Apples, and pears for that matter, are traditionally an autumn fruit. They are natural bedfellows of wintry flavours like cinnamon, clove and nutmeg, so why does the pub trade continue to view cider as solely a summer tipple?

It's not like the sales figures even back up the misconception. Last year on-trade sales of total cider by volume in December increased by 11 per cent versus an average month (Nielsen on-trade sales to 15.07.17). Thatchers, meanwhile, reports sales of its ciders in December often match that of July.

As a result, producers are now beginning to focus more on the opportunities for cider in the colder months, as should licensees if they want to keep a large proportion of their customers happy (53 per cent of adults drink cider, a number that continues to grow, according to the Mintel Cider Report 2017).

So, where can improvements in your winter cider offer be made?

"During the autumn and winter months people often turn to ciders that are fuller in flavour, richer and bolder," explains Thatchers MD Martin Thatcher.
"From our range that's ciders like Thatchers Vintage and Old Rascal."




Mixing it up
As well as looking for ciders with such a flavour profile, licensees can capitalise on the popularity of cider by linking it to the party season, perhaps taking a leaf out of Martin's book and getting creative with cocktails.

"Cider cocktails are a fantastic way to add theatre to the bar and offer customers something extra special during the festive season," he says.

Claire Young, national accounts controller at brewer Shepherd Neame, which has just this year launched its first cider, Orchard View, agrees.

"Cider is a great option for winter months, as its versatility makes it a delicious cocktail ingredient, especially during the Christmas party season."

Check out the October edition of Inapub for some inpiration and recipes. If cocktails aren't your thing, however, consider simpler twists to make your ciders seem a bit more special at a time when people are looking to treat themselves.

"Promote seasonal twists on cider by changing the serve, using different garnishes and glassware to enhance a seasonal flavour. A slice of orange, for example," advises Claire.

Even simpler, why not serve it as an alternative to a glass of fizz, as suggested by David Sheppy, managing director at Sheppy's.

"For reception drinks at a party, a beautiful sparkling classic draught cider or cider with elderflower are ideal to serve in a Champagne glass as guests arrive," he says.




Party tipple
Equally, think about the other end of the party. Late nights and "high tempo" everts are perhaps not an area where traditionally cider has played a part but it is beginning to make inroads.

Bottled ciders are very important here – not least because, as Emma Sherwood-Smith, cider director at Heineken UK puts it: "Bottled cider is quicker to serve so it can help reduce waiting times during busy periods."

Heineken has been spearheading this end of the market with ranges like Blind Pig and Old Mout and now Diageo has also got involved with Smirnoff Cider, launched last year.

"Because of its refreshing qualities cider can get overlooked as a festive option," admits Kate Hunter, innovation commercialisation manager at Diageo.

"However, it is important not to consider it obsolete at Christmas because refreshing, fruit flavoured drinks typically perform well all year round. Smirnoff Cider contains real Smirnoff vodka, so is a natural choice for more late night occasions, which of course are plentiful in the festive season."




Festive fare
Food, of course, is also typically plentiful in the festive season, and – as with other drinks – the art of cider and food matching is growing in popularity.

Helpfully, as mentioned earlier, cider's taste profile works very well with traditional festive fare, such as turkey and all the trimmings, Christmas pudding, hams and cheeses.

Martyn Jones, head of on-trade and export at Westons, recommends Westons organic cider, Wyld Wood, with cheese and gammon-based dishes and its Henry Westons Vintage with Christmas dinner, mulled flavoured foods or spiced nuts.

He says: "In the run up to Christmas licensees should look to stock a few seasonal ciders such as a dark berry flavour or a spiced cider that they wouldn't stock at another time of year.

"It is also essential that licensees ensure they cater for designated drivers with low and no-alcohol drinks."




Alcohol free
This is a growing area for the drinks trade, which can only accelerate over Christmas, with teetotallers, designated drivers and those choosing healthier options more likely to be out in pubs and bars at this time of year than any other.

"Low alcohol ciders taste much more like their parent products than low alcohol beers," says Martyn.

"Stowford Press LA contains just 0.5 per cent ABV and is an incredibly popular choice for non-drinkers and designated drivers."

Kopparberg has also brought zero alcohol ciders to the market. Its best-selling variants (Strawberry & Lime, Mixed Fruit and Pear) are the only alcohol-free fruit ciders on the market, the company claims.




Mania for mulled
Last, but by no means least, we come to mulled cider. As an alternative to mulled wine it has been growing in popularity for some time.

Last year, for example, Cornish Orchards reports its sales grew 20 per cent across November and December, a result it credits, in part, to the popularity of mulled cider.

"Our customers really went after our mulled cider offer, which gave them a point of difference to pubs serving mulled wine, or nothing warm at all," says the compay's general manager Patrick Gardiner.

"Licensees should look to offer something different. There are a number of ciders that are rich and warming, especially in packaged ranges, that are great for winter. Also, look to utilise outdoor space with heaters and a mulled cider bar," he suggests.

"I believe there is a great opportunity for us, as a premium cider maker, to deliver incremental sales in winter through mulled cider."

Brothers is also working hard to make the most of this particular opportunity, pushing its Festival Apple Cider and its Toffee Apple Cider as hot serves this winter.

"Last year we saw sales of our Toffee Apple Cider grow by 28 per cent between October and December," says the company's Gerry Doyle.

"This year we've produced a range of PoS to help promote winter serves, including urns, insulated paper cups and table talkers. Brothers has proven that winter cider isn't just about mulling apple and pear cider, fruit cider can work well warmed too!"