Cider has a long and fascinating history in the UK. Although was widely believed cider was introduced after the Norman Conquest, it is now thought to have been here well before that. Apple trees were growing in the UK much earlier before the Romans came but it was they who introduced organised cultivation. It is likely nomadic peoples, who travelling through countries which we now know as Spain and Northern France, introduced their ‘shekar’ to the early Britons.
In the UK and France, cider apples tended to be grown towards the western extremities because the climatic and soil conditions were most suitable. Under the influence of the Gulf Stream, the weather is relatively mild and the areas concerned had a fairly heavy annual rainfall. Which is why the established cider producing areas of England are as we know them today.
Cider became the drink of the people, and production spread rapidly. By 14th Century cider production was going on in Buckinghamshire, Devon, Essex, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Kent, Worcestershire, Norfolk, Somerset, Suffolk, Surrey and Sussex and in most other counties as far north as Yorkshire. Cider was produced in substantial quantities on farms and it became customary in the 18th Century until the addition of a clause to the Truck Act of 1887 which prohibited the payment of wages in this way.
Styles of Cider
Styles of cider are very diverse, from traditional, with heavy complex flavour, to pale and light fruity ciders. Alcoholic strength can vary from 1.2% to just under 8.5% ABV.
With hundreds of different cider apple varieties available to cider producers and great traditions of using cooking and dessert apples either as part of the blend for different ciders or for ciders to made entirely with these apples there is a huge potential to produce drinks of different styles. Provided the cider is prepared and blended correctly, excellent products are made at high, medium and low alcohol. Each type of cider requires different techniques and raw materials to achieve the desired flavour and aroma.
Some ciders are made to be low-strength (to qualify as a ‘low-alcohol cider’, the strength must not exceed 1.2% ABV). The fermentation is stopped by filtration and cooling and then matured prior to bottling. The resulting cider can have a pronounced vanilla-like taste, high residual sugar and be like an apple juice in character. This may be compared to a traditional English cider made from bittersweet fruit at higher alcohol, perhaps 6% to less than 8.5% ABV, with a more astringent and complex ‘old juice’ or matured cider character.
Other ciders can be pale with subtle flavour and aroma, being light and unchallenging. The key factors are control and selection of raw materials (the apples used) and ingredients and the necessary processing stages to achieve the required blend.
Although not as well known as cider, the making of perry, the pear equivalent of cider, is traditional, particularly in the area of the Herefordshire / Gloucestershire border. Perry is made in a similar fashion to cider, with apples replaced with pears, thus giving perry its distinctive and subtle taste. Sales of perry have always been small and represent about 5.5% of total cider volumes. It is a limited market and the supply of perry pears is not plentiful. Very few new perry orchards have been planted in recent years although some specialist producers are seeking to widen perry’s appeal and to make it more widely available.
Modern Cider Making
Modern cider making still relies on the same basic, traditional principles. Apples are selected, their juice pressed and collected for fermentation into cider. Although fermentation is now carried out by cultured yeast in prime condition, rather than by chance infection as used to be the case. Storage in sterilised tanks has largely replaced the wooden vessels that were historically used in cider making. However, some casks and vats are sometimes retained for specialist products because of how they can aid the maturation of a cider. The balance is between the character of the product the cider maker wishes to produce and the consistency required in the final cider blend.
When apples arrive from the orchards, they are graded, washed and sorted (all leaves, twigs and other orchard debris are removed). Most recipes will detail the blends of different juices to produce the intended cider. The cider mill extracts the juice from the apples and this is taken a Vat House, where, in a carefully controlled environment, fermentation is started by the introduction of yeast.
The progress of the fermenting cider is monitored by comparing sample results to pre-defined set specifications. Once fermented, the cider is transferred to a maturation vessel. Matured ciders are then combined and blended as the cider maker moves towards the finished product. Today, to meet consumer preference and to lift the aromas and flavours achieved, cider is most often carbonated rather than left still.
Blended batches of cider are passed through a series of filters before being pasteurised to produce a stable finished product ready for packaging. Further quality checks are scheduled and carried out at various stages of the packaging process and the product will be tasted again at each stage.
Food & Cider Pairings
In the same way beer and wine can be paired with food, cider lends itself to a wide range of dishes, here are just a few suggestions:
The UK Cider Market According to InAPub
Statistics vary but cider sales in the on-trade have grown to £1.7bn in the past year, a rise of two per cent according to market consultants CGA, but cider volumes are still only a fifth of those of lager, showing there really is still room to grow.
Which brands might you stock? As with all things, this really depends your customer base, however there some interesting patterns are developing in the market. CGA say mainstream draught cider is in “long-term decline”, especially those brands widely available in the off-trade. CGA says: “Whilst modern ciders have attempted to enter draught cider, the market has been unable to support them. The result has been the removal of Bulmers and Magners Original in the last two years.” The addition of a premium draught can boost sales by 19 pints a week on average, according to CGA and no matter the rate of sale, a premium cider offer can help you differentiate your pub from local competition.
Stephen Martin, category manager at Punch Taverns, says: “We have split our draught category into four areas and we are seeing significant growth in our “premium heritage” which includes brands such as Thatchers Gold and Stowford Press, and “modern cider” including Somersby Cider and Carling British Cider. Notably, we see consumers are moving out of traditional brands and into new categories.”
In packaged cider, there’s a growth in premium apple brands and drinkers of “modern” brands such as Magners and Bulmers are moving away from pear and apple to those flavoured with red fruits and dark berries, these varieties are driving growth in the marketplace.
The Best of Recent Product Launches
Style: Sweet & fruity
USP: From New Zealand
Heineken UK has launched three “playful” new ciders to the UK, based on the New Zealand cider brand Old Mout. The new varieties, which have been created especially for the UK market, are Kiwi & Lime, Passionfruit & Apple and Summer Berries. All are being offered at four per cent ABV and are being sold in 500ml bottles. The launch is being aimed squarely at the 18 to 25-year-old drinkers whocurrently enjoy sweet-tasting flavoured cider brands such as Rekorderlig and Kopparberg.
Bulmers Five Fruit Harvest and Indian Summer
Style: Light and refreshing
USP: Low ABV
There’s growing demand for more “moderate” drinks, according to Heineken. And lo, two low-strength Bulmers variants came to pass. Bulmers Cider Five Fruit Harvest (apple, pear, plum, quince and grape) and Bulmers Cider Indian Summer (with apples, a hint of ginger and cardamom) are both just 2.8 per cent ABV. These ciders are described as providing “extra refreshment without compromising on superb quality and taste”. Aimed at 18 to 34-year-olds, they will be sold in 568ml single bottles.
Style: A porter / cider blend
USP: A craft hybrid
It’s a craft beer. It’s also a craft cider. It’s available in keg. And you also serve it over ice. Confused? Silasu brewery says that London Velvet mixes a hint of dryness with a subtle sweetness and a smooth finish. Pairs well with beer, lamb or Asian dishes, should you want to add another ingredient.
Style: Lively and fruity
USP: Low strength
Chase may be better known for producing craft spirits, but did you know that it also makes a cider? In fact it is this cider, made from bittersweet cider apples grown on the Herefordshire family farm and aged for four months, that is distilled to create its range of gins. Great with pork, great with salads. And only four per cent ABV.
Strongbow Dark Fruit
USP: Fruity without the sugar rush
Following its successful off-trade launch last summer – it sold 150,000 hectolitres from July to December – Heineken is launching Strongbow Dark Fruit into the on-trade on draught. Aimed at your younger drinkers, it is described as a fruity cider without the “overpowering sweetness” and uses blackcurrant juice.
USP: Low strength
Combining two trends in one, this blackcurrant cider is just four per cent ABV. If you’re not familiar with the Merrydown brand, the cider has a more pronounced “apple” taste than most modern ciders as it uses culinary rather than cider apples. It will be available in 500ml bottles with an RRP of £4.20. Merrydown Medium six per cent ABV cider was released last summer. Point-of-sale is available on 0800 917 3450.
USP: Elected by the people
The popular seasonal variant has been made available all year round after fans on social media had their say. It joins Mixed Fruit, Pear, Strawberry & Lime and Naked Apple in the core range.
Views From The Cider Makers
Geoff Bradman, head of sales at Westons Cider, said: “We anticipate that there will be three key trends over the coming year. Firstly, increasing growth of super-premium and premium mainstream draught ciders at the expense of more mainstream draught ciders. Secondly, cider is becoming less seasonal. New product development, such as Weston Mulled Cider, has driven interest and sales in the winter months. Finally, we see no short-term slowing of fruit or over-ice apple ciders.”
Martin Thatcher, managing director, Thatchers Cider, said: “There’s a buzz around craft cider at the moment – craft is all about the way a cider is made – provenance, heritage, quality, passion, individuality. The market continues to recognise the premium craft qualities of apple cider, and this is where we expect continued growth to come from, both on draught and in the fridge.”