Cider fan Duncan Bell enjoys a drink while Cider Australia president Sam Reid looks on. Photo: Michele Mossop
Like a runaway apple cart, cider's popularity in Australia shows no signs of slowing.
"We had enough cider on site at the Good Food Month Night Noodle Markets to last for two weeks," says Thatchers Cider managing director Martin Thatcher, speaking on the phone from Somerset, England. "I've since been told we sold out on the second night and there had to be an emergency delivery from Adelaide!"
Thatchers Gold (awarded Best in Show at the Cider Australia Awards when it launched last month), is one of hundreds of imported and local ciders that have entered the Australian market over the last decade.
Previously cider was just another word for Strongbow at the pub.
According to figures obtained from market research company IBISWorld, sales of cider in Australia have grown at an annualised 33.9 per cent over the last five years. It is forecast Australians will spend an impressive $1 billion on the fermented apple drink this financial year.
"Cider is the major avenue of growth when it comes to expenditure on alcohol," says senior industry analyst Stephen Garango, from IBISWorld.
"Over the next five years we're expecting annualised growth in cider expenditure of about 21.5 per cent. This is remarkably higher than the next highest item in alcohol, which is wine, at only 5.1 per cent."
Mr Garango suggests cider's popularity lies in its ability to provide a low-priced alternative to beer, wine and ready-to-drink spirits.
The range of cider flavours on the market doesn't hurt its appeal either; from the sour-style cloudy apple courtesy of craft-brewer Young Henry's to the mango and raspberry sugar-rush from Swedish cider-giant Rekorderlig.
"If you were to put a finger on a point where cider growth raised notably further, it would definitely be 2008 when the alcopops tax came into effect," say Mr Garango.
Sam Reid is president of Cider Australia, the national association of cider and perry (pear cider) growers and producers.
"To me, the appeal of cider is that it's easier to drink and more refreshing than beer," says Mr Reid. "It's also a lot less alcoholic than wine.
"A lot of ciders are a completely natural product made through the fermentation of fruit and that naturalness is a great thing, too."
Mr Reid produces his own organic cider in Tasmania under the label "Willie Smith" and exhibits at many craft beer and cider events around the country like Sip and Savour held at Sydney's Carriageworks on the weekend. He says he doesn't have a problem with imported ciders like Thatchers entering the Australian market.
"There's a lot of different ciders on the market place and I think every cider fulfils a role," he says.
"Rekorderlig, for example, being a lot sweeter than other ciders, have done a great job of introducing new drinkers into the cider market."
"Everyone's winning with cider." says Mr Garango. "The industry has not reached the point yet where competition among producers is between imports and locally produced product.
"With demand growth outstripping supply growth, everyone in the industry has the opportunity to do pretty well for at least the next five years."
Provided there's no more cider emergencies at public events, drinkers look set to do pretty well, too.
There are a number of bars participating in Thatcher's "Cider & Slider" promotion as part of Good Food Month in Sydney (October) and Melbourne (November). Visit www.goodfoodmonth.com for further details.