Cider is the new boutique beer

12 February 2011

It would appear last summer's love affair with cider was no brief encounter. If anything, it is flourishing second time around. Where previously specialist bottle shops were trying to squeeze in more fridges to meet the growing demand for craft beer, now they are rearranging again - this time to create dedicated areas for cider.

Last month, figures from ACNielsen showed Australian cider consumption has increased fourfold in the past three years.

Even Melbourne landmark pub Young & Jackson's has a dedicated cider garden. A simple rooftop nook that is hardly one the city's swishest retreats, it nonetheless has an international choice of cider tipples, including Britain's Stowford Press.

Meanwhile, fruit flavoured confections such as Sweden's Rekorderlig, fresh from storming the European market, are flying off the shelves so fast importers are struggling to keep up.

Boutique cider is also enjoying a spike in interest. Victoria's established artisanal producers, such as Henry of Harcourt and Bress, are planting more trees to try to meet demand. New small-scale producers are joining the market - some using real apples and pears, others buying concentrate. And a greater range of "real" ciders is being imported from Britain and Europe.

According to Mitchell Macleod, owner of Harvest Wine & Liquor in Northcote, the surge in interest began well before the multinational producers caught on. "Being in the industry a long time, I could see the trend happening about three and a half years ago," he says. "It had happened in the UK and usually what happens there follows here.

"The growth was sparked by the smaller brands. The big ones have seen people are interested and have jumped on the bandwagon."

There are echoes of the local craft beer industry, in which interest - and the number of microbreweries - continues to grow: small-scale enterprises using traditional methods to create products where the focus is on authenticity and quality rather than volume and profit margins.

Among these is Henry of Harcourt, established 13 years ago and selling its ciders throughout Victoria. Founder Drew Henry is keen to highlight the differences between what flows from his traditional cider press and what is being pushed in the ad breaks.

"Rekorderlig have a big thing about the spring water they use," he says. "The only water we use is to clean our tanks. We make real cider from real apples that we grow, not from concentrates and essences."

Among his range are seven single-varietal ciders designed to showcase the qualities of different apples, while he has experimented with more than 40 apple varieties.

"We're trying to keep ourselves separate from the herd," he says.

But like the herd, the company's sales are growing.

"When I started, 99 per cent of bottle shop owners said they couldn't sell cider, so we had to work our way in through a few enlightened people. We're knocking shops back now."

He believes there is an element of "riding on the back of the big adverts". But interest is keenest among those who have travelled overseas and tasted real ciders, and people in their 20s and 30s.

"A lot of people don't know that with true cider you grow your apples, you know what's gone into it and you nurture it through the whole process," says Lisa Cresswell, from Seven Oaks on the Mornington Peninsula.

Having grown up on the family orchard and watched her grandfather dabble in cider, she decided to take the leap after tasting traditional styles in Britain. From small beginnings, she is now producing about 10,000 litres a year and looking to get her ciders into more bottle shops - although you'll still find her running a stall at Red Hill Market.

"If you want to drink the [Little Britain character] Vicky Pollard cider with cordial, you can," she says. "But if people taste true cider that's well crafted, it speaks for itself. We started small but have grown consistently and are always trying new varieties. It's exciting."

With Kelly Brothers, Punt Road Wines and Daylesford Cider in Victoria plus a handful of producers in New South Wales, Tasmania, SA and WA following similar artisanal principles, it seems that while Strongbow, 5 Seeds, Mercury and newcomers such as Rekorderlig dominate the public consciousness - and sales - there is enough interest in the "substantially different" for the love affair with boutique ciders to continue.

Source: www.theage.com.au


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