There can't be a soul left in the land who seriously believes cider is purely a summer tipple any more — 56 per cent of drinkers will enjoy a cider at least once a month throughout the winter these days, according to Mintel data.
However, the wintry cider offer in many venues appears to consist of little more than adding a mulled cider to the menu and, important though mulled cider is in the colder months (see below), there's a whole lot more to selling cider in the winter than this.
"Full-bodied, richer styles of cider, either on draught or in bottles, bring a warmth that lends itself to autumn and winter days," says Martin Thatcher, managing director of Thatchers Cider.
"Thatchers Vintage, for example, is matured in oak, softly rounded, with its depth of character coming from bittersweet apples such as Tremlett's Bitter and Somerset Redstreak. Thatchers Heritage, too, has a complex, fuller taste profile."
Get the range right
It is therefore worth taking a look at your cider range around this time of year and tweaking it to add some seasonal variation — after all, there's something far less appealing about strawberry and cucumber on a dark, dank night in January than on, say, a sultry evening in July.
Licensees are therefore advised to look at more appropriate flavours for the particular time of year; ingredients such as winter berries or ginger, for example.
Some brand owners make it easy by launching specific winter variants — Kopparberg and Rekorderlig have done so for some years, while the three additions to Carlsberg's Somersby range (Apple Burst, Cranberry and Blackberry) all have a seasonal bent.
Keep your top-selling ciders on, of course, plus an apple variant (apple tends to have less sales variation through the year than fruit ciders), and when the selection is
complete, don't forget to shout about your new winter range.
Shout about cider
Use chalkboards, table-talkers, posters and social media (for tips on how to do this, take a look at our #pubsgetonline campaign website).
"Create your own cider list that has taste profiles and a brief history of the cider-maker for authenticity," Martin suggests.
"Or why not hold a winter cider festival?"
Don't forget to make the most of existing winter events as well — Halloween is huge for cider lovers (who tend to be at the younger end of the spectrum), as Kathryn Purchase, director of customer marketing at Carlsberg UK, points out." It is true that cider sales peak during the summer and at Christmas time but there are key occasions in between that licensees can leverage to ensure sales and footfall remain stable," she says.
"Halloween, for example, when 41 per cent of young adult drinkers are drawn to the pub."
Cider-makers get canny
New developments in the category are also helping to shift cider towards later evening drinking.
American ciders are entering the market, such as C&C Group's Hornsby's, Shepherd Neame's Angry Orchard or Halewood International's take on the genre, Lazy Jack's.
Producers such as Westons and AB InBev, meanwhile, have invested in cans to help make cider more appealing to a crowd for whom alcohol in a can is a fresh new trend.
"Introducing things like the recent sleek 330ml can for Stella Artois Cidre allows cider to tap into more drinking occasions," says Jessica Markowski, head of consumer activation at AB InBev.
"A slimline can provides a smaller serving option that many cider brands just don't offer. We've also introduced a midi chalice glass to go with the can, which along with ice, makes for the perfect cider serve."
Jessica also says winter is a great time to talk about the "shareability" of cider. "This can be done through innovative serving options such as our Cidre carafe, which allows people to share their cider. Offering differentiators like these are key ways to raise the appeal of cider in the winter," she adds.
Rekorderlig is also getting in on the act, recently revealing a new teapot serve for pubs and bars. "Rekorderlig is the pioneer of winter cider, de-seasonalising the category with the introduction of the brand's winter variant six years ago," says customer marketing
manager Linsey Adams.
"We're sending out Drink Beautifully kits to a selection of independent on-trade accounts to promote the variant within their venues. The kit consists of an urn, glassware, teapots, brochures, chalkboards and Angostura Bitters — a key part of this year's beautiful alternative to the original serve."
Tap into craft
It's impossible to write about a drinks category these days (with the exception, perhaps, of RTDs) and not take a look at the craft end of the market.
Cider, as elsewhere, is taking its cue from craft beer with the launch of such brands as Weston's Caple Rd and the emergence of such companies as Orchard Pig.
Andrew Quinlan, founder of the latter, believes craft cider is perfect for "today's consumers," summer or winter.
"The cider category as a whole has grown dramatically over the last couple of years, so it's the perfect time for craft cider to step up and make its mark," he says.
"We believe in craft cider all year round and think it can be as big as craft beer... it's certainly as much fun."
The 'with food' opportunity
Just like craft beer, cider is also beginning to look at the scope for food matching.
Several brands have been dabbling in the possibilities for some time. Merry¬down Cider enlisted the help of Adrian Edmondson, comedian and Celebrity Masterchef winner, last year to help boost its credentials as a cider for food, and Thatchers has also been working with chefs to create great matches with its ciders over the past few years.
Even the mighty Heineken is getting on board with several of its brands. "We're running a series of master classes with the Symonds Founder's Reserve brand to try to drive awareness of how well cider goes with a meal," says Emma Sherwood-Smith, director of ciders at Heineken.
The company has turned to Dr Rachel Edwards-Stuart, a food scientist and flavour expert, to investigate further.
Her work has concluded Strongbow is a good match for soft goats' cheese, pork scratchings, mussels in white wine and parmesan cheese, while Bulmers Original makes a fine pairing with cheddar, pork pies, stewed fruits and spring rolls.
Certainly curry has long been an accepted match for cider — lighter ciders work amazingly well with chilli and spicy flavours, cleansing the palate between mouthfuls far better than lager can manage.
Yet another way to add some spice to the winter cider market.
Something to mull over Seasonal cider sales gaining popularity
According to CGA stats, last year sales of mulled cider reached 45 serves per outlet per week during cold periods — matching that of mulled wine in some venues — which demonstrates huge growth for the category.
"Mulled cider has been on the market for a number of years now and there has been a gradual increase in its popularity," says Geoff Bradman, head of sales at Westons. "Our Henry Westons Mulled Cider grew volume by 147 per cent last winter, driven by increased distribution and rate-of-sale."
To capitalise on the opportunity, however, getting the serve right is absolutely essential — there's more to it than haphazardly heating a vat of cider all day and pouring some into a glass when required.
"While the cider clearly needs to be warm enough, make sure it is not overheated, as the cider will then start to stew, which will ruin the flavour," explains Geoff.
"Warming the cider in appropriate-sized batches will ensure the cider is not left for too long and therefore will not have a chance to stew. It should then be served in a hot drinks bar glass with a handle."
There are several ways to make it: buying pre-spiced mulled cider, using sachets of mulled spice mix or starting from scratch. In any case you can add your own twist (Martin Thatcher suggests a tot of rum or sloe gin is a good addition to a mulled cider mix, making it a very
Alter¬natively, have fun with different garnishes, quirky mugs and glasses.
"It's very important licensees don't miss out on the potential revenue of mulled cider," Geoff says. "Mulled cider helps differentiate an outlet from 'at-home' drinking and also provides some added theatre."