Cidercraft Magazine and Craft Cider’s Identity Crisis

cidercraftmagI got my first look at the new “Cidercraft Magazine” and it looks good. Looking good is a prerequisite of print magazine publishing in this age of dumping pulp in favor of electrons. However, Cidercraft Magazine not only looks good but it is also a lively spokespiece for the cider revival.

Among the “What is Cider”, “What are good ciders”, and “Who Makes Cider” articles that run throughout the first issue of Cidercraft Magazine, however, is one particularly good and must-read article: “What’s Old Is New Again”. The article gives a variety of smart cider and drinks people the opportunity to speculate on the nature of and reasons for cider’s revival.

1. The craft beer movement has trained enough people in the “interesting” and “authentic” to give them the confidence to try cider

2. The perceived health benefits of cider (gluten-free, fewer carbs, anti-oxidants) appeal to drinkers

3. The liberal experimentation with flavor additions within the cidermaking community appeals to a younger demographic and propels the experimentation with and adoption of cider as a drink.

4. The slow/authentic/real/local food movement meshes well with the attitude and perspective of the craft cider movement.

But the most interesting and provocative idea embedded in  Treve Ring’s “What’s Old Is New Again” article is the idea that craft cider is and ought to be associated with craft beer. It strikes me as provocative that craft cider is not better understood as more akin with wine than beer.

While I’m sure this is a provocative idea, I understand why it should be adopted and spread. Cider is consumed in a manner more similar to the way beer is consumed. It tends to be quaffed like beer, rather than sipped like wine. Its quaffable nature is derived from the same thing that provides beer’s quaffable quality: lower alcohol levels.

If this seems a pedestrian and simple explanation of the nature of cider that’s because it is. But practicalities and the structural nature of a product are almost always behind its perceived qualities, which in turn most often lead to the way it is sold and marketed. Hence, cider as beer.

In the “Cidercraft” article, Ian McKay of British Columbia’s Driftwood Brewery lands on the “cider’s-appeal-is-its-authentic-nature” side of the question by, interestingly, referencing the impact of commercial ciders: “I think it’s partly due to the big companies and their marketing departments pushing faux cider (and dumbed down beer) on to the masses. All this wide-scale, big marketing mediocrity only makes people yearn for what is real.”

McKay may be right. However it’s important to note that the vast majority of cider is being sold by the “big companies”. And if you look at how these “big companies” are marketing their cider you’ll find they are using beer marketing as a model. The consumers who are introduced to cider via the big companies and their marketing departments are being taught that cider is an alternative to and similar to beer…not wine and not spirits.

So here is where I think things ought to get provocative. As an alcoholic drink, cider is much more akin to wine. It is made the way wine is made. It’s aesthetic characteristics are more like wine than beer. Its fruit source (apples) are more akin to grapes than grains. Apples tend to thrive more fully in regions where grapes thrive. Cider pairs with food in a more similar fashion than beer.

And so the question I would have liked to have seen addressed in the above referenced article is this: Is the future of craft cider more secure in the hands of those inclined to treat cider as similar to wine or those inclined to understand cider as an alternative to beer?

Cidercraft Magazine is a fantastic addition to the cider revival. Merely being seen on newsstands is a huge boost to the cider category. But it needs to be pointed out too that if you at the cover of the first issue of Cidercraft, you’ll note that apples are on display in two WINE glasses. And below those apple-filed wine glasses is the inaugural issue’s  primary headline: “19 bottles of Cider on the Wall”.

It turns out that both inside and out, Cidercraft magazine has perfectly depicted cider’s primary identify crisis.

5 Responses to “Cidercraft Magazine and Craft Cider’s Identity Crisis”

  1. Kristen Jordan

    Cheers, Tom, for articulating the identity crisis that cider is experiencing in the United States. Well perhaps not a crisis yet, but controversy at least, and as you point out, an association with beer when cider has arguably more in common with wine. The photo on the cover of Cidercraft was taken at Sea Cider by Sean Jordan, my brother-in-law, years before the recent cider revival in the US when we saw an opportunity to redefine the category, in British Columbia anyway, away from alcopop and perhaps, naively, towards cider as its own category.

    Reply
  2. Bryan

    Why does cider have to be associated with either? This is the real identity crisis. Why can’t cider just be cider? I’m new to cider so maybe that is my naivety.

    Reply
  3. tomwark

    Bryan,

    Thanks for the comment.

    Obviously Cider need not be associated with either beer or wine. However, given it looks and drinks more like and wine and beer than spirits, and given that its current rise in the market is still new, there is a tendency to ask, “where does this beverage belong….Who will drink it?….How can we (a cidery) best market cider”?

    I understand and I see the identity issue. But in the end, you are right. Cider need not be one or the other and I suspect one day it will be, as you say, just cider.

    Reply
  4. Tonya Stewart

    Might it be possible to have a trial subscription? Or perhaps to purchase one issue as a ‘probationary subscriber’?

    Thanks in advance,

    Tonya

    Reply
  5. Mike Thompson

    Back in the late 80’s/early 90’s, I worked at a pub in Hamilton, ON. We served Strongbow on tap, and went through many many kegs every weekend during the summer. I moved to the States in the mid 90’s and kinda forgot about cider. I bought a 6 pack of Woodchuck about 10 years ago and found it to be rather sweet compared to my (distant) memory of Strongbow.

    Anyway, my point was in reference to your article. We served Strongbow in an Imperial pint glass with ice (about one third of the glass). So I always had a “beer” connection with cider. Most craft ciders seem to be presenting their product with a wine marketing sensibility.

    Reply

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