Cider producers are relentless in their pursuit of new flavours. There’s the seemingly endless stream of new fruits – think Strawberry, Mixed Fruit, Dark Fruit, Summer Fruit, Winter Fruit and so on – but also the various flavours offered by single varietals, for example. Cider flavours are ever-changing at every level of the category – from new fruit flavours to barrel ageing and co-ferments.
Among the most high-profile recent launches is one from Thatchers, building on the success of its 2020 launch of Cloudy Lemon Cider. For 2022, Thatchers is betting on another citrus flavour with its new Blood Orange Cider. Off -trade sales director Chris Milton believes that blood orange is “the biggest flavour trend for this year” and “an emerging flavour that has yet to make its mark in the cider category”.
Thatchers hopes not only to recruit younger consumers with the launch, but also tap into the rising popularity of blood orange flavours in categories such as soft drinks, spirits and IPAs. Similarly, Aston Manor Cider has looked to soft drinks for its new flavours, specifically for its Crumpton Oaks brand.
“Cherry & Berry is a well-known flavour combination in soft drinks but completely new to the cider category,” says the company’s marketing controller Calli O’Brien, who adds that the new Crumpton Oaks flavour “takes cues from traditional British fruit favourites within the juice and squash market”.
There’s no shortage of flavour to be derived from apples themselves, of course, and using a single variety is one way to highlight this. “With our cidermakers’ in-depth understanding of how each individual apple variety contributes to a cider, single varietals are a brilliant showcase for the breadth of cider styles,” says Thatchers’ Milton.
Co-founder of Normandy’s Sassy Cider, Xavier d’Audiff ret Pasquier, agrees. “Single varietals can contribute in their very flavour-direct fashion, and can excite and educate gently too, in the same way as has happened with Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio for wine,” he says.
The techniques for introducing flavour to cider don’t stop there though, and cidermakers, particularly a new wave of small producers, are using every tool in their arsenal. “The big trends, from natural wine and craft beer, towards bolder and more challenging flavours, are influencing the new crop of small cider producers,” says Matthew Armitage, director of Umbrella London.
“There are a lot more funky, dry, high-alcohol ciders in Champagne bottles at your local craft beer shop than there were two years ago, many of which are very good.”
DEMAND FOR PROVENANCE
Umbrella’s range includes a selection of ciders with a single flavour added, such as rhubarb or gooseberry. “In the future we will look to make some more dynamic small-run ciders that are a bit more challenging and niche – we’d like to have more fun with the process,” Armitage adds.
Among those already doing this is Herefordshire’s Little Pomona – and it is tapping into consumer demand for local products and provenance as it does. A variety of oak barrels are used, and additional flavours are incorporated via co-fermentation, or the addition of fruit wine. Little Pomona’s Hard Rain Hot Pink, for example, has Somerset blackcurrant wine added to it, while its Do It Puritan range sees apples and pears fermented with other fruit, previously quince and, more recently, Shropshire Prune damsons. “They’re flavoured, but not with an essence or a concentrate – it’s the real fruit,” says co-founder Susanna Forbes. “Key for us is that the apple remains of paramount importance.”
Some of the techniques used by small producers like Little Pomona echo those used in wine, and the resulting flavour profiles can have similarities too. “Some end up tasting quite wine-like, not because we’re trying to emulate wine, but perhaps more inmouthfeel,” says Forbes, adding that “some can be a bridge to the wine drinker”.
There’s a key here for retailers looking to take advantage of the array of flavours offered by the cider category. “People are having success putting us next to natural wine,” says Forbes. “It’s about not corralling these with 50cl bottles of beer, and therefore not allowing the cider renaissance to realise its potential.”
The importance of provenance to consumers can’t be underestimated, and is something that cider as a category is well-placed to benefit from.
“Shoppers are responding to producers who can demonstrate genuine provenance,” confirms Milton at Thatchers, adding: “We see this with the younger generation of adults, who care most about sustainability and provenance, and trust us to do the right thing.”
Flavour can be the ideal way to communicate this provenance, while creating a varied, vibrant category – just what Armitage recommends retailers keep on their shelves: “Products with strong stories, a broad range of styles and countries of origin, and a rotating range of challenging cider to intrigue repeat customers.”
With cidermakers continuing to push the boundaries, retailers certainly don’t have a shortage of options.