Aspall Cyder - Cider and Vinegar

Dispatches from New York Cider Week


Date
30th October 2013

Category
Henry's Travels


“The British are coming”, but does anyone really care? Whether or not Paul Revere did actually utter the now mythical rallying cry to the Patriots as he rode through Massachusetts that April night in 1775, it has come to symbolise the resistance shown to the colonial power being flexed by Britain at the time, and to cut a very long story short, ultimately culminated in the United States becoming an independent country.

Some 230 years later, and the British are coming again. Much has been made recently of Britain’s requirement to export its way out of recent economic woes, and cider has been trumpeted as one industry that can contribute significantly to that. At the same time, America is going through a massive resurgence in the popularity of cider, which up until prohibition had been the largest volume consumed alcoholic beverage in America.

Whilst it is very apparent that the US – and Canada – offer significant market potential, much of the hubris around British cider’s ability to lead an export charge is based on the fact that Britain is significantly the largest producer of cider in the world, accounting for around 80% of world production and consumption. An impressive statistic, but does being the biggest actually make us the best?

I’ve just been at New York Cider Week; a fledgling annual event that brings together cider producers from the north east of America at a series of events held at various bars, restaurants, cheese shops and farmsteads right up the Hudson Valley. It is not high profile by any stretch, but it is easy to find half a dozen events each day ranging from straight “meet the maker” sessions, to food matches and tutored tastings by cider makers and drinks gurus from across New York.

Much of the cider market when I first showed up was defined by sweet rather sickly and bland products that appealed more to a sweet tooth than a cultured palate. 

This is a far cry from where the US cider industry was a decade ago. I have been going to the US on Aspall business since 2003. That business has been steady and consistent but never as dynamic as I would have liked.

Much of the cider market when I first showed up was defined by sweet rather sickly and bland products that appealed more to a sweet tooth than a cultured palate.

Aspall has carved out a good niche in craft beer bars on the West and East Coast, where it has always been held in high regard and has been growing steadily. There were a few small local producers who I would see on a regular basis, and it was both fun and a privilege to see them honing their craft and finding their own unique identities.

And then 2 years ago, something changed. On a trip to New York I found that bars were not only asking about cider they were stacking their fridges with it. More recently this has been followed by a proliferation of draft handles at the bar. Initially, the main products were mainstream; America’s largest craft brewer Sam Adams had launched a cider “Angry Orchard” to take on the market leader, Woodchuck of Vermont. Crispin Cider from Minneapolis had grown considerably from small beginnings and last year was bought by the giant brewing conglomerate Miller Coors. Stella Cidre is now girding its loins for a full US launch. Suddenly, cider in the States has a marketing budget, and a big one at that.

And all the while, in the background, the pioneering spirit that defined the US craft beer scene now so famous the world over was finding its way in to the orchards across America; orchards that could trace their heritage back to the legendary Jonny Appleseed and America’s founding Fathers. 

America is re-discovering its cider mojo and consumer interest just keeps getting stronger and stronger. They may be small, but they’re great producers and passionate about what they do.

The results have been tremendous; many of the craft ciders I tasted in America all those years back were not that well made, lacked identity and were generally too much of a challenge to drink. Whilst that is undoubtedly still true for some of the products out there now, the really good US craft ciders are simply stunning. These are not volume producers – they leave that to the mainstream makers – these are true artisans who make small but epic.

America is re-discovering its cider mojo and consumer interest just keeps getting stronger and stronger. They may be small, but they’re great producers and passionate about what they do.

Whilst there is still a huge affinity and respect for the “Mother Land”, there is also a fierce patriotism and loyalty for the homespun. It therefore remains to be seen if the British march on American cider soil ultimately ends up being as straight forward as some would hope.