Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Cider, Cider, where do I put thee?

One of the ubiquitous dilemmas facing people all round the world is where to put the cider. I'm not talking about the fridge or the pantry but about its 'positioning' (if that is the correct marketing jargon?) Its not beer, its not wine, its somewhere in between... somewhere... isn't it? Well, technically, it is a wine because its fermented juice from a fruit, but its not 'Wine' as the world knows it. I think here in UK and certainly in some other European countries with a strong cider culture, there is a decent enough awareness and understanding of what it is/where it comes from etc, but online, in the collossul hard drives of the US that host whatever-the-ginormous-proportion-of-yottabytes-that-host-the-internet-globally are, and whichever-dorky-office-based-list-compiler-type-personage decides who gets classified as what and goes where-  its a long way from Merry England where we know exactly what it is.

Most people seem to see it as an alternative to beer, in culturally here in UK I suppose it is. I asked winematcher Fiona Beckett what her thoughts were on the subject and they were pretty much that.

Even shopkeepers ponder over wether to put it in the beer section or the wine section? In a discussion with Steve Wood from Farnum Hill Cider in USA he relayed this very problem to me in no uncertain terms and reckons its his single biggest challenge. It is at this point we in UK should thank our industrial cidermakers, for they pay for the introduction, education and current level of public awareness about what cider is and where it comes from (regardless of their quality.) They have a product to sell and they go about their business and marketing doing just that. In an emerging market, alot of money goes on educating the masses. Advertising is expensive and artisan cidermakers certainly can't afford anything huge, like TV. Thankfully, there comes a point when that same market, eventually reaches a point where it educates itself as it becomes more dynamic and the pendulum starts to swing the other way, the newly educated drinkers seeking out something better and more interesting.

Things are a little clearer here in UK, supermarkets tend to have a mini cider section which, I think, is for the best. I can't say that I'm suprised that Wikio (who rank and sort all things blog) don't have a cider section, but this site is listed under the 'Beer and Wine' blogs and yet its still neither. Ironically, the only real public body that 'supports' real cider here in UK is the cider and perry wing of CAMRA whose heart beats for beer (as it should). Unfortunately for them, knowing alot about one doesn't make you an expert in the other and I personally don't always see eye-to-eye with CAMRA about cider (or beer) for that matter. Curiously, as a non-writer who works in cider, I am fortunate enough to be allowed to join the British Guild of Beer Writers, even if I am alone and on the fringes, I am welcomed as an orphan. Maybe we all look at cider as a cherished relative with no where to go and with whom we like to catch up with occasionally. Globally, its not quite well known enough as an individual product to merit its own 'section.' And this is the root of its identity crisis.

Can you see a pattern forming yet? Cidermakers and drinkers are generally a little more relaxed about banging the drum than our vinous cousins or malty associates, maybe thats why cider is still a little 'off radar' in the context of the wider world. (Maybe it likes it there and that is part of what makes cider as charming as it is?)

Beer and cider often get banded together (something I don't mind) and if it were a case of taking sides amongst the ever growing disquiet between beer and wine, I think the majority of beer drinkers here in UK would band with cider which I find really interesting (as I've said its technically much more akin to wine) but socially (in pints, at pubs and festivals) its more akin to beer. This is the most perfect example of where it sits and why people struggle to define it, not that I mind.

I would love to give this more thought and discussion but alas, I am out of time again.

Here is a photo of my first ever batch of homemade cider (2005) to stare at whilst you contemplate this global dilemma. Cheers!

1 comment:

  1. Just discovered your blog via twitter and this post is certainly a very interesting topic, as a proud West Country bumpkin anything cider related is of interest.

    From my own point of view cider is unique in its ability to straddle the line between beer and wine, yet still have its own identity.

    And it is far more versatile than either of those.

    As an ex-bartender cider proved to be a great ingredient in many cocktails I created. Check out the Duke's Orchard at http://www.miltonsbarguide.com/ChoiceCocktailsGinBased.html for an example.

    That recipe is quite a few years old now, but it's a nice drink and if you never tried one I'd recommend that you grab the ingredients and get shaking.

    Single variety ciders and oak aged vintage ciders also have a place at the dinner table as substitutes for wine. Served in wine glasses and drunk in smaller quantities they can, in my opinion, stand up to a chardonnay or pinot grigio.

    In fact I enjoy a Cox's cider with fish and chicken dishes in the same way one would traditionally serve a white wine.

    Thatchers Katy, for example, is a fine replacement for any rose you can pick up in the supermarket, and its a lot cheaper too.

    On the other hand your Bristol Ports, Black Rats and Cheddar Valleys of the world would be more akin to ale. Stronger and heavier than those mentioned above they are enjoyed in pints and made using more traditional means. The only fizz coming from the natural fermentation process.

    And any lager can be replaced by a cool pint of Thatchers Gold with ease.

    Cider is unique. Cider can be used as a replacement for both beer and wine, yet it is neither a beer nor a wine. Cider is cider, and that be that.