International Cider Challenge 2019: Gabe Cook predicts the best year yet

Every year the International Cider Challenge recognises and rewards the wide range of superb ciders produced across the world.

We bring together a panel of expert judges and they meet in London to blind taste ciders divided into a number of categories: West Country style, New World style, Spanish cider, naturally sparkling, flavoured cider, perry, pear cider, ice cider, wood aged cider, no and low-alcohol cider and speciality cider.

Gabe Cook, a former cidermaker turned author, consultant and TV star, is the chairman of the challenge. He is also known as The Ciderologist and he brings a remarkable degree of passion and energy to the role.

We caught up with him to find out his thoughts on the 2019 ICC and the cider market in general.

What interesting developments have you noted in the cider world over the past year?

Cider is now officially the fastest growing drinks category in the world, so these are exciting times! Flavoured ciders continue their inexorable march, but there are so many fantastic styles of cider out there. This is why it is so crucial to have appropriate categories that separate out all these differences, based upon the apple/pear variety used, the cider making methodology and what type of additional flavour (if any) has been added.  

The last 12 months have seen continuing developments with in the cider category, notably the emergence of low/no alcohol as an increasingly important consumer proposition. The finer side of the cider spectrum has also seen considerable growth, albeit from a smaller base. Naturally sparkling, including full methode traditionelle, ciders are tapping into the trend for sparkling drinks, such as a Prosecco, and are now being made and consumed around the globe.

Has there been an increase in international cider producers?

New cider makers are emerging all over the world. In cider's traditional heartlands of North West Europe, a number of cider makers have established themselves with very specific consumers in mind, whether they be wine drinkers, craft beer quaffers or cocktail fanatics. Elsewhere in the world where there is less of an old heritage, cider makers have been popping up left, right and centre - a demonstration of cider's continued growth and importance. In the last year I have seen cider makers become established in Brazil, Chile, South Africa, The Netherlands, Vietnam and India. That said, the UK still retains the greatest volume of cider production, and indeed, won the greatest number of Gold medals at the 2018 ICC. 

Why is the International Cider Challenge important to this thriving drinks category?

The ICC retains its crucial place in the global cider calendar. This competition is the barometer of what is hot and not in the world of global cider making. It also provides a great platform for brands to gain exposure to the wider retail marketplace. By selecting judges across the spectrum of cider interaction – makers, journalists, retailers and distributors – the ICC acts as a platform to further empower the drinks trade with knowledge of the cider category and championing cider excellence.

How do you see your role as chairman?

I am exceedingly proud to have been asked to be Chair of Judges for the ICC once again.  Nothing fills me with more pleasure than listening to a room full of passionate cider folk debating the merits of a range of ciders from all over the world. But most crucially, my role is to ensure that the best International cider judges have been selected and that they are fully briefed on the requirements of the judging process, with a particular focus on ensuring they are judging each cider to the appropriate style. I very much hope and expect 2019 to be the biggest and best ICC so far.

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