At the end of last year, Angry Orchard was one of the fastest-growing premium brands offered by any brewer. Are you reaching markets where cider isn't as prevalent as it is in cities with Magners or Woodchuck saturation? If so, has Angry Orchard become a gateway cider?
Sipes: In less than a year, Angry Orchard has become the No. 1 cider brand in the U.S., which is pretty exciting. We're seeing drinkers with sophisticated palates reach for Angry Orchard, as well as drinkers looking for something different that's not beer or wine. And cider is practically new to people everywhere because so few people have discovered it yet.
Cider consumption in the U.S. has grown exponentially over the past couple of years, and big moves in the cider industry such as C&C's purchase of Woodchuck and Hornsby's, MillerCoors' purchase of Crispin and A-B's introduction of a Michelob cider indicate even more growth ahead. How does Angry Orchard factor into that growth and what, if any, are the plans to expand the brand's footprint?
Sipes: Cider in the U.S. is relatively unknown. While hard Cider in the U.S. grew 65% in 2012 vs. 2011, it's still a very small segment. We were excited to launch Angry Orchard last year, and to introduce more drinkers to the cider category, we want to continue to innovate with new styles. Our mission is to educate drinkers about hard cider -- what ingredients are used to make cider, how it's made and the differences between cider styles -- so that hopefully they consider cider when they reach for their next drink.You have a tremendous background in cider making and have mentioned your Europe-based Angry Orchard research before. Are there key elements of European cider making and cider culture that translate well to the U.S.? Does Europe's embrace of cider both as a wine-style product and a barroom pint bode well for the U.S. market? Sipes: When I travel to France and Italy to speak to our apple growers, I also have the pleasure of tasting the local ciders, many of which are made by small farmers in the countryside. This experience helped spark the creation of Angry Orchard Strawman, from our Cider House Collection. Strawman was inspired by centuries-old farmhouse cider-making techniques traditionally found along the English and French countryside and is bottled in a 750ml corked bottle comparable to wine and meant to introduce specialty ciders to the dinner table. Much like the ciders I've tried while traveling, its ripe apple, vanilla and honeysuckle flavors impart an earthy character complimented by a distinct aroma of ripe apples, wood, dark fruits and sweet citrus that serves as a complement to rich foods like pork, creamy cheeses and seafood. While this cider may not be for everyone, it introduces the specialty ciders Europeans have known for years that they pair with food, something Americans drinkers are just now doing with craft beer. You've equated the cidering process to winemaking and the search for cider apples to hunting for the right wine grapes. Has that helped Angry Orchard woo wine drinkers and are there similar commonalities between cidering and beer brewing? Sipes: Making cider is more akin to making wine. In our Angry Orchard ciders, we're using a blend of Italian culinary apples from the Northern Italy and the southern foothills of the alps, and French bittersweet apples from Normandy. More specifically, we've been working with apple farmers in the Sudtirol region of Italy, near Bolzano, and Bretagne, France. These orchards have been around for hundreds of years, and their apples are perfect for making cider. We found that the apples here, much like grapes to wine, are unique to the terroir of the region. These European apples also provide much of the complexity in the cider's flavor profile.
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