Crisp, cool weather has set the stage for hard ciders to strut their stuff at the retail tier. “Customers are eager to try something new,” says Erik Madrid, owner of Seattle-based online cider retailer Press Then Press. “We certainly have customers who are loyal to a particular cidery, but a high percentage of our orders are for a variety of different products. Customers want to try ciders from different makers from different regions of the country and world, taste different styles, or explore the range of different cider apple varieties.” Press Then Press boasts more than 350 ciders SKUs and ships to 49 states.
The proliferation of high-quality ciders from multiple regions has bolstered the category’s image. “There has been a wave of new cider makers going to market,” Madrid says. “Here in Washington state alone, the number of producers has increased 50% in the last two years. The interest in cider is picking up on multiple levels. It’s becoming hard to keep up with all the new brands we see launching online across the United States, and that’s exciting.”
Most of the ciders that Press Then Press carries are small-batch offerings available for limited time. Top-selling brands include Sea Cider from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada ($20-$25 a 750-ml.); Alpenfire Cider’s Glow Airlie Red Rosé from Townsend, Washington ($23 a 750-ml.); and Porter’s Perfection Single Varietal from Bauman’s Cider in Gervais, Oregon ($15 a 750-ml.). “We focus on carrying a variety of quality cider products that cider enthusiasts will be excited about, while also making it easy for people just discovering cider to learn more about the craft of cider making and the apple varieties that make them great,” Madrid says.
Educating customers is important, and cider retailers have gone all out to improve their category knowledge. Madrid and his wife and business partner Storie Madrid are both certified pommeliers. “For years most of our travel throughout the United States and internationally has been based on finding the best ciders available,” Erik Madrid says. “We’re working on expanding our inventory to include unique products that we’ve found and that highlight the best of cider.”
In Fishkill, New York, Paige Flori, owner of Boutique Wines, Spirits & Ciders, recently became a certified pommelier, and her store carries a whopping 312 cider SKUs, including 13 offerings on tap. “More cideries are focusing on seasonal flavors—lighter, floral flavors in the spring, fruited in the summer, cinnamon and pumpkin in the fall, and flavors like cranberry in the winter,” Flori says. “They seem to be mirroring other drink categories like coffee and tea that do similar marketing tactics.”
Boutique’s top-selling cider brands include Citizen Cider’s Pineapple Pants and Raspberry Crush ($5 a 16-ounce can), Awestruck’s Winter Solstice ($5 a 16-ounce can), a seasonal black currant expression; Artifact’s Feels Like Home ($5 a 16 ounce can); and B. Nektar Zombie Killer With Honey & Cherry Cider ($6 a 12-ounce can). “Customers are looking for single-serve packaging—mostly cans, but to a smaller extent, single-serve bottles,” Flori says. “It offers variety and less waste in terms of unconsumed product.”
Flori offers private cider tastings, available by appointment via in-store sales or Groupon, and provides samples as needed to customers who are looking to purchase products from the tap system. “We also do corporate events, with companies bringing in staff to taste in a private setting as a team-building exercise,” she says.
With strong support from retailers and an increased interest from consumers, cider is poised for steady long-term growth. “Cider is in the midst of a renaissance of sorts, and over the last few years, there’s been growth for the category,” Madrid says. “That’s especially true when segmenting the market data and focusing on the regional cider makers who are making some of the best cider in the world.”