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Page last updated at 14:59 GMT, Monday, 14 September 2009 15:59 UK
Cider production set to increase
Bottle of cider
Cider rivalled wine in the 17th century

Renewed interest in cider will lead to a sharp increase in the number of commercial producers in Somerset within the next five years.

There are currently around 40 in Somerset, but this could increase by as much as 50 percent.

A growing interest in food miles and buying food and drinking locally is boosting sales for smaller producers.

Larger companies have also benefited by re-vamping its image for the younger generation.

'Cider over ice'

Somerset historian Alan Stone has written a book called The Somerset Cider Handbook about cider production in Somerset and its growing popularity.

"For about five or six years, cider, as a national alcoholic drink, has been growing in popularity and growing in production outstripping at a quite significant rate keg beer which has almost disappeared."

He believes it has been down in part to what he calls, the ''Irish revolution''.

"When Magners decided to pour cider over ice to making a refreshing summer drink, it led to a huge explosion of interest in cider, and, of course, that was a commercial fizzy type cider.

"That's gone onto pear cider this year, which is total nonsense as it's more of an alco-pop, but there's been a huge growth in that side of the market."

'Single variety ciders'

Farmhouse artisan producers in Somerset have also benefited from the boom in sales, but for different reasons.

"There is a very big movement towards local provenance on food. There has been a significant explosion in our food industry in the way we buy things and where we buy things."

Some are capitalising on this renewed interest.

"I'd be very surprised if I did another copy of the guide in five year's time if there weren't another 20 commercial cider producers.

"The barriers of entry are reasonably low, and I know there are a lot of people out there who like the idea of making cider. I've come across quite a few who are building presses and who will be experimenting in the next year."

'Ginger or ginseng'

Apart from the growth in these two areas, family-run businesses like Hecks are trying out single variety ciders, or other means of updating the product, like West Bradley Orchards.

"At the Glastonbury Festival, West Bradley Orchards were putting cider into flip-top bottles so you could walk around sipping it as you went. They were also experimenting by putting ginger or ginseng in it, so it's an alive sector where there are interesting new products."

Although cider is generally considered as an alternative to beer, it wasn't always this way.

During the 17th century, finer ciders rivalled wine as the drink of choice to accompany meals, but Alan believes producers reaching this standard will take more time to reach that level of development.

"I don't think we'll go back to the days when cider was almost frowned upon as only the drink for people with red noses and the cheap way to get drunk. I think cider has moved beyond that and will remain beyond that."

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