Nat West runs the rapidly growing cidery brewing dry and off-dry ciders in the US craft beer heartland of Portland, Oregon, and tells BeverageDaily.com his business is growing 30-40% month on month – he now has 15 staff compared to two a year ago.
The goal is to be large craft,” he says. “We’re beating the cider market generally so far as growth goes. I don’t necessarily want to stay small, but I want to keep making the interesting ciders that we’re making right now.”
West says he thinks US market leaders Angry Orchard and Woodchuck are good for the category – in terms of encouraging Americans to try cider – but sees them as a bit boring and insists Reverend Nat’s market position is totally different since he only makes cider from pressed, fermented apples, rather than apple juice or reconstituted apple concentrate, “so the cost differential is tremendous”.
‘English purists see flavored cider as pretty c**p’
Turning to flavour variations, West says he thinks they’ll become increasingly important in cider. “Flavors won’t go away anytime soon – ciders are growing really fast in America but flavored ciders are growing even faster – it’s a much smaller market share, but they’re outstripping crisp apple-flavored cider.”
Reverend Nat's flavored cider offerings include Deliverance Ginger (with ginger juice, fresh lemongrass, limes and cinchona tree bark), Sacrilege Sour Cherry, Mora Spanish Blackberry and Hibiscus Hymnal – West is also a pioneer producer of bottled Mexican-style fermented pineapple drink Tepache for the US market, as we reported last month.
Asked why he believed flavour experimentation and variation in the US is outstripping that in the world’s largest hard apple cider market, the UK, he says: “A flavored cider in England is regarded by the purists as a pretty crap thing – it’s not made out of any real ingredients and they think it's designed to get young people drunk cheaply.
“I don’t think that’s the feeling Americans have about flavored cider – we have more of a craft beer feel about it. In the Western US you can put anything you want in a beer, still call it beer and have a hands-on, small batch, caring product,” West adds.
Portland is home to more microbreweries per capita than anywhere else in the world, and West says there were examples of the city's microbrewers putting entire strawberry and rhubarb pies into the fermenter or, as per Upright Captain Beefheart from Burnside Brewing, a beef heart in the boil!
‘Our bestseller? Hallelujah Hopricot – A very beery cider!’
“There are no rules. I think the stereotype of cowboy Americans doing what they want with flavors is definitely more true than not when it comes to craft beverages,” West says.
“I draw my inspiration not from the old guy who owns an orchard and makes pure cider – I draw my inspiration more from craft beer that says ‘Let’s let the flavors dictate what the product is, rather than anyone else’s supposed definition of what makes a good cider.”
West says Reverend Nat’s makes dozens of one-off ciders each year then says, ‘Oh, that was interesting – let’s not make that again!’
“But Hallelujah Hopricot is our bestseller – it's a very beery cider. If it were made into beer it wouldn’t be weird, it’d be an Apricot IPA – it has hops, apricot juice and uses a beer yeast,” he adds.
“It’s a pretty straightforward product in the beer world that just happens to use apple juice rather than wort as its underlying fermentable – flavor variation is a continuum,” West says.