Hong Kong's cider sippers profit from apple brew's global growth wave

Consumption of the drink is predicted to rise over 20 per cent by end of decade, and countries not previously known for cider making Cambodia, Sweden, and New Zealand are broadening choice for its fans

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 July, 2015, 10:35pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 July, 2015, 10:35pm

Cider and summer go together, particularly in Britain, which is the largest market for the drink in the world, as well as being a major producer.

In recent years, however, it has become an international growth category. According to research company the Canadean Group, international consumption will grow by about 640 million litres per year to three billion litres by 2020.

Much of that growth will be outside Britain, and although Hong Kong's contribution to it will probably be modest, a glance at shelves increasingly well stocked with cider in our supermarkets, and the lists offered by bottle shops and pubs specialising in more niche products, suggests that we too are doing our bit.

Also paying close attention to the growth in this area is a report published last month by the Rabobank banking and financial services group, in which analyst Marc Soccio says the growth of cider poses a "threat" to wine and beer.

"The impact might still be at the margin, but wine companies need to seriously consider what might lead their current and future consumers astray as cider once again enters the big leagues in key markets at home and abroad," he says.

On the face of it, this seems a little alarmist. Beer and cider have traditionally been sold alongside each other in pubs as complementary products, and if you are looking for craft ciders you go to the same niche retail suppliers you would for craft beers. There is also an overlap in personnel between the producers of wine and cider in the New World.

"We have about 20 different ciders, one Spanish, a couple from France, but the majority from UK and Australia," says Toby Cooper, landlord of The Globe in Central. "The main difference between Australian and British ciders is that British ciders tend to be made by brewers, so are more robust and have more apple characteristics. Australian ciders tend to be made by wine makers, with better balance, smaller champagne-like carbonation, and are a little more delicate."

It's hard to see cider replacing wine, although it is possible, I suppose, that the nascent cider industry in Cambodia may outclass that country's budding wine industry over time.

You didn't know they make cider in Cambodia? You probably wouldn't, unless you read the back of a bottle of Bruntys Premium Cider (available from Fusion), which has a Union flag in the shape of a balloon on the main label and says on the neck that it is made to a "Somerset recipe".

The label on the back will tell you, however, that it is made by the Asia Pacific Cider Company in Phnom Penh under the supervision of Cider Orchard Exports, Lady Farm, Bristol.

There may also be more potential for Swedish cider than Swedish wine - they do make it - and Fusion will also sell you a bottle of Somersby Cider which likewise sounds English, but was created at the behest of Denmark's Carlsberg and is brewed in Sweden.

Other non-English ciders display their national origins with a little more pride. Magners does not pretend to come from anywhere but Ireland, and Cooper says one of his favourites is Taffy Apples Cider from Tomos Watkin in Wales. "It's medium dry with great apple characteristics."

Also available at Fusion is Savanna Dry Premium Cider from Stellenbosch in South Africa, and The Globe has just added Zeffer Cider on tap.

"It's a fantastic summer cider from New Zealand - very dry and refreshing," says Cooper.

As in the world of craft beer, there is a division between hardcore purists and those who are prepared to slake their thirsts with such familiar names as Strongbow, Woodpecker and Dry Blackthorn. All of those are on a blacklist on the Real Cider website of ciders "not recognised as being real".

It says "these imposters have had most of the alcohol derived from fermenting corn starch syrup which is then diluted with water. Malic acid is then added in order to get a bit of taste back into it". The site contrasts them with "real" ciders, of which "the majority are organic, free of artificial colours, acids and antioxidants".

You need not expect to see many of those in our local supermarket chains, then. If you feel like checking a few out, it may well be worth dropping into The Globe for a pint.