After Craft Beer, Craft Cider

Coates's Cider mat -- detail.

We’ve often wondered what might replace ‘craft beer’ in the affections of the trend-chasing young folk. and, though there is now ‘craft gin’, and we’ve joked about when we can expect ‘craft mead’, it was always cider which looked most likely to lure their attention. And it looks as if that change is underway.

Let’s look at the omens.

Attempting to trace the progress of this trend it looks very similar to what’s happened in beer, with some slight differences in timing:

  1. 1950: a working person’s day-to-day drink.
  2. 1965: a commercial commodity dominated by national brands.
  3. 1970s: rediscovered by the middle-classes in its ‘real’ form.
  4. 2000s: ‘premiumised’ by big producers. (Magner’s.)

Next? Perhaps ‘craft’ connoisseurism, experimentation and ‘extremifying’; yeast experiments, barrel-aging and new ‘styles’; craft keg’? We certainly look forward to trying a blackened, imperialised scrumpy… (Someone who knows about cider will no doubt tell us all of this is already happening.)

We’ve been saying for ages that certain lambic beers share flavours with the more rough-and-ready ciders — ‘barnyard’, ‘horse blanket’, ‘old wellies’, etc.. — and it won’t be much of a leap from beer to cider for those who’ve trained their tastebuds on hip ‘sours’ from breweries such as Brodie’s.

For now, at least, cider also has another great appeal: it isn’t taxed as heavily as beer and is therefore cheaper.

Don’t worry — this won’t be becoming Boak and Bailey’s Cider Blog, but then we wouldn’t be surprised to see a rash of them soon.

18 replies on “After Craft Beer, Craft Cider”

We’re already seeing plenty of ciders aged in port, rum and whisky casks. Something that differs from beer is that there are still a lot of long-established, old-fashioned, artisanal cider makers whereas the equivalent had pretty much died out in beer by the early 70s.Just the established four home-brew pubs and a few tiny family breweries like Bathams and Donnington.

This is very much using the “craft beer” design language.

Northern Ireland cider producers have been using the “craft cider ” moniker recently too, though yet to see any novel releases…there have been blended/spiced ciders though

Some of this real cider stuff can be bloody rough. bad perry, in particular, can be like drinking nail varnish remover.

But you could argue a highly tannic cider or perry is the equivalent of a mega-hoppy beer.

I gather the red faced cider alkies do use that argument. That ability to neck paint stripper makes you more discerning, much like necking beer concentrate makes you more discerning. 6 pints a night of Reisling strength grog does take its toll, though.

A criticism of many commercial ciders is that they are corn syrup products rather than apple. In fact I think the popular ones are imported apple concentrate, the same as your breakfast juice. The cheap tramps stuff is corn syrup.

I gather the “real” cider is stuff made from actual apples grow near where it is made, pressed & fermented & any new orchard requires years to fruit.

So I would suspect gearing up to produce more, produce it through the year is difficult. Supply in the short term has a limit. Unlike beer where even the craft stuff is made from the same barley as Carling.

Therefore you might expect any significant increase in demand to result in higher prices rather than increased supply, unless the craft/artisinal stuff adopts much of the method of Magners.

Only a guess, like.

I suppose single varietal apples are equivalent to single hop beers. If they could manage not to make them taste so bloody rough it might be interesting to see what the various different apples tasted like etc. Geeks like that kind of stuff. If I was trying to sell cider to beer geeks, thats the route I would take.

A good cider is like a good saison – enough of a hint of hay and sourness to give it some complexity, but not so much that it kills all the sweetness.

What little I do about cider, from the odd visit to farms growing up in Somerset, is that the most ‘artisanal’, back then, at least, was fermented right out to make ‘dry’, with saccharine (!) added after fermentation to make sweet. (Medium was a blend.)

Theoretically cider should “break out” in the same way beer did historically, or wine. But it never did. In the U.S., hard cider as they called it was a major regional drink in the early years of the Republic. It receded as beer and whiskey came to the fore. There is a corner of Spain that likes cider (Galicia), and similar nooks in France, Germany, and elsewhere, but it’s never really caught on. Maybe this will change with the current wave of interest in English cider. It’s a drink that has potential but perhaps the “right” taste (not too dry, some cider can be fiendishly so), not too sweet (ditto), not too perfume, etc. I don’t think it will grow by leaps and bounds but there is room for a market surge, yes.


The “horseblanket/barnyard” flavour is, of course, the beer geek’s friend, Brettanomyces. The moment we see the first “100 per cent Brett” cider, we’ll know the hipsters have fully taken the category over.

Next week’s Singapore beer festival, fwiw, includes 36 ciders from Australia, England, France, New Zealand and Sweden

Craft mead is already here. Check Apis Jadwiga.

But probably the next big thing will be crap beer, in a generation or so, when youngsters are going to want to drink anything but “Dad’s beer”.

Apart from the products of the bigger producers you coud very well argue that traditional cider and perry has always been “craft” – and even more so now that many new makers have sprung up. “Yeast experiments” are pretty much of a non-starter I think. Some makers may lend a helping hand to the fermentation process but by and large cider and perry are naturally fermented products and this is something most producers seem very keen to emphasise. Barrel aging is nothing new though – various rum and whisky cask ciders have been around for years now (although experiments with Islay casks have been a real failure – even Kevin Minchew, one of the most skilled makers in the country, couldn’t get that one to work).

I think poor old py0 has been quite unlucking with his perry (although I can certainly think of one reasonably widely available one that does indeed have nail varnish attributes) and also his single varietal ciders. I guess it depends on what you use – many single varietal ciders and perries made in the “Three Counties” are superb drinks (those from the Eats of England are less so as they traditionally use culinary or dessert apples which really don’t work so well alone) . Minchew’s Stinking Bishop was one of the best perries I have tried. Further afield, down in Devon, the ever popular Port Wine of Glastonbury from Hecks is an excellent single varietal cider. Having said that, single varietals are a fairly new phenomenon (perhaps they are a sign of “cratf” credentials among some newer makers) – single varietal Thorn perries from both Olivers and Gregg’s Pit were superb at this year’s Stockport Beer & Cider Festival for example. Traditionally both cider and perry have been blends of what was around and another feature of some newer makers is to list the fruit used in the blend on the label – and usually make it part of the name. James Marsden at Gregg’s Pit (another giffted maker) often does this.

So all in all Yes, most of what you theorise is happening (although a blackened imprialised scrumpy won’t, thank God). Incidentally, one good thing about “craft” cider makers as opposed to some craft brewers is that the cider makers just get on with it without being all arsey about it).

“And what about the label?”
“Well, I was thinking Michael Caine in a cellar raising a glass to Hervé Villechaize holding a clipboard.”

Aspall, a traditional cider maker, has had an Imperial Cider out for some time. It is just over 8% ABV. And very nice it looks too by the website description. I’d wager it would make a great Black Velvet mixed with Imperial Stout!


I think in this instance “Imperial” is just a name rather than an attempt to establish a “style”. Many farmhouse ciders are 8%-ish in ABV. The only thing that keeps then (officially!) below 8.5% is that cider at that strength and above (in the UK) pays duty at wine rates rather than the considerably lower cider rates.

The palate description seems to point in the direction of a luscious, sweet-edged product, so different from the often astringent big scrumpy style. So in other words it seemed a kind of parallel to very strong rich stout. (Imperial too was just a generic description for the strongest and best quality of porter, originally). But anyway point taken, I just found it of interest that the name actually is in the market at present, and was amused that adding a good splash of fine stout might create a kind of black imperial cider!


Some of these can indeed be luscious and sweet edges as you say. I recently had the pleasure of trying Minchew’s “Stinking Bishop & Friends” which came in at “8’4%” and had also had some whisky cask maturation. It was not unlike a fine dessert wine.

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