BeverageDaily.com caught up with David Sipes from Angry Orchard, the number one US hard cider maker, to discuss the firm's sudden rise to the top of this growing market.
Q. Angry Orchard is the US hard apple cider market leader. What do you think sets the brand apart from the competition?
A. In 2012, we introduced three styles to drinkers - Crisp Apple, Apple Ginger and Traditional Dry - hoping to introduce drinkers to hard cider, a beverage we had been tinkering with for years. Crisp Apple soon became the number one cider in the US, and has steadily remained the number one hard cider.
Just over a year ago, we created recipes with the right combination of apples, yeast and oak aging – and Angry Orchard was born. We’ve experimented with apples from Europe, specifically in France where varieties have been bred and selected specifically for cider making for centuries, and in Italy, where apples are unique to the terroir. More recently, we launched two ciders that are made with American apples from the Pacific Northwest. We use a wine yeast that allows our apples to truly showcase their flavors, and also age some of our ciders on oak to add additional complexity.
Each style we make is truly unique, from Crisp Apple to our fall seasonal cider, Cinnful, to Strawman and Iceman, which are part of our Cider House Collection. Drinkers are approaching Angry Orchard and hard cider looking for variety, innovation, and quality much like craft beer drinkers explore beer.
Q. The hard apple cider tradition is more deeply rooted in Europe, and flavored varieties in particular have done well in recent years. How is Angry Orchard putting its distinctive US stamp onto the category in terms of flavors and styles of cider?
A. Hard cider was rooted in our country’s history, where in colonial times it was one of the most prevalent beverages of choice.
But, with prohibition came the loss of cider making, followed by the loss of cider apple orchards. In the US, cider accounts for about 0.5% of the beer category, whereas, in Europe it accounts for about 20%. Many drinkers are now discovering cider and enjoy it as an alternative to beer and wine.
Our goal is for drinkers to be knowledgeable about cider. To that end, we’re introducing them to a variety of styles and encouraging that experimentation - whether drinkers enjoy a cider on its own, have fun pairing them with food, or even incorporating cider as a mixing ingredient in cocktails.
Q. What appeals to US consumers about hard apple cider?
A. While I can’t speak to all ciders, we think Angry Orchard appeals to drinkers looking for an alternative to beer and wine, and drinkers who are looking to drink something entirely different.
At around 5% ABV, Angry Orchard ciders have a similar ABV to beer. But unlike beer, cider is less carbonated and made from fermented apples and a wine yeast. Drinkers can experience a variety of cider styles throughout the year with our core collection of Angry Orchard, which includes Crisp Apple, Traditional Dry, Apple Ginger and Green Apple, and our seasonals, Elderflower and Cinnful Apple. Our Cider House Collection offers drinkers a specialty cider experience, with two 750ml, cork-caged ciders, Iceman and Strawman. Iceman, inspired by Quebec ice ciders, and Strawman, influenced by French countryside ciders, both have very different flavor profiles as well as 10% ABV, which makes them ciders perfect for enjoying at the dinner table, much like you would a bottle of wine.
Q. Is it fair to say that your flavor extension with cinnamon was designed to extend hard cider consumption beyond the summer?
A. We’re always experimenting with new cider styles and flavors, and thinking of what we should introduce drinkers to next.
Angry Orchard Elderflower was our first seasonal release, meant to be enjoyed during the warm weather months. Cinnful Apple is our newest seasonal, with a kick of cinnamon, perfect to drink as we head into fall and winter.
We’ve found, however, that hard cider is versatile and drinkers are enjoying it year-round. Whether drinkers are enjoying Angry Orchard during the summer or the winter, it’s drinkable, crisp and refreshing and has a complex flavor profile. And, as a cocktail ingredient it pairs well with warming spirits, like bourbon, for the winter and lighter liquors, like gin, for the summer.
Q. How integral is it to Angry Orchard’s strategy to emphasize food pairing with your ciders?
A. It seems that people are becoming more and more adventurous when it comes to their food and drink choices.
Our cider appeals to drinkers looking for a complex but balanced and very drinkable beverage to enjoy on its own or with their meal. Ciders pair exceptionally well with a variety foods because of their flavor profiles and slight carbonation. A classic combination, easy for entertaining, is Angry Orchard with cheese.
Q. Finally, where in the US are the hard apple cider ‘hotspots’ situated?
A. Since we released our ciders in 2012, feedback from drinkers across the country has been very positive. While we’ve seen consistent interest across the country, New England drinkers seem to really enjoy Angry Orchard, which we launched in this region six months earlier than the rest of the country.