AS the cider category continues to boom, with new products continually coming on stream and new consumers being drawn to the category, it’s never been so important for bars to get their offer right.
It’s no longer enough, the drinks firms say, to stock one on draught and keep another in the fridge, certainly for bars looking to keep the legions of cider drinkers out there happy.
Thankfully, that message has been embraced by many operators in Scotland, none more so than the three venues which have just been short-listed for this year’s SLTN Cider Bar of the Year award, in association with Bulmers.
Reigning champ The Three Judges in Glasgow, Bond No 9 in Edinburgh and Solid Rock Cafe in Glasgow impressed the judges on a variety of fronts.
The three venues are distinct and cater for different audiences, but each impressed with their individual approaches to the category.
Ahead of the SLTN Awards at the Hilton Glasgow on November 3, when one of these outlets will be crowned Cider Bar of the Year 2011, we take a closer look at the finalists.
The Three Judges, Glasgow
The Three Judges is well known as a cask ale haunt, but it’s equally evangelical about craft cider.
In addition to a strong core cider range, the pub holds cider festivals several times a year, which it promotes in the outlet itself as well as through Facebook.
During such events three craft ciders are offered on tap, as well as the Judges’ standard range of bottled and draught products.
Product knowledge is a major focus for the bar, with staff able to instruct customers not only on different flavours, but also the varying strengths of the craft ciders on offer.
Normal service sees The Three Judges offer Strongbow and a guest cider (sourced by supplier Flying Firkin) on tap, as well as Kopparberg, Bulmers and Scottish farmhouse cider Thistly Cross in bottles.
Bond No 9, Edinburgh
The youngest of the cider bar finalists, Bond No 9 is an outlet that prides itself on its wide range of drinks.
Despite its primary focus being on spirits and cocktails, the ethos of sourcing unusual products has been equally applied to its cider selection.
Much of Bond’s clientele is keen to try new brands and products (the bar counts several bartenders amongst its regulars), and this is reflected in a broad cider range that spans Stowford Press and Strongbow on tap to brands like Aspall and Normandy in the fridge.
The range is designed to acknowledge the diversity of the cider category, covering sweet and dry ciders, heritage brands, and names like Magners and Bulmers.
And yet it is in the presentation of the drinks that Bond No 9 really sets itself apart. The bar’s management team, headed by owners Chris Flint and Kara Anderson, make a habit of sourcing unusual glassware – and this, combined with the use of fresh garnishes, helps to create a unique experience for cider drinkers.
Solid Rock Cafe, Glasgow
Part of the Glasgow bar scene for more than 20 years, Solid Rock is well-versed in giving customers what they want.
The bar’s management prides itself on knowing its customers and what they drink – knowledge that influences the range of products stocked.
Where other venues might opt to stock a larger number of ciders, the Glasgow rock bar prefers to stay light on its feet, with a compact core selection that focuses on the Bulmers and Kopparberg ranges, with Strongbow and Symonds on draught.
However, this doesn’t mean that the bar is set in its ways. Solid Rock regularly trials new products, keeping the ones that prove popular with the clientele and trimming those that don’t.
Keeping the range tight helps ensure staff are clued-up about each cider that the bar sells, enabling them to recommend new products or provide guidance to customers who may not be sure what they want.
Branded glassware and point of sale are also key considerations here, highlighting the bar’s cider range to customers as soon as they walk through the door.
Images: (Top) Last year’s winner, The Three Judges in Glasgow holds regular cider festivals, while the city’s Solid Rock Cafe (above), focuses on tailoring its product range to its clientele.