We asked the Cultured Community, “Globally craft cider is one of the fastest growing alcohol categories, as consumers look for more natural, higher quality, lower alcohol alternatives. Regrettably South Africa is somewhat behind the pace on this phenomenon and the last three years have not seen the growth that craft cider should have seen on our shores. Why? Whats holding us back?”
Carel van Heerden , noted that beer had come across similar challenges before the boom. He cites stigma as the issue that will need a lot of customer education and exposure to break down. “People associated beer with Castle or Black Label. If they did not like either, they classed themselves as NON-beer drinkers. Same with Cider. I think people associate cider with Hunters Gold and based their entire perception of cider on that”.
Yes a terrible infliction indeed. Alcoholic lolly water and fermented apple juice are very different indeed. Perhaps it’s like associating wine with sweet wine and not acknowledging the vast complex joyous nuances of dry wine grape varieties.
Mike Halls who hales from UK and has been exposed to West Country ciders which are generally dry as a bone have a subtle but noticeable fermentation characteristics.
Making reference to rough strong cider, especially as made in the West Country of England and has been known to be sold illegally under the counter by local publicans. “Problem here for me is that what people associate as a cider (Hunters/ Savannah etc.) are not actually ciders”, laments Mike. He observes that, “The UK imports Savannah now (for some unknown reason) but it legally can’t be imported as a cider as it doesn’t contain enough apple content!”.
Trevor Gernholtz has yet to come across a cider in South Africa that has made him sit up and notice. He has however indulged in mixing beer and cider together to create a ‘Snake Bite’ which is known to give you more than a happy buzz but does nothing for either products flavour profile.
They are however some revolutionaries in SA that have been pushing hard for the last few years to break down the stigma and perceptions.
William Everson in particular has used his wine making craft and applied it to making dry ciders, limited addition barrel aged and MCC style ciders. It has not been an easy road trying to crack a very niche market.
Stefan Wiswedel, Little Wolf, makes a delicious hibiscus cider that resembles a rose MCC. It seems he has some other exciting things up his sleeve, actually in the cellar.
He cites exposure to ciders overseas as the critical stigma breaking moment for him. “Before travelling to Canada, I was also not a fan of cider and simply saw it as a sweet apply alcoholic beverage in the same category as alco-pops. But in Vancouver and other parts of the pacific north-west I tasted plenty of dry, complex and simply delicious ciders, which completely changed my perspective.”.
He continues to note that cider is consumed as a default rather than a cognisant choice to enjoy the wonders of fermented apples, “I think cider is difficult because most cider drinkers drink it because they don’t like beer, not because they like cider. Without a passionate cider community, price and availability will almost always trump (hate using that word) flavour and complexity”
Stefan then pin points the biggest issue that local craft cider makers grapple with. The raw ingredient. We do not have cider apples and rather use culinary (table) apple varieties that just don’t have the complexity of flavour. “
“I think one of the main issues is that cider producers are trying to make cider without cider apples. If we grew cider apples and had producers producing dry and complex ciders that could rival wine at the dinner table (or at special occasions) then we would start developing a community of passionate cider producers and grow the market. I believe it needs to be a top down approach to get people properly interested and passionate about the category. I don’t think anyone has cracked making fantastic cider with the apples that we have available in SA. Culinary apples just don’t cut it.”
So what about growing cider apples here in SA? Stefan sees that as a long term project.”What we need is someone who will take the long view, invest in growing the correct apples and then making cider properly”. Sounds expensive? And would the market care for dry cider anyway? Well the more they are exposed to real cider, just like with all the craft revolutions, exposure and education could turn the tide on concentrate lolly water ‘ciders’.
Moments of cider clarity like Wendy Pienaar had in the UK are just the sensory segue that lead to joyful discovery and enlightenment.
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The Cultured community is meeting up on the 30th January for a cider tasting with William Everson. All welcome.