With the UK market for cider the largest both globally and across Europe, the scope for innovation is great, but so is the need for individuality

Founded by brothers Ben and Will Filby in 2010, The Garden Cider Company, based at Mill House Farm in Chiddingfold, Surrey, produces hand-crafted premium ciders sourced entirely from locally sourced, donated apples.

The business relies on garden fruit donations from over 4000 households who bring their spare fruit in return for a share of the cider, which they receive for free. In this way, they are able to take an abundant, largely wasted natural resource and turn it into a sustainable, ethical, quality product.

Will said: “The cider market is incredibly buoyant at the moment which is great news, but what’s particularly encouraging for us is that we have noticed an increasing demand for drinks with local provenance and a story to tell, which our ciders most certainly have; around 80 per cent of our apple donations come from within 20 or so miles of the farm, from Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire. Sustainability is a key pillar of our approach to cider making and there is growing support and recognition for this from consumers and retailers alike.”

He added: “There is a great tradition of cider making in the UK and we are passionate about reviving this. It is clear that not all ciders are equal and there is a lively debate in our category at the moment over what constitutes real cider, however, it is generally agreed that real cider must be made from 90 per cent real apple juice. This is being headed by organisations like the Small Independent Cidermakers’ Association and CAMRA’s Real Cider and Perry committee.

“The emphasis on natural, authentic ingredients fits with the premiumisation of the drinks market. This movement is helping to change the image of cider. Unlike wine and beer, cider lacks long-established styles and categories, which have helped people promote and understand these drinks. This has been one of the greatest challenges for cider, however with the UK’s first pommeliers being accredited by the Beer and Cider Academy in September 2018, and an increasing number of new brands on the cider scene, it is an exciting time for us and shows that cider is a product to be taken seriously.”

Recognising the increasing popularity of fruit-flavoured ciders, the brothers added a blueberry variant to their existing range last year, joining the existing line-up of: Original, Dry Hopped, Elderflower, Plum & Ginger, Wild Strawberry and Raspberry & Rhubarb.

Ben said: “Flavoured ciders remain the driving force in the market. Plum and Ginger, Raspberry and Rhubarb and Elderflower have always performed well and Wild Strawberry is growing quickly too, so last year we decided to add a blueberry cider to the range. It’s a bold flavour and the sharpness of the blueberries works really well with cider. Also, as an English garden fruit, it fits nicely with our brand. We’re also developing a new fruit flavour which will be launched in the summer, so watch this space!”

2019 has been pegged as the year for the low and no-alcohol category and Ben and Will are aware of the opportunities for cider that the growth in this market presents. The development of modern methods for removing alcohol from beverages, such as the use of reverse osmosis, vacuum distillation, preventing fermentation or sourcing apples with a naturally lower sugar content are all helping producers create healthier products while also ensuring flavour is preserved. Ben said: “Customers are definitely becoming more aware and conscious of the amount of alcohol they are consuming and, interestingly, we have found that some people are turning to cider due to its lower ABV, which is typically between four and five per cent.”

When it comes to deciding which types of cider to serve, the brothers are in agreement that both draught and bottled ciders should be represented on the bar, though they caution that bartenders should be careful to avoid duplication of flavours as that could lead to wastage.

As producers of bottled ciders, Will and Ben give this advice: “Bottled cider is easier to store than draught so if you are looking to extend your range, or perhaps try out some new flavours, bottled is the way to go. It’s also a much quicker and easier serve for bar staff, which can reduce waiting times and have an impact on profitability during busy periods. That said, it’s important not to over-stock the fridge, as a cluttered display will confuse customers and could impact on sales, so make sure there is sufficient space to display your range clearly.”

The Garden Cider Company was created in 2010 by Will and Ben Filby.
The idea is simple, it makes a range of hand crafted premium ciders sourced entirely from local, donated garden apples.