On one hand, they face strong competition from bulk cider, produced from juice concentrate and sold very cheaply. A 1.25L rigger of 8% 'scrumpy’ retails for about nine bucks.
The second challenge is a spin-off from this competition. The retail dominance of bulk cider doesn’t just make craft cider hard to find. These sweet ciders have strongly influenced customer expectation that cider should clear, sweet, and taste of apples. Like wine tastes of grapes…
Craft cider makers describe these bulk products as 'entry-level’ drinks, comparable to RTDs in the way the sweetness hides alcohol. “A sweet product designed for young girls and your mother-in-law”, says Paynter’s Cider’s Paul Paynter.
So cider has become a sign of a misspent youth, deeply unfashionable to craft beer adventurers.
And just to get the boot in while they are down, there has been some recent questioning of cider’s place in the Brewers Guild Awards.
Which is very timely. Because last weekend the first ever national cider competition was held, with winners to be announced on 7 November.
As Beertown.NZ reported last week, craft cider makers have been uncomfortable about their place in the Guild Awards. They say cider has been treated as a sideline to beer, and the Guild’s beer judges lack the experience to judge craft cider.
“People don’t understand cider here. A lot of the cider made here is very sweet and nasty, and the award categories reflect that. We have a very small band of actual cider makers, so the judges don’t have a handle what makes a good cider”, says Invercargill Brewery’s Steve Nally.
Until this year cider has been part of the Fruit Wine & Cider Makers New Zealand awards, as well as being part of the Brewers Guild awards. This year the snappily-branded FW&CMNZ is running two parallel competitions: “The New Zealand Cider industry is rapidly expanding and evolving with many new cider styles emerging. The volume and diversity of cider now being produced in New Zealand has demanded a standalone cider competition. The Fruit Wine Awards will be continue to be run alongside the new Cider Awards.”
So why the fuss with the Brewer’s Guild awards? Surely craft cider makers will thrive on the recognition and publicity that comes from a dedicated competition?
Not quite. Cider makers say FW&CMNZ is small and under resourced, and running two competitions spreads resources (e.g., entry fees, experienced judges, media attention) even thinner. “The problem with the FW&CMNZ is that it’s absolutely tiny so it’s got no budget or profile. Cider is booming but you’ve got no platform to create hype and get the press interested”, says Paul Paynter. "The Guild is very good at getting stories into the media but FW&CMNZ is tiny and lacks any critical mass."
The obvious solution is to run dedicated cider awards, using specialist cider judges from New Zealand and overseas, in parallel with the Brewers Guild Awards to maximise media interest and simplify logistics.
There would be a Champion Cider Maker and a Champion Brewer, each based on the medal count for the respective products.
This would need cooperation between the Brewers Guild and FW&CMNZ, but given their common interests and the fact several brewers are members of both groups, all this would need is some goodwill and the desire to make it work.
And while they’re at it, how about a competition category for cider made from real fruit, rather than concentre? Then craft cider could start getting the recognition I think it deserves.
The Cider Awards will be announced on 7 November in Auckland. For more information on judging and categories, go here.