The new-age drinkers, dominated by millennials, are moving towards lesser but healthier drinking. An emotional connect with their drams is highly desired. And there’s no better way to establish this connect with something we’ve grown up relishing. Being the world’s third largest producer of apples, introducing a hip cider brand in Indian is the perfect idea. Ciders may not ring a bell for many in India, yet, that doesn’t stop this fizzy & fun drink from making its presence felt in the country’s alcobev markets.
HISTORY OF CIDERS
While it may be a new drink for the Indian denizens, its history rivals that of beer and wine. There’s evidence that Celts in Britain made cider from crab apples as long ago as 3000BC. Evidence of apple trees growing along the banks of the Nile River can be found dating back to about 1300BC. Club that with their love for brewing, being the innovators of beers, it can be said confidently that they were drinking ciders too. When the first Romans sailed to invade the British Isles in 55BC, the locals were already drinking a cider-like apple drink. Romans were quick to fall in love with the drink, and the empire spread its goodness across Europe, making it popular amongst the Germanic tribes to the Normans. They even mastered the art of distilling and created Calvados, the best ones hailing from Normandy today!
BEER CHALLENGES CIDER
With the discovery of hops in the 16th CE, cider noticed a decline. Beers could now be preserved and transported, thanks to the industrial revolution and the introduction of steam engines. This was only a short decline though. Cider regained its prestige in the 17th CE, with the rise of Puritanism, and King Charles I preferring cider to wines. Since then its popularity has only grown. During the wars, water wasn’t to be trusted. It was contaminated and carried Cholera, Typhoid, Malaria, Dysentery, E. Coli, and other nasty diseases. A mildly alcoholic drink like cider served as an antidote, it was antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, and nutritious. Everyone drank it, including children! Owing to its goodness, and life-saving values, it even found its mention in many religious texts. The Hebrew Bible (new testament) says that any alcoholic beverage made from fruits (other than grapes) back in the days was commonly termed as ‘Shekar’, or ‘Sikera’ by the Greeks.
SIQERA – THE INDIAN CIDER
Today, with China producing 54% of the world’s apples and India being the third biggest, after the US, Asians are falling in love with this drink again. And that’s where the trio of Rishi Dhawan, Amit Berwal and Amar Srivastava comes in, with their initiative to create a quality-oriented, classy, and healthy cider, called ‘Siqera’. Amit holds a Diploma in Winemaking from New Zealand, Amar has been the head brewer at Doolally, Pune, and Rishi brings in his entrepreneurial skills from his MBA degree. Together, they are now changing our favourite post-work drinks and weekend tipples.
JOURNEY SO FAR
The initial thought brewed in 2017 from chats and meetings over a few drinks. Amit and Rishi wanted to ‘premium-ise’ the local alcohol industry. Ciders were missing from the Indian scenes, even after a few failed attempts by Tempest, Himachal, and Bhai ciders in the mountain states. While across the world they were deemed as a rapidly growing segment, India was missing all the goodness. Amar had been making one of the most talked-about ciders in the Pune-Mumbai taproom circuit at Doolally. So they joined hands and pounced at the opportunity. They had major roadblocks to cross to begin with. Producing a beverage outside of an already defined category under the local excise rules comes with its own unique challenges. Having no cideries in Haryana, Rishi says, posed as the biggest. “We had to build the whole process from the ground up with the support of Excise and Taxation Department of Haryana to get everything in order – from setting up the manufacturing unit, to getting a cold bottle of our cider in your hands. It is the first of its kind, which in a way motivates the team, as long as they believe in their dream and final vision of the brand”. Their hard work has landed them not only the licence today, but also a fully-operational cidery, probably the first professional setup of its kind in India, in Manesar.
Apple concentrate is brought in from China and is diluted with water before fermentation with the Champagne yeast. This specific strain of yeast aids in preserving the natural fruit flavours while adding none of its own. It takes approximately 25 days for a bottle to be produced from scratch and be ready for dispatch. For the mango cider, locally sourced Alphonso mango pulp is added at a later stage that adds an aromatic kick and instant recall of the fruit’s character. Sweetness is adjusted, not with sugar, but with unfermented fruit juice.
I recently visited the cidery with a collective of bar and beverage professionals from Delhi NCR. The facility has ample space to grow, which holds a promise for the future. With their plans to capture the major North Indian markets, Siqera will soon be seen in Delhi NCR, and Chandigarh. And not just that, they have two new variants brewing already! With such growth plans for the brand comes the task of strengthening the mark of Siqera in the consumers’ minds. It’ll take a ton of experimenting with the consumers, educating, and constant visibility before they befriend the drink, for which the team seem prepared.
CIDER – A HEALTHY OPTION?
One aspect that helps the brand from the get-go is the drink’s nutritional values. Despite a high 9% alcoholic content, cider is considered healthier than beer as it doesn’t leave one with a beer-belly, and dangerous higher cholesterol levels. In fact, the Chinese drink ciders alongside their meals for its digestive properties. They’re naturally rich in anthocyanins, polyphenols, nutrients, minerals, and antioxidants, naturally benefiting the human body when consumed in moderation.
Both the variants are amicable and instantly recognisable. Though I prefer the mango cider over the apple one, it can be only drunk as much before its sweetness gets a tad overwhelming. No matter which one you may pick, you’re definitely in for a treat.
CIDER’S FUTURE IN INDIA
With even the Indian beer giant, Kingfisher, once eyeing the category and even launching its own cider brand in the UK in 2016 (but failing it to bring it to India), there’s definitely a promise the category holds. Failed attempts by other local cider brands alongside those imported like Sheppy and Magners exposed the shortcomings that were imperative for a new brand to understand should they wished to succeed. Be it the purity of flavour, attractive packaging, a brand name with a historic connect, the price point (for the international brands), story-telling, or just the emotional connect, there was always a link felt to be missing. Siqera seems to have done their homework well, and the trio looks locked in for a promising future. I’m all in for the homegrown wave. So next time you see a pint or are crossing Manesar do give it a try. You’ll be happily surprised, or even more so, stand transformed.
First published on Sommelier India Wine Magazine in April 2020