However, with winter just around the corner, an increasing number of operators are looking to extend the sales period of cider, either by mulling it with other fruit and spices, or by blending it into festive cocktails.
Mulled cider has a long and interesting history that dates back to medieval times, when a hot mulled punch was supposedly drunk as an integral part of wassailing, a Medieval English drinking ritual intended to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year. Later, the drink evolved to become a mulled cider made with sugar, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, topped with slices of toast as sops and drunk from a large communal bowl.
Today the drink has a niche following, and although perhaps less common than mulled wine, is increasingly popular around Christmas, with pubs looking for an alternative drink to tempt customers in from the chilly temperatures outside. More than half of consumers switch to a category they don’t usually drink over the festive period according to CGA, and this is an opportunity good cider pubs cannot afford to miss out on.
“It’s almost a no brainer to get some mulled cider going over Christmas,” says Alex Grieg, owner of Fuggles Beer Café in Kent. “Most local producers do a spiced cider and it’s a great way to do something festive but a little bit different - we find it really appeals to a broader market than mulled wine (and tastes nicer too!).
Fuggles uses Dudda's Tun spiced cider for the base of its recipe, and then lengthens the concoction with apple juice before adding spices and an undisclosed secret ingredient. “We fly through it over winter and it’s something we always get asked for come the colder months," Grieg adds.
It is not just small, independent pubs that are cottoning on to the opportunities presented by mulled cider. Earlier this month, Thatchers Cider produced an urn specifically designed to serve mulled cider in the on trade. The branded six-litre electric urn is available to Thatchers direct delivered outlets and selected brewers and wholesalers, and includes a supply of of Thatchers mulled cider spice mix and branded heat-proof cardboard cups.
“Cider is very much a year-round drink, but as the evenings draw in, there’s nothing better than enjoying a warming mulled cider in the bar,” says Thatchers managing director Martin Thatcher. “Having a branded urn on display adds theatre and customers are drawn in with the fruity and spicy aroma of mulled cider. The Thatchers urn will definitely earn its place on the bar.”
Of course, cider doesn’t have to be sold warm over the winter months. Spiced, festive varieties of cider can be served cold and still prove popular during the winter if sold correctly. Rekorderlig produces a winter cider infused with cinnamon and vanilla that can be served either cold over ice or hot with a slice of orange, whilst Koppaberg also produces a spiced apple variety with added cinnamon.
“While fruit cider sells more in the summer, it is still a very successful category through the winter months and pubs and bars should ensure they stock Koppaberg as the number one selling fruit cider brand,” says Meriam Alnaman, senior marketing manager for Koppaberg UK.
“Our Spiced Apple cider offers some differentiation in the fridge as it can be served warm or cold and has a perfect serve which includes warming Kopparberg Spiced Apple with some cinnamon, spices and a dash of plum bitters.”
“We know the festive period is an important time of year for the alcohol industry with increased footfall, so this is a great opportunity to tap the key trends we see in the market with innovative drinks and experiences when consumers are out celebrating.”
Wealth of different styles
Cider expert Gabe Cook believes that despite cider naturally pairing well with warmer weather conditions, with the wide variety of styles now available there is no reason why the drink shouldn’t maintain its popularity all year round.
“Cider should be for life, not just for summer,” he says. “Too often it is considered solely as a warm weather thirst quencher. It's true, a nice cold, crisp, acid forward cider hits the spot better than any other drink when the sun has got its hat on, but there is now such a fantastic wealth of different styles available to the consumer, such that there is a cider for every taste, for every occasions and for every time of year.”
Cook recommends trying bold, tannic ciders in place of a rich porter on a cold winter night, and adds that liberal use of mulling spices are key to bring out the fruitiness of a warm cider.
Another option for operators seeking to extend the lifespan of cider is to use the drink in cocktails for apple enthusiasts seeking autumnal debauchery. Cider rum punch and Maple Cider Cherry Whiskey are just two examples pubs could put on their menus to ensure continued cider sales once September is but a distant memory.
If you want try something a little different, why not go for a cider- based cocktail,” Cook adds. “It could be as simple as a cider mimosa, or my personal favourite - an Apple Old Fashioned. Replace the Rye with a UK cider brandy and I guarantee it will be your new favourite drink.”
Finally, operators could also consider the potential benefits of matching cider with food to help extend sales of the drink. Beer and food pairing is a growing trend within the UK market, and pubs could do well by stocking a wider range of cider styles to pair with their dining offerings.
“Cider is under-appreciated as a fantastic match for food not least because it contains acidity and tannins,” says award winning drinks educator and founder of the School of Booze Jane Peyton. “Most cider in pubs is also carbonated and that is another reason why it goes so well with food. Cider is apple wine but many people are perplexed thinking that they need to match food that goes with apples. With grape wine we do not restrict matching to food that goes well with grapes.”
Peyton suggests serving cider in wine glasses with food to help change the perception of the drink, as well as including tasting notes on food menus to explain why a particular cider may match well with a certain dish. “The perception of cider will not change in this country if people think it is just a cold fizzy drink to glug from a pint glass in summer,” she adds. “Treat cider as apple wine and give staff the knowledge to upsell so they can suggest a cider match when someone orders food.”