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It comes as no surprise to most people to hear that Britain is the largest per-capita consumer of cider now. However, it is a popular drink in many other countries and has a broad spectrum of local varieties.
Where Britain exported its people back in the day, it also exported cider making and the enjoyment of cider. India, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and America all have healthy cider markets. In America though, they refer to apple juice as 'cider', which when fermented, they refer to as 'hard cider'. Other than that, many local names exist in Europe and throughout the world.
As names vary, standards also vary widely too. In France, to be called 'cidre' the drink must be made of nothing but apples. In the USA, only 50% has to be apple juice. If you think that is low, the UK standard is only 35% has to be apple juice from fruit or concentrate. Luckily, since 1988 CAMRA has been campaigning vigorously to promote more natural production, classifying cider in grades, the highest being those made purely from apples. There is a long list of ciders to avoid on the CAMRA website, as well as a great deal of useful information on where to find the best examples of real cider. Over the years, West Croft Cider has won many awards at CAMRA festivals, a selection of which can be seen on our awards page.
There is a wealth of information available on line regarding cider production and consumption throughout the world, so this is not intended to be a definitive list, just a brief comparison of the most frequently encountered national variations.
Austria has a great tradition of small-scale production with many farmers maintaining a small number of trees, producing flat cider, or 'Most' for local consumption, often in cider houses on the farm where the drink is served along with local food.
Belgium makes very little in the way of craft cider. If you are visiting, look out for Cidrerie Ruwet, an old-established maker of fine natural products. Other than that, the Belgian drinks industry makes a good deal of less natural product for other people to label as their own.
Denmark, despite being a large grower of apples, makes very little cider. The number of producers of natural cider is growing though, with most of them having emerged in the 21st century.
Finland has a good deal of cider production, but little of it is a natural product. Many of the popular varieties are flavoured with other fruit, and are very often made from concentrate.
France has a very strong tradition of making cider, particularly in Normandy and Brittany. Its history can be traced back to before the times of the Roman Empire. Along with cider, the French also produce distilled versions of apple and pear drinks, Calvados and Eau de Vie. Cider production in the south western part of France, shared with the Spanish Basque people is once again very popular, with ciders that have a characteristic more akin to the Spanish sidra, produced just over the border.
Germany has a strong regional cider tradition, often with products known as apfelwein, viez, most or saurer most, which has a high alcohol content and a very sharp flavour. We have to thank the Saxon invaders for giving us the word 'Wassail', derived from their toast 'Wass heil', used to celebrate the changing of the year at Yuletide.
Ireland has a high national consumption of cider, which is mostly provided by the larger makers, and would not pass muster in the CAMRA gradings. However, in the 21st century, smaller, craft cider producers are appearing and are making some excellent products.
Italy had a very strong cider making tradition, that was largely killed off in the Mussolini days. His decree was that no alcoholic beverages that were made from fruit could be less than 7% alcohol by volume. This was to protect the wine producers at the time, but severely damaged cider making to a point where it has only recovered partly in some areas of northern Italy, particularly Piedmont.
Netherlands has very little in the way of natural cider production, and even mass manufactured ciders are not commonplace. Only recently have a couple of ciders made a significant impact on the market, both being marketed by Heineken.
Norway has a fair amount of cider production, often with alcohol levels of 10%, but these must be sought out as the local advertising laws forbid promotion of strong drink. There are soft drinks and very low alcohol drinks sold under the name of cider, but a search for the locally produced drink seems like a good plan if real cider is your goal.
Portugal was a great cider loving country a thousand years ago. However, since then, the drink has declined in favour of wine production. There are still some isolated areas of production in some coastal regions, to the north of the country and in Madeira, but a cider tour of Portugal would probably be a fairly abstemious affair.
Poland is the largest producer of apples in Europe. Despite this local cider production and consumption is low, representing about 1% of local sales. Many of the large producers in other countries that use concentrates and apple juice obtain them from Poland.
Spain can trace its cider history back to at least 60BC, and has a very strong tradition of making cider. Mostly, areas to the north of the country and on the Atlantic coast produce cider in quantity, with Asturia being the most prolific region. Spain still has traditional sidrerias, cider houses where you can drink the local produce and eat local food. There are many volume producers who send their sidras all over the country, but there is plenty of natural production too for the enthusiast.
Sweden has a healthy production of cider, but very little of it is natural product. The local regulation is that to be called 'cider' the drink has to contain only 15% of fruit juice, with other drinks being branded as 'drinks of a cider-like character'. Doesn't exactly trip off the tongue, does it. Britain has become an enthusiastic import market for ciders from Rekorderlig and Koppaberg, among others, but with the Swedish bureaucracy's penchant for producing anti-alcohol legislation, natural production is unlikely to increase.
Switzerland has three languages, so naturally three names for cider, in the German speaking areas, suure-most is a common name, the French speakers order a glass of cidre, while the Italian tongued denizens want sidro. As in many countries, cider consumption has risen and fallen over the years, with a peak in the 19th century, then a trough and a current resurgence. To be sold as cider, or suure-most, cidre or sidro, the drink must contain at least 70% apple juice, so mass-produced, imported ciders are rare.
The Rest of the World
Argentina has a tradition of drinking cider at Christmas and is usually supplied in wine bottle sizes to emphasise the celebratory nature of the drink. There is a good deal of promotion from the makers going on in the country aimed at making cider the 'any-time' drink that it is in other parts of the world.
Chile has a large production of cider, mostly in the southern part of the country. Widely available, commercially produced ciders are branded as sidra, but there is a tradition in the country of making cider at home in small quantities, known as 'chicha'.
Australia has regional cider producers going back to the arrival of first colonists from Britain. Apple varieties are more limited than here at present and a number of small makers have sprung up to make cider from eating and culinary apples. Mostly production is low volume and aimed at local consumption, but there is great interest springing up, with a number of larger producers emerging from the wine-growing regions.
New Zealand applies very low standards to what may or may not be sold as 'cider' with fruit juice contents as low as 4-5%. Although the country grows a huge volume of fruit, most of it is exported, leaving cider makers to use imported concentrate or reject fruit from the exporters. There are some bright spots though, with makers using tree-ripened fruit and pressing in the traditional manner. Look out for Peckham's and Abel cider if you are visiting the Land of the Big Sky.
Canada was unfortunate enough to have cider production banned by the British to protect brewing interests. However, since giving us the Grand Order of the Boot, production has once again increased with some very interesting products. In Quebec, as in France, to be sold as cider, the drink must be made with nothing but apples. They also stipulate an alcohol content of between 2.5 and 13%, so there is plenty of variety possible. Some stronger ciders are available and sometimes consumed in place of wine. One of the more interesting techniques is the process of making ice cider, where the juice is allowed to freeze, which concentrates the natural sugars to bring about a very powerful fermentation.
North America produces 'cider' or 'apple cider', which is generally a soft drink of apple juice, in contrast to what they describe as 'hard cider', being the alcoholic version of the drink. Standards are generally low, with a much broader classification of what can be sold under the name cider than most of us here in the European area are accustomed to. The cultivation of apples was brought to the United States by British settlers, who spread the art of growing and pressing cider apples to many parts of the country. With such vast distances between places, localisation of cider making is strongly pronounced. Despite a dramatic decline through the 18th and 19th centuries, production of craft cider is now extremely popular in the US, with many orchards being planted with trees grafted from the orchards that were created in the very earliest of days. This can only be good news for lovers of cider living in, or visiting North America.