The fresh face of French cider19-03-2018
Cider, the fizzy, apple-based drink, is a firm favourite among the French and for the last ten years has earned its place on the aperitif shortlist.
French apple cider – what’s the big deal?
It all began with sailors from the Basque country who introduced the drink to their counterparts in Normandy and Brittany. In the 19th century, cider was so popular in French circles that it occupied second spot on France’s coveted most popular drinks list. Sweet, semi-dry, brut or traditional, apple cider is enjoyed in creperies and at home for special occasions like Chandeleur (Epiphany) or Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday). Some of the most popular brands include Loïc Raison, Ecusson, Val de Rance and Kerisac, not to mention a whole raft of artisanal brands emerging on the scene. Refreshing, low in alcohol and low in calories, cider is once again back in vogue, driven largely by major brands who have set it as their goal to give cider a makeover. And by positioning cider in the appetiser-aperitif slot, brands like Ecusson, who launched its pink cider some ten years ago, have seen some success. For Ecusson, pink cider currently accounts for 10% of its sales.
On the cocktail menu
Today cider is no longer the preserve of French supermarkets and creperies, having extended its offer to restaurants, hotels and bars. It has also become a popular ingredient for bar staff. Served with raspberry and lime, it makes a delicious Brittany cocktail, and with rum and green apple, a delicious Rum cider punch, so look out for « Cidre de la route du Rhum.».
Val de Rance, from Cotes d’Armor in Brittany, is another cider brand that has played its part in rejuvenating the category’s image. In 2014, the company launched a dry cider for “grilled meats and salads”, and a pink cider for the “aperitif and tapas” slot. Since the launch of its new range of products, export sales have continued to soar.
Appie, the start-up selling a new cider
There’s no denying, French apple cider, which is increasingly sought-after outside France, intrigues and charms foreign palates. Appie, a young brand from the Greater Paris region, is an exemplar of cider’s fresh face. The brand offers a low-sugar, entirely natural variant, enhanced with a range of fruit flavours, including dry cider with honey, pear cider and ginger rosé cider. And it seems to be working, largely due to a willingness to change the rules. “We originally wanted to modernise cider’s image and the way it is consumed” explains Hadrien Gerbal, one of the five co-founders of Appie. “We came up with the idea when we visited our favourite bars in Paris and couldn’t find any draft cider, like you would in the UK.” Spurred on by their discovery, they decided to create their own apple cider, taking the best of the region’s traditional cider and adapting their recipe to suit a younger, urban audience, in search of a new type of cider. Appie is sold in the capital’s bars, restaurants and hotels, in bottles and on-tap since 2016. For this start-up, the bet has certainly paid off; Appie has managed to make cider more accessible, notably through a repertoire of cocktails, but also by organising cider and cheese tasting workshops. The future is in exports, and even if less than 10% of production is currently destined to foreign shores, the objective in the mid term is to raise awareness of this Made in France cider to potential palates the world over. “People like French cider. It’s not as sweet and has a quality image”. And as proof, French chef Yannick Alleno has listed Appie cider on restaurant menus in Paris, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Popular cider drinking holes
In France, a good port of call for great apple cider would be any one of the creperies scattered up and down the country. Brittany and Normandy are particularly good cider stomping grounds, but virtually every region in France can stake claim to some cider production.
And if you happen to be passing through the capital, the ideal spot would be Brutus, a specialist pancake restaurant in Paris’s 17th arondissement. The three founders are from Brittany and Normandy and self-confessed “cidrologues and crepophiles”, aka cider specialists and pancake lovers extraordinaire. The cider bar in the heart of the Batignolles district serves up an exciting range of 25 different ciders and a cocktail menu based on apple and pear cider.