Ten secrets to building a standout cider list

Susanna Forbes

09 August 2019

As craft cider continues to raise interest among the exploratory drinkers in your bars – and the natural wine lovers in your bars and restaurants – what’s the best way of not just stocking the good stuff but selling it? Ross Duncan, cider ambassador at The Stable (the country’s only cider-led pub group) is a man who knows.

Having revamped his 200+ strong cider list over the last six months, as well as trained over 100 staff, he took to the Beer & Cider Hub at Imbibe Live to share his tips.

Accompanying him onstage were Nicky Kong, landlady at The Crown & Kettle in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, and Mauritz Borg, formerly with The Axe in Stoke Newington and now helming soon-to-open Kernel Brewery Taproom in Bermondsey. Both responsible for distinctive cider lists that work, each had their own take on the key factors.

So where to start?

1. Build a relationship

‘Read what [your customers] are looking for and make them feel at ease,’ begins Borg. ‘Try and remember what they have had before. Offer them a taste and gently build their confidence.’

2. Sampling is what it’s all about

‘If you need to, crack open the bottle,’ says Duncan. Then you can tailor your customers’ experience. Keep asking questions. What are they eating, for example.

3. Offer gluten-free options

It may sound obvious, but don’t forget to trumpet the gluten-free credentials of cider.

4. Mix well- and lesser-known names

‘Don't just go for the name,’ says Duncan. The Stable offers cider taster boards for instance, with thirds on offer, allowing staff to mix well known names with others that seem attuned to the customers’ palate.

5. Stock a range of different styles

Cut across the categories. For Borg, the cider he brought to share with the masterclass, Oliver’s Pomona #2, tastes ‘like a dry white wine’. Reach out to the Lambic beer crowd with the naturally fermented ciders.

6. Know your producers

‘Go and see the producer. Help pick the apples and get them pressed,’ says Duncan. As well as all the insight gained, staff can legitimately say: 'We made that!' even if it is a different vintage from the one you have on the bar.

7. Support your local cidermakers

If you’re not in a cidermaking heartland, support your local cidermakers as well as featuring those from further away by having a mix on your list, says Kong.

8. Organise events

‘Do some events,’ says Borg. Duncan agrees, suggesting inviting in producers whenever you can. Kong has Manchester Cider Club in her pub every second Thursday in the month. Following the model developed by Ross on Wye Cider & Perry, the ticket price covers cheese and biscuits plus six tastes. With some marketing, and a modest ticket price the events are sell-outs.

9. Training is crucial

‘Take responsibility for training,’ advises Duncan. He’s brought in a new way at The Stable – using three simple buzzwords to describe a cider. For example, ‘fresh, light, crisp’. And keep educating yourselves, he adds.

10. The customer is always right

Finally, remember, your drinkers can’t be wrong. 'Taste is completely subjective,' Borg reminds us.

And on that note, head forth, experiment yourself – and conquer. Wassail!

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