderCon, the conference that first helped Bushouse gain ground in the industry. This year will mark the 10th CiderCon yet, which is expected to bring more than 1,000 American Cider Association members to the Oakland Marriott for a lineup of ticketed events, including production and distribution workshops, business development trainings, and tours of Sonoma County orchards. While CiderCon is primarily for cider-makers and industry affiliates, with tickets priced at $395 and $595 on-site, Cider Week events are open to people with all levels of familiarity with cider.
With growing attention to the industry and the popularization of events such as Cider Week, Bushouse is sure that misconceptions about cider will wane. "Cider is experiencing a rebirth," she said. Indeed, the cider industry has grown 10 times in size since the initial CiderCon conference in 2011, according to executive director Michelle McGrath. While it currently holds just a tiny fraction of the beer market, Bushouse projects that the industry will continue to expand with rising awareness about cider and its varieties.
"California is a huge cider-producing state, from Northern California to Southern," Bushouse said. She is excited by the recognition Cider Week will bring to cidery and orcharding in the Bay Area, and by the industry affiliates it will attract from across the country. Past CiderCon conferences — in Portland, Chicago, and Baltimore — have felt to Bushouse like a kind of "college reunion," one made all the more fun for the Cider Week events that surround them.
Bushouse is planning to host seven different events at her Crooked City taproom over the course of Cider Week, among them a "Cider Olympics," a "Steal the Pint" night, and a William Tell nerf gun fight, where attendees will shoot apples off of each other's heads. Bushouse encourages people who think they don't like cider to come down to Crooked City and try some out for themselves. "Bring it," she said. "Let's get you some flights."