Thursday, August 10, 2006
How Do You Like Them Apples?
When most Americans think about cider it is the drink that they had as a child at a Halloween party. Say the word cider to an adult in Great Britain, Ireland or France and you will likely get a knowing smile. "Hard" cider is a traditional drink that has sustained many farmers and rural communities in many parts of the world -- including the U.S. -- for centuries. Cider making not only provided a way to make a supply of home brew, it also allowed many to convert a crop into a commodity that could be sold for much needed hard currency.
The cider market in the U.S. is still just an afterthought tagged on to the craft beer craze in most places. A good multi-tap pub may have a draught cider available. In most supermarkets you can find a cider or two, most often living on the shelves somewhere between the microbrewed beers, wine coolers and malternative beverages like Smirnoff Ice.
At one point about a dozen years ago I remember being a little shocked to discover that the cider franchise in the U.K. was, on a market share basis, about the same size as the U.S. domestic craft beer business at the time. However, cider was in the midst of a decades long decline in traditional European markets, which now thankfully has been reversed. In places like
Kent and Herefordshire, traditional orchard regions, trees have been removed since the 1970s so that the number is less than a quarter of what it once was. Now farmers are planting trees to try to catch up with demand for cider. About 5,000 acres have recently been planted with apple trees.
It's not just Britain that is experiencing a cider revival. Magners, an Irish cider maker, has seen rapid growth that caused the company to buy apples from Britain.
Industry reports say cider sales in the U.K. jumped an amazing 51 percent in July. No one is exactly sure why cider is suddenly the apple of the consumer's eye once again. Some suggest that people who reached legal drinking age during the growth of what the British call "alcopops" (i.e. Zima and the like) prefer something other than a pint of bitter. Others point to hot weather and even the FIFA World Cup as reasons. The growth of organic foods and the idea that cider is healthy are also cited.
Cider is one of those "change up" drinks that is perfect for summer. Most hard ciders are not sweet, but have a crisp or even dry flavor. They are the perfect second six pack to bring to a party. I'm not sure a glass of cider counts against the old "apple a day" thing, but it works for me.