- Perhaps the best selection of hard cider at retail in the entire U.S is at K&L Wine Merchants in Redwood City, California. That makes Jim Boyce, the store’s beer and cider buyer who is responsible for the store’s 30+ international selections of ciders, cider lovers best friend. Jim was kind enough to take time away from hunting down new ciders to talk to The Cider Journal about what he looks for in a cider, his view of where craft cider is going and what and those ciders he’s particularly excited about at the moment.
- Tell us a little bit about you and your beverage background and how you came to be the Cider Buyer for K&L.
I went to school on the central coast in wine country and started my booze education there. I moved back to the bay and began working at K&L in 2008. I began my crash course in everything alcohol related eventually took over Beer/Cider buying in April of this year. We have smaller selections of cider in our Hollywood and San Francisco stores that are managed locally as well.
- Have you followed any particular philosophy or guidelines in developing K&L’s cider inventory? What are you looking for in a hard cider before you bring it into the store?
We love the funk here at K&L so Basque ciders are brought in as much as possible! Of course, we have a soft spot for classic French ciders/cidres and make room for the growing selection of domestic ciders. While we like to bring in new and exciting ciders as much as possible, we are really looking for overall balance when bringing in ciders, regardless of where they are from or the style they are made in. As far as guidelines go, we really try to keep an even shelf of funky, dry, and off dry ciders for everyone’s different palates!
- Describe what you see happening in the cider marketplace these days and its development.
I have seen a big upswing in cider across the board on both small-scale and mass-produced side. Everyone is jumping on the wagon to get a cider on the shelves, as evidenced by the growing cider section in distributor’s books and TV/radio commercials for the big guys. I think it is a great thing, even if I don’t personally enjoy some of the ciders made for the masses. Customers are coming in mentioning a larger production cider they had and are now willing to experiment with some of the craft ciders on our shelves they would have skipped before. Restaurants and bars are helping this by having cider options more readily available as well!
- What can you tell us about the average craft cider buyer at K&L?
We have a mix of cider customers. We have our regulars that we bring in certain ciders (even extra cases of them!) knowing how much they will love them. We have our gluten free/ intolerant customers that are very happy with the larger selection of ciders becoming available, some of which are taking a bit of an experimental turn (barrel aged, dry hopped, etc). Then we have a few that are new to ciders that are making their way through the shelves. Our average cider customer falls somewhere in there, asking for nice clean cider for a summer gathering or experimenting with the funkiest cider we can get our hands on!
- Which cidermakers are you particularly excited about at the moment?
Reverend Nat has been making some cool stuff, Finnriver is all over the place, Tilted Shed, West County and oh so many more I haven’t even tried yet. I just ordered 5 new ciders from all over the world this morning, the majority of which I have never heard of! The other day, I had a couple of distributors tell me about new and soon to be established ciders that I am very excited for without even tasting a drop!
- Any strategies you might employ in getting confirmed wine or beer drinkers to give had cider a try?
The beer guys are a tough crowd to substitute a cider for a hard sought bottle of beer. It is just not quite there yet. Besides talking about them, I have found our occasional cider tastings to be the biggest eye openers for the wine/beer crowd that expects the majority of cider to taste like the Martinellis we all had growing up!
- Where do you see the cider category heading five to ten years down the road?
I see it continuing to grow but I am not sure the category will become as big as this craft beer boom. Good food and good beverages are all the rage right now, and as long as that continues cider will benefit. There is a growing crowd of hardcore cider drinkers that will drink up as much cider as they can. As long as producers continue to expand the category and what cider can be we will all benefit. I do question how long a leash the mass-produced ciders have in their respective portfolios as the dedication to keeping those on the shelves can help the smaller producers out in the long run. Just like beer, I think the craft cider will slowly take shelf space away from the larger guys. All told, I really look forward to what the future brings!