Cider: Craft pioneers gear up for revolution
Step aside niche beers and artisan gin – we are about to see a raft of craft ciders vying for shelf space, according to two cider experts.
Gabe Cook is so passionate about the potential for a craft cider scene in the UK that he recently left his post at the National Association of Cider Makers in order to pursue his career as a “ciderologist”, a role that is already keeping him busy through a combination of training, consultancy, education and tastings around the world.
Equally passionate – and again with a unique job title – is Simon Wright, “chief hawker” of Hawkes Cider. The producer recently invested a huge amount of cash in setting up London’s first “urban cidery” as part of its aim to push the boundaries of modern cidermaking.
Like Cook, Wright thinks the UK market is now ready to learn about the different styles and flavours of cider, and he wants Hawkes to be instrumental in kickstarting this revolution.
He asks DRN: “Who are the Beavertowns of the cider world? At the moment cider doesn’t have the image craft beer has. People just go to it as a category and they just say ‘I want a cider’, rather than understanding the styles and brands. The breadth of the category is huge, from medium-strength to ice cider, but no one knows about it. “
Cook says he fully believes the UK will follow the trends he has seen in the US, New Zealand and Australia, where craft cider has taken off.
He tells DRN: “It was jaw dropping to see what all of these producers are doing over there.
“They have brilliant cider bars, which are modern and contemporary, and they are producing amazing products. It’s an exciting time and I truly believe that over the next couple of years we will see craft grow in the UK.”
In fact, he adds, many traditional cider producers in the UK are already making these products.
“They just need to tweak the language to shout about the fantastic raw materials and all the cues that the craft beer world understands. The product is already being made but it is not necessarily being communicated in a way that is appealing to the demographic that can take it forwards.
“The distribution network is starting to improve. Real Al is bringing awesome ciders from Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Somerset to London’s on and off-trades. And there’s a chap called Felix Nash who runs the Fine Cider Company for restaurants.
“I think there’s a bit of a gap in getting these awesome things into retail and someone could really stamp their authority on that, but I think you are going to see much more happening.”
Like the modern cider bars in the US, where there is a noticeable absence of tractors and hay bales adorned with apples, Hawkes’ cidery is a new style of venue for cider fans and it is strategically placed in one of the railway arches along the Bermondsey mile, near to brewers such as Fourpure, The Kernel, Partizan and Brew by Numbers.
Wright says: “I was trying to get somewhere on this run for 18 months.
“In a nutshell it’s what cider deserves. It has to be on the same run as beer. We could have been more cost effective by going elsewhere but I didn’t think it would have got us noticed as much.”
The venue is already attracting cider tourists from the US, while its location on the “mad mile” makes it part of a thriving Saturday night pub crawl destination.
The bar offers its own ciders and six others on tap, along with 20-30 ciders in bottles and cider cocktails.
Hawkes makes its cider at the same venue, using apples the supermarkets don’t want, which it sources from brokers and wholesalers. It also has plans for barrel ageing using rum and whisky casks, and eventually it will teach people how to press the juice and ferment it to make their own cider.
Wright says: “I do think the off- trade has huge potential for craft cider. We haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of the wider opportunities and we have loads of plans for the next 12 months.
“There are definitely opportunities for cider retailers but the caveat is that we [the cider category] have to earn our place. We have to educate people about cider and create the products that earn their place on shelves.
“We have to follow some of the influences from spirits and beer but do it all in cider’s own way.”