Still trying to figure out what to do with cider? While most of the brew chatter these days concerns potential mergers of the mega-brewers, the continuing crash of the best-selling mainstream American beers, and the unswerving growth of craft beer, there’s another beverage continuing to gather attention from consumers - cider.
This is especially of note as fall arrives, the time most Americans associate with non-alcohol cider (only in the U.S. does the term “cider” refer to fermented apple juice without alcohol. In the rest of the English-speaking world, there’s no need to put “hard” before “cider” to suggest alcohol is in the mix.) Increasingly, quality cider brands are emerging, and this fall as restaurants change their drink menus, a number of places have been reported including cider as a drink ingredient.
At the Burtons Grill in Burlington, Mass., there’s a Manhattan made with Harpoon cider and Maker’s Mark bourbon. At Russell House in Cambridge, there’s an appley version of a whiskey smash, using applejack and Downeast Cider. This interest hasn’t been lost on any number of brewers, including those of Big Beer, who can more easily get placement in bars and restaurants, based on their supply chain strength. But well-known craft brewers are getting involved with the sorts of tweaks and twists they have already established with their beers. For example, Oregon’s Rogue Ales & Spirits is launching two new craft ciders this fall. Fruit Salad Cider is a mix of cherries and plums from Rogue’s Tygh Valley, Oregon farm, blended with Oregon apples, peaches, marionberries, pears and apricots. And then there’s 7 Hop Cider, cider that is dry-hopped with seven varieties of hops from Rogue’s Independence, Oregon farm.
Both ciders will debut in 22-ounce bottles and on draft in December. In addition, venerable English cider Thatcher's has signed a deal with Scottish brewer Innis & Gunn that will see the 100-year old brand brought to the US for the first time, starting with the launch of Thatcher's Gold. A variety of ciders can drive restaurant/bar visits among consumers between 24 and 35, according to the recent “On-Premise Craft Beer & Cider” study from Technomic, Inc, the Chicago-based research firm.
Other important take-aways from the report, notes Technomic’s senior director, adult beverage resources, Donna Hood Crecca: Seasonality is an issue with cider consumption, as 38 percent of consumers report drinking cider on-premise more often in summer. Health cues (gluten free, low-calorie, etc.) are more likely to prompt calls for cider than for craft beer, and cider drinkers haven’t yet started to appreciate the draft version, tending to prefer bottle over draft format. However and whatever cider is served, it’s still a niche category for most bars and restaurants, but the range - from U.S. farmhouse-made artisanal brands, to classically produced French and English imports, to mass produced major brewer brands - suggests that there’s at least one or two suitable for your establishment. Like most new products, there will be a staff and customer learning curve, and simply stocking one is unlikely to be enough to create a boom in sales. As always, training and education is required, but better you are the one educating your customer than vice versa.