Don Kavanagh is the editor of Hospitality magazine.

Don Kavanagh: Cider scene steals show

Palates are ready for fruity flavours, says Don Kavanagh

Zeffer's Slack Ma Girdle cider.
Zeffer's Slack Ma Girdle cider.

It might seem odd to write about what many people think of as a summer drink in the middle of winter, but I've been drinking a fair bit of cider recently. This was partly down to having to do a cider-tasting for a magazine, but I've always drank cider for pleasure as well as work, so it was no great hardship.

But the changes in the cider scene over the past 10 years have been huge. In 2003, in the dark days before Facebook and iPhones, there weren't that many ciders available and those that were around tasted pretty much the same.

Following cider's sudden rise in popularity overseas, almost entirely thanks to the Magner's brand suggesting people drink it by the pint with ice as a thirst-quenching alternative to beer, cider consumption started to grow down here, too.

The New Zealand cider scene has blossomed with more producers coming into the picture and, crucially, more styles becoming apparent. Where once it was all off-dry, pale yellow, 4 per cent ABV apple juice, these days you don't know what you're going to find in your bottle.

The craft-beer revolution has helped a lot, as it has broadened beer drinkers' palates and readied them to try flavours outside the square. And cider-makers have surely taken that idea to new levels.

The only question that is raised about cider these days is whether or not it is still actually cider. Traditionalists argue cider is made from apples, and anything made from pears is technically a perry. This would mean a lot of the ciders available today wouldn't fit the definition of cider. Fruit wines blended into cider have become hugely popular and, although the traditionalists might not like it, we've just about gone past the tipping point.

Cider-makers aren't content to restrict themselves to apples - not when there is a world of flavours to explore. It is getting a bit confusing, though. Where does cider end and an RTD begin? I tried a "cider" recently that tasted exactly like the strawberry iceblocks I used to eat as a child. There was no apple flavour and I could never have guessed I was drinking cider by the taste.

Thankfully, some cracking traditional-style ciders out there manage to taste unique by using different apples. Matakana's Zeffer has a cider called Slack Ma Girdle, named after a variety of cider apple. It's a broad-flavoured, almost tropical cider with nice straw notes and just the merest hint of the farmyard to it. It's also pretty hefty at 7 per cent alcohol, but it carries it well. It's definitely one to seek out if you prefer your apples to taste of apples.

- Herald on Sunday

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