The Cider House Rules
With the sheer variety of excellent ciders on the market today, it’s hard not to raise your glass
On sultry dog day afternoons, there are few things in life sweeter than a tipple of cider served over ice. And in recent years, the range of quality boutique ciders on the market, along with some fairly decent supermarket varieties, means that cider lovers can cherry-pick.
Traditionally made from apples—picked, milled, pressed and fermented—cider is typically made and toasted with gusto in apple-producing areas and countries including England, France, the US and Australia. The French and the English are both masters of the art and boast a lengthy history of brewing and drinking cider, or cidre as it is called in French. Amongst the many gastronomic pairings the French have gifted to the world is that of crepes and cider, a Breton tradition. In fact, the best cidre you’ll find in France probably comes from Brittany and Normandy, where the climate can be too cool for growing grapes but perfect for apples.
Across the pond, English farmhouses in the West Country—or indeed, anywhere with a verdant apple orchard—traditionally brew a simple, rough cider known as scrumpy, which is pale in colour, still, gutsy and head-blowingly strong. Devon, Dorset and Somerset have long staked their claim as the major cider-producing region in England, and are better known for award-winning craft ciders like Burrow Hill Cider and Orchard Pig, which wear all the finesse of their boutique status. And while the cider (and perry) market in the UK accounts for just nine per cent of all alcohol consumed nationwide, at an estimated £3 billion and 1.5 billion pints drunk each year, it is no small change to thumb your nose at.
Indeed, cider is big business these days. In 2013, the American cider industry hit its stride, with a leap of some 94 per cent increase in retail sales from a year ago, to US$261 million, and with great expectations to keep on booming. Called hard cider in the US—to differentiate from soft cider aka apple or sweet cider, an unfiltered non-alcoholic drink made from cider apples—it has a long history courtesy of early English settlers, until the Prohibition and the Volstead Act in 1920 outlawed the production of alcoholic cider. In recent years, however, cider production in the States has soared and artisanal boutique outfits are drawing a new crowd and giving this old favourite a new shine.
In Australia, cider sales are sparkling, having grown at 33.9 per cent in the last five years. By the end of the 2014 financial year, Australians are expected to have spent around AU$1 billion on it according to market research company IBISWorld. To date, there are over 120 Australian cider brands including local artisanal varieties such as Red Sails ciders, Seven Oaks Farmhouse Ciders and Kelly Brothers Cider, all competing for a slice of the lucrative market alongside international heavyweights such as Strongbow.
No doubt about it—cider is trending. Although it has barely made a dent in the traditional beer and wine strongholds, there is no getting away from its growing popularity. After all, it’s easy to see the appeal. Refreshing and easy to drink, they are lighter than conventional beer, somewhat less alcoholic than wine, and go a tad further than bespoke cocktails. Above all, it comes armed with sufficient variety for mass appeal. From dry, floral or pungent, to sweetish and sparkling and everywhere in between, there are cider styles galore.
Clearly, not all ciders are created equal or the same. Like how wine depends on the grape quality and blend, the flavour of the cider depends on the quality and types of apples used (sweet, tart, bittersweet; Granny Smiths, Coxs, Tremlett’s Bitter, etc) and the fermentation process. In recent years, flavoured ciders such as Sweden’s Rekorderlig have gained mass appeal with bubble-gum varieties such as strawberry lime and wild berries. To purists, however, these are not the real deal. First purist rule: Cider must be made from apple juice—fresh, not from concentrate—and unadulterated by sugar, flavourings or water. (Incidentally, Rekorderlig touts its ciders as being made from the purest Swedish spring water; no mention of apples anywhere.)
This, of course, has not stemmed the flow of new-fangled blends on the market such as Magners’ latest UK launch, a so-called “spider cider”—i.e. cider infused with Irish whiskey, 25ml in every 500ml bottle to be precise. Will it take off? Your guess is as good as ours. Weston’s, meanwhile, gives it a fresh spin with Caple Road, a sparkling craft cider in a can instead of the traditional bottle, a first in the market. Thatchers followed soon after with its popular Old Rascal rebooted in a can. And let’s not forget the rainbow slew of tempting flavours available; with everything from strawberry and toffee apple (Brothers Cider, Somerset UK) to Nordic berries (Älska, Sweden), delicious elderflower and tangy root ginger (Thistly Cross Cider, Scotland), you can easily be forgiven for inching over to the fruity side.
Purist, infidel or otherwise, there is a cider for every finicky palate. But given that like wine, most ciders contain sulphites—sulphur-based chemicals used to preserve food—perhaps the only catch to raising your glass is the cider headache that may follow. A toast, then, to living dangerously.
On the Cider Trail
The Cider Pit in Joo Chiat may be no-frills, but who needs bells and whistles when you’ve got the real deal such as Westons Old Rosie and Westons mulled cider. Beer drinker alert: they also stock Timothy Taylor Boltmaker, Britain’s 2014 champion beer.
Thirsty the Beer Shop at Liang Court is probably the mother of craft beer retailers in Singapore. They are certainly one of the biggest and their shop at Liang Court stocks a sound range including the popular Angry Orchard (New York, USA), Woodchuck (Vermont, USA), Thatchers (Somerset, UK) and Thistly Cross Cider (Scotland).
You don’t have to travel too far for an actual cider trail. The Yarra Valley is one of Victoria’s oldest cider regions and home to the likes of Kelly Brothers Cider, St. Ronan Cider and Napoleone Brewery & Ciderhouse. Tasmania, meanwhile, is widely considered the soul capital of Australian cider, and given its moniker Apple Isle, it is easy to see why. Once a key apple producing and exporting region, it is today central to the artisanal cider market with its long list of cideries including Lost Pippin and Pagan Cider.