Sunday, 30 June 2013

Cider - available at last in Poland

Arriving in Poland 16 years ago, I was surprised by the lack of cider. A country that's a European leader in apple production, and turns much of that into apple juice; a country that makes alcoholic spirits out of most forms of plant life, seemed incapable of going that step further with the apple juice and fermenting it to make a beverage of beer-like strength*.

And this at a time when a youthful demographic seeking palatable alcoholic drinks would have seemed like the ideal market for cider. And yet the British manufacturers, who'd regularly dip their toes in the water, would never take the plunge here. Year after year, I'd hear newly-arrived expats wondering where the cider was. Poles returning home after a stint in the UK would also express surprise that no entrepreneurial company was bothering to supply the Polish market with cider.

In the meanwhile, the youthful demographic, with its sweet tooth, was being pandered to by brewers adding sugar, fruit syrups and other ghastly flavourings to their beers to appeal to the burgeoning 15-to-25 year-olds. This was the largest age cohort of the Polish market. Stuff like Redds, FreeQ, Gingers. Dog in the Fog (withdrawn from the market in April 2010). To me - absolutely foul concoctions - but they did wean a generation brought up on Frugo and Hipp into the pleasures of alcohol in more gentle way that knocking back shots of vodka or quaffing litres of bitter-tasting beers.

But still no cider.

Until 2013. This year, the market has been judged to be ready. I'm not talking about Somersby, an apple-flavoured beer from Carlsberg. (45% beer, 55% apple juice; 4.5% alcohol by volume - sounds hideous - diluting a 10% beer with apple juice!).

Earlier this spring, I chanced upon 330ml bottles of a cider called Joker at Auchan; it was there for a week or two then disappeared. Today, in the same shelf, I found Sherwood Apple Cider Taste of Traditional English Cider (4.5% ABV). On putting on my reading glasses and looking at the small print, I discovered that this is made in Estonia from 'fermented apple juice and natural apple flavours. We tried some with lunch, the pear-flavoured variety too, but it tasted perfumed, lacking in vigour or authenticity.

But what's this? Cydr Lubelski. Again, 4.5% ABV (looks like some kind of limit set by excise law), but now, something more authentic. Made by fermenting apples, this is a real cider. Light, refreshing in taste, medium-dry, none to challenging. Not a great cider by the standards of England's West Country, but for Poland, a start. I guess this will be the moment when cider takes off in Poland; by 2030, cider will have become a 'traditional' Polish beverage.

Above, from the left: two bottles of Estonian 'Sherwood' cider; to the right, Cydr Lubelski. At last, a Polish cider, plain and simple, not apple-flavoured beer. Note the excise bands (banderole) over the bottle tops, something that beers don't need to have, even though they're stronger than these ciders.

And shandy's burst onto the scene. Also known as radler, 50/50 mixes of beer and lemonade are freely available from the Big Three brewers. At between 2% and 2.6% ABV, these do not interfere with the head and, served very cold, are beautifully thirst-quenching. Better than the Top Deck Shandy I grew up with!

Below: while on the subject of alcoholic beverages and their marketing - I'm admiring the current ad campaign for Łomża beer. I've said for a long while that it's advertising copywriters that breathe new life into the Polish language. Pastwing bez krowingu. Simply brilliant.

This ad is not aimed at Pan Heniek or Pan Ziutek, whose tipple of choice must be Argus Strong (6.7% ABV, on offer at 3.59 złotys or around 70p for a one-litre bottle this week at Lidl). No, the Łomżing campaign targets the trendy, educated, urban youth market. 'Łomża. Source of Conscious Łomżing'. Łomżing - Lemming? a source of conscious self-irony?

Another current series of billboards that playfully toys with the Polish language is the re-run of last summer's Bardzo mi Milko campaign, blending English into Polish (MoreLove = morelowe = apricot flavour, or WishNiowe = wiśniowe = cherry flavour). Such plays on words reflect the open-minded, intelligent and fun-loving nature of the target group for these milk drinks.

The Polish market for food and drink is becoming increasingly sophisticated and competitive. This is great news for consumers. It's just a shame that British cider manufacturers did not spot this opportunity a few years ago. Maybe now the market has been opened by local players, they will come over.

* There's always been jabol - a sweet fruit wine made from apples and sold for grosze to the lower echelons of the alcoholic community.

Update, 7 July 2013. The following Sunday I'm back at Auchan for my weekly shop. I'm looking for ciders. Guess what - they've disappeared off the shelves again. None. Not one.

Update, 11 July 2013. I'm looking in the wrong shelf! The ciders - all three mentioned above plus the Joker and a few others (eXcite) - are around one-third of the way down the looooong shelf with beers. On the right as you stand with your back to the check-outs. Such good news I buy a Cydr Lubelski.

This time last year:
Despondency on Puławska
[A year later, still no S2 Southern Bypass]

This time two years ago:
Stalking the stork

This time four years ago:
Late June lightning


Sigismundo said...

Ermm, not completely sure about this, but I got the impression that cider has never been a big hit in Poland because it's taxed at punitive rates, far higher than beer. I seem to recall someone (a farmer?) telling me that it's treated as a form of sparkling wine.

Do correct me if I'm wrong, but would deeply love something Polish with the same twang as Strongbow or the kick of a good West-Country scrumpy!

Sigismundo said...

You mention excise bands on the cider - I think these confirm my info on a higher taxation bracket. I remember buying imported French cider with such bands, priced about 200-400% higher than the equivalent British product.

Perhaps some 'lobbyingowanie' (or whatever the Polish calque of the English term is these days) of the relevant government departments would produce some useful results if the relevant cider producers could be persuaded to get off their lardy backsides.

Liz said...

Your first few paragraphs express precisely the views aired in this household for many years (ever since my husband got his first taste of cider in the UK). However, I'm afraid, typically on our part, it has not resulted in any action. Incidentally, I get the impression that 'lobbyingowanie' is somewhat more ambiguous for Poles than for the British. The history of democracy here is unfortunately too short for suspicion of the murky world of corporate lobbying to be balanced by the more innocent and empowering notion of writing to your MP (or even chatting with him in the lobby).

Michael Dembinski said...

Apparently its something to do with the fermentation process and the legal niceties of at what strength does the cider become a wine. Yes, this does need a legislative solution if the excise (and hence retail price) is to fall to the same level as beer.

But even so, at 10zł a litre, Cydr Lubelski makes a very refreshing summer drink.

Wojtek z Brukseli said...

Michael, try the Cydr Ignaców - it's being produced by a high school friend of mine whose family has been in the apple business in Grójec county since the early 19th century. They're increasingly available in all these hipster places around Plac Zbawiciela and in Powiśle. The product is 100% natural; though while trying to market it, the producers faced incredible red tape - it took them several months to get all the necessary certificates.

All the best,


Michael Dembinski said...

@ WzB - Daughter Moni's on the case, in the hipster hangouts. Will report back with review soon :) Thanks for the tip-off!

Anonymous said...

if you want to try polish, totally natural cider you should try Dzik Polski Cydr. It's really good. unfortunately it is in few bars in Warsaw.

Michael Dembinski said...

Anon - I tried the Dzik Polski Cydr just before Christmas at Bobby Burger on Zurawia. Ver nice. Not gassy, dry, ideal with food.