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Orpens Cider/Instagram
ya like them apples

Why craft cider could be the new craft beer

We talk to Orpens Cider about their plans for a growing industry.

WHILE A MICROBREW was once something likely to be cooked up in a friend’s shed, craft beers are now so mainstream you can expect to stumble across a decent IPA next to the cans of lager in your average Tesco.

And local cider makers are hoping to ride the same wave of popularity that have made craft beers a multibillion-euro industry worldwide.

Chris Hill, one of the founders of Orpens Irish Cider, said the craft-beer trade had set a good template for craft-cider makers in developing an appreciation for specialist brews among drinkers.

“The craft industry, in pretty much every English-speaking country, is booming,” he told TheJournal.ie.

The thing that plays into our hands is that the cider industry is already tracking well, but it’s tracking about five or six years behind the craft-beer industry.”

In Ireland, where farmhouse cider making has been widespread since at least the 1600s, numerous boutique ciders like Cockagee and Craigies ciders have been building on that tradition and winning praise for their craft brews.

Big thirst for craft

Hill said Orpens, which only started supplying commercial-level products a year ago, had distribution with all the major supermarket chains in Ireland and they were looking to the UK for bigger opportunities.

Last year total UK cider sales were put at about £3 billion (€4.2 billion at today’s rates) and growing, compared to a longer-term decline in beer consumption. “Premium” ciders showed the strongest growth – up over 25% in just a year.

The only beers to buck generally flat or falling demand in the biggest markets have been craft brews and last year the Irish craft industry predicted their output would grow 45%.

Overseas, where craft breweries have been a part of the mix for longer, the growth in craft beer sales has been even more staggering. Researchers Mintel estimated turnover for the industry in the US would hit $20 billion last year – more than double five years ago.

Hill said he and business partner Matthew Tindal both had years of experience in the wine industry before turning their hands to craft cider when they identified a gap in demand that the big brewers weren’t tapping.

In 2013 the pair went through the joint Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and Teagasc-run Food Works programme for food-and-drink startups which Hill described as a “practical MBA” for developing their brand.

Chris Hill and Matt Tindal-3-5 Chris Hill (left) and Matthew Tindal

All of the big producers have done a really good job in bringing the cider category to life, but they’re really catering for a younger customer,” Hill said.

‘More sophisticated’

Orpens was made from fresh-pressed apples and had less sugar than most mass-produced ciders for a “more sophisticated palate”, he said.

Bulmers dominates the Irish cider market with about four-fifths of all sales and Orpens is produced in the same Clonmel factory of the big brand’s parent company, the C&C Group, although they used very different approaches.

“That has been a bit of an issue with the other craft producers because they see us dancing with the devil,” Hill said.

But everyone’s outsourcing something – whether it’s pressing the apples or bottling the product. We don’t make any secret about it.”

The last one from Dublin was in Temple Bar Iker Merodio | Photography Iker Merodio | Photography

He said they were looking to triple the business’s turnover this year and continue the growth into 2015, and there were some big deals in the pipeline for the UK.

It’s growing a bit faster than we expected, but that’s a problem we don’t mind having,” he said. 

READ: Not quite in the Paddy’s Day mood? This Liam Neeson-narrated clip might change your mind >

READ: US magazine says Dublin tourists shouldn’t bother with Grafton Street or Irish breakfasts >

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