I feel very lucky and privileged to be working in the cider industry. Lager is - well, lager, end of story. But there's more to cider than meets the eye. Take its history. There are records of cider being produced in ancient Greece. It was brought to England at the time of the Norman conquest so, despite the West Country later taking ownership of cider, it actually started in Sussex!
There are many different categories of cider and pubs are missing a trick if they don't stock a decent selection - especially since sales of cider are up 96 per cent. Cider drinkers are used to having a vast choice in the off-trade, and are often annoyed their choice is limited when drinking in the pub.
I would recommend stocking one draught - probably Strongbow. No-one can afford not to stock bottled Magners, of course. But customers always appreciate a choice and I'd recommend offering Merrydown Gold, Westons Organic or Aspalls in 500ml bottles for a high-juice premium alternative. What about white, do I hear you asking? Diamond White used to have a huge on-trade presence but - I'm pleased to say - consumers are weaning themselves off low apple/high alcohol content ciders in favour of something a bit more flavoursome.
Cider, when well made, is a really refreshing drink with wonderful flavour and wide appeal - because it's made from one of our most elemental foods, apples. Premium cider with a high apple content, like Merrydown Gold, which is made from dessert apples, and Thatchers, made from Cox or Katy varieties, are fruiter than bittersweet West Country ciders.
Publicans can also do a lot to exploit drinking occasions. There's the lads' night out scenario, when a pint of Magners over ice will be a welcome change after a few pints of Carling. But there are also different times to enjoy cider. We market Merrydown Gold - which comes in 500ml as well as 275ml bottles - as a drink to have with friends or your partner, to accompany food, and is equally good at lunchtime or when popping into the pub after work.
And ignore the girls at your peril! Not everyone wants pints. For women, it's more about savouring the flavour than quaffing and perhaps having a bottle and label that doesn't look like it's been taken from the beer shelf is a good thing.
I predict the on-trade cider market will be huge this year, judging by the growth we've seen this summer. We're expecting Merrydown to be up 30 per cent in the off-trade and it will be great to see it back in pubs again. Stock the cider brands people will want to buy and we will all have a happy Christmas.
Chris Carr is managing director of Merrydown cider