Forget sickly Somersby because this Cider House rules, luvvers!
Granted, the latest Somersby ad, in which it lampoons the hysteria that greets new Apple products (in this case, a glass of cider), is pretty funny. But even Pol Pot had the odd comedic moment, and an amusing commercial doesn’t excuse the way the aforementioned company has brainwashed so many Danes into believing that cider is a sweet alcopop concoction: fizzy apple juice basically.
A New Hope
Yes, Denmark was in a state of crisis, but now there is a new hope thanks to two rebels who are fighting back against the Somersby empire via hard graft and a Christiania bike. Step forward Rikke Høst and her English husband Duncan McArthur, who four years ago launched The Cider House, a business importing Somerset cider to provide an antidote to the inferior produce cluttering up our supermarket shelves.
When Høst relocated to England when she was only 16 to work as a nanny, little did she know that her future lay in cider. But then she met McArthur, born and bred in Taunton, Somerset, the Bethlehem of cider making. “We used to cycle to the farms and buy cider when we were 12 or 13,” he remembers with a grin. “We grew up on it.”
Still, despite McArthur’s background, he was (like in all heroes’ stories) oblivious to his destiny to free Denmark from the Somersby tyranny. The couple’s decision to sell their house and move to Denmark was made in pursuit of a better standard of living − it was, by their own admission, “total madness” − and it wasn’t until the couple’s journey to Denmark, across Germany in a van with two cats, a small child and another one on the way, that the business opportunity started to dawn on them.
It was whilst they were waiting to cross the border from Germany to Denmark that McArthur noticed all the cars were filled with Somersby’s cider, a beverage marketed as English cider but made by Carlsberg. After their new neighbours handed McArthur a can of Somersby in a gesture of goodwill, he turned to his wife and promised: “I will stay here, but I will not drink this crap.”
Enough of this crap
After that the financial crisis hit and, with McArthur’s carpentry work drying up, the time to start the new business wasn’t perfect, but it was now or never. With a young family to think about, the risks were high, especially as the pallets of cider had to be paid for upfront. With no money left for marketing, McArthur walked around the city’s watering holes giving out free samples. “For the first six months it felt like we were just giving all our stock away,” he remembers.
McArthur was under no allusions that breaking the dual monopolies of beer and Somersby was going to be tricky, particularly as Somersby is owned by Carlsberg. “Kids here are weaned on beer and sickly sweet cider, so they think that cider is basically an alcopop with no history or craft,” he contends. “And you only have to look at the sponsored umbrellas and chairs outside the pubs to see the influence of Carlsberg.”
Bewitching them at Halloween
In 2010, they set up a stall at Tivoli’s Halloween market selling hot mulled cider. Within two days they had sold 400 litres and had to order more. After being invited to stay on for the Christmas market, they quickly became a tradition for families who wander around Tivoli sipping the warm spiced drink. It has become so popular that The Cider House now produces its own ‘secret recipe’ mulled cider, ‘Vintermøst’, and child-friendly apple juice, ‘Høst Vinterdrikke’.
Changing the bad reputation of cider in Denmark is vital to both Høst and McArthur, who are keen to point out that it can also be a pleasant alternative to wine. For example, Sheppy’s Falstaff is lower in alcohol than most wine at 8.5 percent, but is wonderful with fish and particularly refreshing in the summer. This is Høst’s favourite, whereas McArthur prefers the drier flavour of the Burrow Hill Scrumpy.
From just a few pallets of Sheppy’s, their business has expanded to now include over eleven different bottled ciders, five types of cider brandy and their own branded products. Høst and McArthur go to extreme lengths in order to make their products available, even sourcing recyclable plastic kegs from Germany so that Sheppy’s can be available on draught.
Cider instead of rosé
Their products caught the eye of Michelin-starred chef Ben Cunningham, who brought a celebrity touch to their Christmas stall in 2011. Cunningham, surrounded by a camera crew and PR team, cooked a dessert using the Morello cherry brandy in their cabin. The cherry beverage is produced on the same farm in Somerset as the Burrow Hill cider.
The Danish drinks industry is also starting to sit up and pay attention. Last year, The Cider House was invited to set up a stand at Ølfestival, the country’s longest running beer festival, at Tap1. It was the only cider distributor present and by the end of the three-day festival it had turned many die-hard beer fans onto the joys of drinking real farmhouse English cider. They grew to respect that, like beer, it is a drink made using a real craft and that it has a long history.
Cider best tried
There are plenty of opportunities over the next few months to try out some of their ciders.
The Cider House will be at both the Ringsted and Vig festivals over the summer, where their bars will resemble a traditional English pub. The staff will be trained to guide customers on their choice of cider, whether it’s a traditional one or one of the special raspberry and pear ciders being served especially for the occasion.
On April 23 at the Red Lion in the city centre, The Cider House will be launching Sheppy’s latest batch of products especially for St George’s Day.
And there are also regular tasting sessions at various venues around Copenhagen: the next one is on 4 May at Vinbørsen.
It’s impossible to not be completely charmed by Høst and McArthur’s passion for real English farmhouse cider. They are a couple who had an idea, acted upon it and are forging a successful business. More importantly, they are doing it with a genuine love for their product and a determination to share their knowledge about cider with others.
Find out more about The Cider House at www.ciderimport.dk or the ‘theciderhouse.dk’ Facebook page.