Local continues to be a focus on the food side of the menu. For good reason—69 percent of consumers say they are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers locally sourced foods, according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2015 Food and Menu Trends Survey.
The same applies to beverages. Three in 10 consumers look for local craft beers and ciders at restaurants, finds Chicago researcher Technomic. “Offering these beverages can heighten the ‘drink local’ positioning of a beverage program and differentiate an establishment,” says Technomic senior director Donna Hood Crecca.
With ciders, it can be argued, operators have a stronger local story to tell than with beer. Most artisan cideries press fruit from their own trees or nearby orchards; the microbrewery around the corner may be sourcing ingredients from all over, using English malt, Belgian yeast or German hops.Cider also offers operators culinary advantages. Its lighter body and flavor profile pairs well with food.
As restaurants continue to explore cider, they are expanding their selection and educating customers on its attributes. Although still a drop in the bucket compared to beer, the cider category is growing fast. In 2014, cider’s compound annual growth rate rose 61 percent to 28 million 2.25-gallon cases, according to Technomic.
When James Dotson opened Cider House BBQ and Pub in Waterbury, Vt., eight years ago, there already were many craft-beer-focused places. So he decided to build his concept around local hard ciders.
In addition to ciders by the glass, Dotson mixes signature cocktails with cider, substituting it for base spirits, including a popular appley-minty riff on the mojito. The menu features locally sourced dishes, such as cider-braised cabbage, that incorporate the beverage as well.
One big advantage of cider, says Dotson, is that it is more profitable than beer, because there is less waste. Beer is temperature-sensitive; if kegs get too warm, they start to foam. Half of that beer goes down the drain, he says. Ciders don’t do that, he says; every ounce ends up in the glass. Cider generally is cheaper to buy than craft beer, too, he says; the difference for him is about 50 cents less per pint.
Cider House taps eight draft lines: Four are devoted to different styles of cider, while the other handles are craft beers, to counter the veto vote, Dotson says. There also are 12 bottled ciders and a sampler of three 6½-ounce glasses. Pint for pint, Dotson says he sells just as much cider as beer.
A hyperlocal strategy
The Finger Lakes region of New York is seeing a cider renaissance and a surge of culinary tourism, says Melissa Madden, co-owner of Finger Lakes Cider House in Interlaken, N.Y. Pairing the area’s artisanal foods with regional ciders resonates with tourists and locals and draws in business, she says.
The restaurant offers charcuterie and cheeses sourced from area farms, as well as other seasonal dishes such as house-smoked meats and sandwiches.
To complement the food, the tasting room features portfolios from local cideries. Guests can sample small tastes for $4 or flights of five 3-ounce glasses for $12, making pairings convenient for customers and profitable for Madden. Low-alcohol “young cider” also is available.