I don’t expect any sympathy, but it’s bloomin’ busy being The Ciderologist (“yeah, tough life Gabe” I hear you say). I certainly don’t bemoan the fact that I am a full time voice for cider – it’s lush. No, the challenge, wonderfully, is that such is the speed and volume of cider news emerging from all over the world, I can’t keep up.
As a result, I’ve created The Ciderologist’s View. There are a number of people who undertake thorough global cider digests, such as the excellent Cider Guide, and I have no ambition to emulate them. I merely wish to pull together some of the more pertinent and thought provoking news items, and provide a bit of commentary to shed light on the activities, trends and events that are swirling around the cidersphere. And it also provides me the opportunity to cash in on some shameless self promotion. I hope you enjoy and please share with all your cidery friends and colleagues.
Bristol – UK Cider HQ
The next 6 weeks sees a series of events that will firmly put Bristol at the epicentre of the progressive cider movement in the UK, and I am proud to say I have a hand in every single event. There is an something for everyone, whether they be a trad cider drinker, curious imbiber, foodie or industry professional.
First up we have the launch of monthly Cider Tasting Tours of the Harbourside, starting Saturday 19th May. Long overdue, the tour will take in visits to notable cider landmarks including The Stable, The Apple and Bristol Cider Shop. With cider, perry, pizza, cheese and enlightenment, what’s not to like?! Check out the website to sign up for tickets.
Next, on Thursday 24th May, I will throwing down the gauntlet to the boys at Bristol Cider Shop for a UK vs International cider-off. Given my proclivity for global gallivanting, I’ll be representing the Rest of the World. It’s going to be an awesome showcase for the full breadth of the cider category. Be there. Head to the Bristol Cider Shop’s website for details and tickets.
On Friday 22nd June, at The Stable on the Harbourside, and brought to you by the Morning Advertiser, I will be hosting the Cider Summit. The UK’s only industry wide cider seminar event, we’ll hear words of wisdom from Westons and CGA, reporting on the state of the category. We’ll get two different perspectives on pertinent issues surrounding the cider category from NACM Chief Executive, Fen Tyler, and Founder of the newly Brewdog-purchased Hawkes Cidery, Simon Wright. To top things off, there will be presentations on the US category, the 330ml can opportunity and how ciders can have a place in the fine dining arena. For more information and tickets, head to the Cider Summit website.
And last, but not least, Bristol plays host to the UK’s first ever Cider Salon from 22nd to 24th June. A wonderful weekend of talks, tastings, cheese paring and dinners awaits, as well as the main event, the Cider Salon itself, on Saturday 23rd June at Old Market Assembly. The finest ciders from the Shire and way, way beyond will be available to sample. Welcome to the new wave. It’s going to be lush. All details can be found at http://www.cidersalon.co.uk/.
What’s your pint?
There was a recent article in The Sun that poked fun at the differences between the way that Strongbow is being marketed on Twitter by parent company Heineken in the UK and the US. This sheds light on a number things. Firstly, the UK is the only market in the world where cider, especially non-flavoured ciders (or as I like to call them, cider), has a strong masculine focus. Elsewhere around the globe, especially in new markets such as Australia and New Zealand, and to an extent in the USA, cider is primarily consumed and marketed towards women, whilst the men guzzle all the beer.
Secondly, these images show how the UK, through historical commercial decision making has become a drink consumed by the pint. This is cider’s paradox – essentially made like a wine, but consumed like a beer. Until about 50 years ago, cider hadn’t been drunk by the pint, it had always been shorter pours, whether that be from a crystal flute by the nobility in the 17th century or in a horn mug of an agricultural labourer from the West in the 19th century. Owing to its natural alcohol content being greater than an ale (c.5% abv- 7.5% abv), smaller pours were the way to go. That’s not to say that through the course of many pourings that the total quantity of cider consumed in a sitting wasn’t the same as, or greater than, a pint of course! But if that cider sitting in your pint glass today is at 4.5% abv, then you can be pretty damn sure that the cider has had a decent chunk of water added to it to bring the alcohol down to a ‘sessionable’ level.
Westons Cider Report 2018
Westons Cider has, once again, most kindly published its Cider Report on the primary trends happening in the UK cider category, and author, Matt Langley, will be presenting at the MA Cider Summit. As ever, there are winners and losers, positive shifts and challenging movements. Headlines figures centre on the fact that flavoured ciders continue their rise in volume, although I personally disagree with the prediction that they will account for 50% of the UK within 5 years. Cider is the most dynamic drinks category in the UK, with the flakiest consumer base. We only need to look back to the years post “Magners effect” to see this.
On the back of the rampant success of Magners and the ‘over ice’ phenomenon, UK cider makers predicted a rosy future and planted up orchards aplenty to cater for this increased volume demand in the future. In the short term, it played out as expected. Between 2006 and 2009, (non-flavoured) cider volumes grew by 50%. An incredible increase in such a short space of time. But then they started to fall – and have continued to fall since. In fact, they currently sit about where they started in 2006. Total cider volumes have only stayed roughly constant owing to the proliferation of the flavoured cider brands.
So what happens when the younger generation (that makes up the primary consumer base of flavoured ciders) gets bored and looks for the next trend? Well, I predict volumes of these drinks will decrease. That’s not to say that flavoured ciders will disappear altogether – it’s a sector that is here to stay – but it hasn’t got long term stability. I predict it will end up much like the ‘over ice’ sector – much lauded 10 years ago, and now amounting to little. Of course, back then it was known as the ‘premium’ sector, which now means something different. Confused? You should be. Cider has a language problem, and it’s something I’ll be discussing more in the future.
I must also point out that I’m not a cider luddite – far from it. I have drank, and made, a wealth of ciders all over the world, including some simply fabulous blackcurrant, rhubarb, hopped and spiced ciders. I’m not anti-flavoured cider. I’m anti-poorly made cider, which, alas, accounts for a decent chunk of the flavoured ciders in the UK.
Cider goes Sassy
Most Brit’s experience of French cider will amount to a hearty slurp out of a bolée whilst sitting on an idyllic quayside, eating a gallette and gleefully smearing chocolate over your face. No? Maybe that’s just me then. Traditional cider from the heartland regions of Brittany and Normandy is classically in the cidre fermier style – rich, funky, lightly sparkling and presented in a 75cl bottle with a twee, farmhouse label.
Well, one French brand is coming to the UK to up the ante and present French cider in a slightly classier light. Normandy-based cider maker Sassy is on a mission to modernise French cider and to appeal to a new generation. They are doing this by utilising, clean contemporary packaging and championing the credentials of their cider: gluten free, 100% natural and fewer than 50 calories per 150ml pour.
Their latest move is to create a summer inspired pop up bar at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, with flowers and blossom aplenty, along with cider cocktails. Why not pop along from 1st June to experience cider in a slightly different setting.