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The price is right…or is it?

It’s worth what someone is willing to pay for it” – Francis Cook

The price of cider is a very thorny and divisive subject that over the last couple of years in particular, has caused many an online difference of opinion. There are sides of the argument that call for cheaper prices, especially at the “fine cider” end of the market, the view being that cider was and should continue to be a working persons drink and priced accordingly. The other side being that cider is not valued in a way that reflects the true cost, effort and skill. Firstly let us not forget that the somewhat diluted cider served to workers on the farm was not the same as that served to the owners, and the bad reputation that cider has for “scrumpy” and “white ciders” are about poorly or mass produced drinks that cost little to turn out. However secondly, price does not equate to “quality”, I have had many outstanding £3 500ml bottles and many faulty £10+ 750s.  Cider marketed like wine may never achieve its aspirations in the short term due to the UK’s hang up of price relating to Alcohol by Volume. So where is the sweet spot? Is there a common ground to be reached? I’m not sure, but my observations and thoughts, along with a rather expensive tasting experience is what now follows…

I’m not naïve to the fact that we all have different financial circumstances and for some that means that they cannot afford to buy some higher priced products, whether that be cider or higher welfare meat or anything else. But it is a fact of life that some things cost more than others and as humans we will all make individual choices of whether we agree with that or not and where we spend our money. It could be because something has taken longer to make or is made of more rare or difficult to manufacture ingredients. It’s why a pine flat pack desk is cheaper than a bespoke mahogany one, or a diamond ring costs more than a cubic zirconia one, or a 20 year old brandy costs more than a 5 year old one.

No company can afford to sell something cheaper than it cost to make, and as a business they need to make a profit to grow and survive. I suppose it’s that margin of profit that causes the most controversy and who’s to say what someone should or shouldn’t charge for their product? Ultimately it’s up to the producer to charge whatever they wish as it’s their product and they made it. As my grandfather said (right at the top) if someone is willing to pay that price for it, then in their eyes it is worth it.

Speaking from the perspective of a new maker who is trying to get started with a small space and about 2,000 litres, I know that if I bottle it all in 500ml and charge £3 I’ll never make a viable business. I have invested in my business so I need to pay that back before I start to make any profit and when you consider the cost of the orchard, the apple trees to plant and all the stakes, ties and guards, plus the fencing and then the upkeep to mow it throughout the summer, then prune in the winter, as well as my time to do all that. Then there’s harvesting by hand from other trees and orchards while mine grows, all the equipment to clean, mill and press the apples. Tanks to ferment the juice in, a pump, steriliser, bottles, bottling equipment, caps, labels, space to store it all in, the list goes on and becomes very costly. So my aim is to take a little longer to make a higher value product. Ageing in barrel, secondary fermentation (perhaps even méthode traditional), sharing size bottles, unique and limited batches, all of which I think contribute to a higher value because of the increased time, equipment and care. Only by doing it that way do I have any hope of being able to grow the business into something that becomes more than just a side business on top of a full time job. I honestly couldn’t have got started 4-5 years ago when the current craft wave hadn’t begun.

I think what is perhaps causing the disillusion in some consumers is that a few years ago, many undiscovered amazing cider makers were selling their wares at lower prices when compared to today, but now the greater recognition, promotion and value perception (along with inflation) has allowed them to charge a higher amount. For some to better reflect the work, skill, time, etc. and for others just because they can, and I’ll leave you to decide which and for who as that feels a bit too subjective. Personally there are many producers that I could occasionally afford to try the new releases from, but for me that group is now shrinking. Where I could get a couple of large bottles for £20, which to me was justifiable (I know that’s not for all), now I get very little change for one bottle with £20 and so I simply just cannot afford to buy as much from as many. Whilst in some cases I have lamented the situation and the missed opportunity to try something many are raving about, ultimately I cannot do anything about it, so I have had to control that FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) parrot on my shoulder. There are so many excellent producers out there across the whole spectrum of pricing that I can find many great things to drink. I might no longer be able to sample the latest method traditional offering or co-fermented creation, although the budget announcement may help the latter, but that doesn’t mean I hate or boycott those producers or any of their more affordable offerings if they have them. “There is always another cider to try”, something that Adam and I kept telling each other, as we battled with the volume of releases we wanted to review since starting Cider Review.

Changing the subject slightly and moving on to some tasting, I don’t know a huge amount about wine, although I am trying, but I do know that the same arguments exist and that many believe “fine wine” is a fallacy and they all taste the same, whereas others revere certain producers, vintages and bottlings as worth thousands of pounds. I have never had the opportunity to compare the two, but here I am with one of the most expensive ciders I have ever bought and I am going to attempt to give an opinion based on comparison. This is a very dangerous game as I am one voice and one palate, you may do the same exercise and feel very differently, but I have no bias here to any of these producers, so I submit my objective take. I should also point out that I wouldn’t have been able to attempt to purchase this entire collection without the generosity of some very lovely people. They know who they are and I thank them again. 

All of the below are full methodé traditional ciders, under going secondary fermentation in the bottle before being fully disgorged. 

Artistraw – a la volee 2019 (6.7%) RRP £15 (£20 per litre)

Described as “dry, crisp and delicate”, this is made from an orchard blend, at least a half of which is Dabinett. Each bottle has been aged on the lees for 10 months before being hand disgorged á la volée. [Ed: this one is actually method Ancestral as it’s not had yeast added before bottling]

Colour: golden amber

On the nose: lots of phenolics on this, wooden barn and leather, as well as real juicy apple notes like wet pressing cloths, crushed apple pomace and freshly pressed juice. It’s like being transported to the cider barn in pressing season.

In the mouth: marvellous! It’s got some serious poise; bitterness from those tannins, plus some acidity and a juicy element as well; nicely balanced. Overripe apples and bitter orange pith with a subtle element of vanilla and cream. The finish is dry with a little sharp bite to it. Very curious what the other 50% to the Dabinett is. I’m very impressed with how well balanced this is, tannic methodé traditional ciders can be a little harsh on the palate but the other 50% of the blend has prevented that. 

In a nutshell: a well balanced delight of a drink

Find & Foster – Carter (2018) 8.0% RRP £16 (£21.33 per litre)

Described as an “aromatic, elegant sparkling cider made with bright acidity and purity made with rare and unusual apple varieties”. Named after the Carter family who protected 2 acres of orchards in Devon from whence this drink is made. Rare varieties included are: Devonshire Quarrenden, Ellisson’s Orange and Cornish Pine.  

How I served: chilled from a flute as suggested

Colour: gold

On the nose: green apples, lemon rind, toasted buttery bread and aged wood. There’s a traditional french keeved vibe to this, like pressing barn and calvados. 

In the mouth: initially there’s a sharp burst of acidity, followed by some edgy tannins where the bitterness is a little harsh on the tongue but not astringent, green apple fruit lifts it somewhat. Chewy woody notes, then parts for tonnes of malolactic character with creamy and buttery vanilla notes. Despite already being three years old, I think this would age exceptionally. Those tannins would soften beautifully given another year or two. 

In a nutshell: already enjoyable but one for the cider rack, this will be phenomenal in 2023/4

Tinston – Anatomy (7.5%) RRP £10.99 (£14.65 per litre)

Liam was a winemaker first (since 2010 – all over the world) and then started making cider in 2017. His friend, a farmer’s son, had some random apple trees which they used to make a cider using champagne method and it evolved into this. A single variety Bramley cider “for those who want something perfectly English and supremely delicious.”

How I served: fridge temperature 

Colour: yellow gold (with a slight orange hue)

On the nose: fresh green apples and zesty tarte au citron; bitter lemons and vanilla pastry. Along with grassy meadows and floral notes of elderflower and honeysuckle.

In the mouth: such smooth bubbles followed by full tongue biting flash of citrus-like acidity. The citrus dessert then arrives with creamy vanilla, definitely some malolactic character going on. It’s all green apples and lemons though really, crisp green apples and bitter citrus pith. A perception of sweetness starts to come through as my glass warms and the bubbles ease, which mellows and balances the acidity a little.

In a nutshell: champagne who? This is the toast you’re looking for.

The Newt – The Winston 2018 (11%) 568ml RRP £36 (£63.38 per litre)

According to the accompanying briefing note, this is inspired by Winston Churchill who is said to have enjoyed an “imperial pint” sized bottle of champagne or two (or three) during the day. This is made from 2018 apples (no idea of varieties) which, following initial fermentation in tank, underwent secondary fermentation in the bottle for two years before being disgorged. It’s “limited” to 9,000 bottles (hello £324,000), and the 2020 vintage won’t be released till 2023. 

I asked Greg Carnell (Cider Cellar Master) and Paul Ross (Cider Maker) at The Newt for some additional information to find out how they achieved 11%; was there any additional sugar before fermentation for example, and also about the name and was there any further connection to Winston Churchill at the estate, but sadly they did not respond. 

How I served: fridge temperature

Colour: pale gold with a slight blush

On the nose: very clean, grassy meadows and freshly picked apples along with some lemon biscuit and bready notes but those last two are faint. It’s fruity, floral and fresh (who doesn’t like a bit of alliteration in their tasting notes).

In the mouth: first to hit the palate is a burst of acidity and a very velvety mouse, smooth but with a little edge. Green apples, kiwis and pineapple interlaced with brioche and buttery vanilla. It’s got crispness but there’s also a viscosity to it, the finish is sweeter than I anticipated, and as it warms this becomes more prominent. 

I have to salute Sir Churchill’s alcohol tolerance, at 11% I’m not sure I could drink three pints in a day.

In a nutshell: a little too sweet for me, but brilliant flavour

Conclusion

Where to begin…? I’m not sure I can show what I initially had in mind here. Each of the four are exceptionally made and very different, yet with some common flavours from the ageing on the lees in the bottle. They vary in prices, yet I would have to say that one did not stand out above the others as being more exceptional than the rest, which begs the question; should they all be towards the higher prices? Or all be towards the lower? Who am I to decide. 

My opinion; the Artistraw and Find & Foster were both delicious, and I would love to drink them again, but I simply cannot afford to other than on the odd occasion. The Tinston is a bargain for a champagne-style cider by comparison. As for The Winston, I am not able to justify buying a bottle of that again, especially when I can get two or even three of the others here, which are all as outstanding, but I’m not the target audience for that bottle.

Do they stand out compared to other considerably cheaper full juice ciders? Well in short yes, the complexity and development of flavours is much more advanced than a cider made in under 12 months that has been bottled and force carbonated and sweetened. So for me they are worth more. They are for sipping and sharing, drinking less of but enjoying for longer. A cheaper session cider for having a few at a barbecue they are not, nor should they be compared to really. 

As an aside I did have a fifth bottle with an RRP of £17.50 to add to this line up, but sadly it had the worst case of mouse that I have ever tasted. Which again raises the responsibility of the bottle shops who really should be quality assuring what they sell to try and push cider as a reputable category forward. Someone who is willing to spend that amount on a cider will be immediately put off ever doing it again if they get a bottle like that. More on that another time. 

It seems to me that at the moment there is a line being drawn in craft cider. On one side we have the session strength in small bottles or cans, similarly priced to and consumed like beer (in general – appreciate that’s a massive generalisation) and on the other side we have the sometimes higher alcohol, larger bottles, to share at the table, which are priced and drink like wine. I hate comparing to other drinks because it belittles cider’s place at the table, but it’s sometimes good to have a benchmark to relate to. I think this line is something to be celebrated, and if you’re a maker covering both sides then you are probably in a great position. Wine cannot offer the lower alcohol to compete and beer doesn’t on the whole offer the stronger strength larger bottles, so cider is the one of the three that can appeal to the most, to whatever style, strength or price of drink you’d like to have. Cider is the ultimate all rounder, and that is worth a lot. 

9 Comments

  1. James makes a whole lot of really good comments here. Sadly there are few answers as, which he recognises, so much is down to the consumer’s budget. Part of that is also related to where in the country they are: someone in poorer parts won’t be as keen on these at the prices shown as some in, say, many parts of London.
    But fortuntately there are people who can afford them and thus allow the craft of cider making to not be purely about creating the £3 bottle!
    The key point made, which underlies everything, is the economics of the businesses. I doubt there is a single cider maker who is coining it. Many of us just love what we do and if we were honest would say we make a fair return but nothing more. Again geography relating to the customer’s wealth will have a bearing. But we all spend varying amounts on packaging and transport to get our crafted ciders to them and with some other costs there is unlikely to be a fat margin remaining!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you as always for reading Oliver, it’s a worrying time with the rises in the cost of living, which I fear will make that fine line even thinner. At the moment their appears to be plenty of space in the market for all cider has to offer and I really hope that continues.

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  2. Thanks for a other great article.

    This price difference is obviously something that has existed with wine and beer for a while and the friction around cider was always going to happen as prices rise.

    There is space for both ‘session’ and ‘fine’ cider but not everyone will be happy about it.

    I can’t help feel that The Winston is a gimmick though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading Andrew and as for The Winston, I can’t help but feel it is very much aimed at a certain audience. Especially given the fact you have to pay £40 to visit. Very well made excellent cider, but no more fantastic than any of the others in the article.

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  3. muxaller says

    Hi James,
    As a producer who is delving into the „ traditional method „ style of cider and will price accordingly, you hit the nail on the head.
    We produce cider in 0,33 ml bottles and can produce these in moderate amounts and pricing.
    The traditional method cider is as you described more labour intensive and has more associated costs . It is more expensive. However above all that there must be a another level of quality to justify the higher price … and that is perceived by the customer.
    Cider is a beverage that has different levels of quality and pricing … maybe we should accept that cider has moved on from being “just “ a working mans tipple
    ( no disrespect intended) .
    Cheers Steve 😎🥂🍾🍎

    Liked by 2 people

    • Cider has definitely moved on, but not all are ready for that move. Consumer adjustment always takes longer, but we will get there. Wish you every success with yours Steve.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I submit that there is more than taste alone to be considered. How do you value the work F&F do to preserve old orchards? What about the joyous artistry and championing of sustainable methods of Artistraw. I am happy to pay a few Euro more for that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent point and often overlooked, all of that additional work takes time and time has a cost. If you ever get the chance to visit Polly & Matt or Lydia & Tom you definitely should, they’re passion for what they’re preserving is infectiously joyous.

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  5. Pingback: Can cider makers cater to multiple tastes? | Cider Review

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