Alistair Morrell has a vision that in 10 years’ time, consumers and the drinks trade will know exactly what true cider is. The business he co-founded, Cider Is Wine, teaches that not all ciders are the same and gives a quality mark to ciders and perries fermented from 100% apples and pears. Why? Because people want the “real stuff,” but end up drinking something made from 35% juice or even imported concentrate.

As COVID-19 hit the hospitality industry in March, Morrell started wondering how to continue educating. After launching an online shop during the height of lockdown, the next logical step was running events for the general public.

Getting glasses in hands across the nation

Since launching its first Zoom event in mid-May, Cider Is Wine has entertained more than 200 people across the UK. The events are free – attendees simply have to pay for a tasting pack and shipping costs. They then sip their way through high-quality ciders as the drinks’ origins and flavours are explained over the course of 90 minutes.

One of the biggest surprises for Morrell was the way Cider Is Wine has been able to foster community. During the online classes, he noticed that attendees would use the chat feature to speak to each other and share opinions on the drinks. “It’s almost like you’re in the pub,” he says of the atmosphere.

And although lockdown has started to ease with many bars and restaurants reopening, Morrell doesn’t see a reason to end the online joy just yet. Hinting at the new focus on local restrictions, he says: “As lockdowns continue in various ways around the UK, and people feel less confident about going out, doing this sort of thing online is going to continue to be more and more important.”

Finding a platform that delivers accessibility

It was easy enough for Cider Is Wine to find a delivery partner. Morrell says it’s all about who you know. He’s been involved with the drinks industry for a long time, and mail order has long played an important role. “We’ve partnered with a wine company in Bath called Novel Wines who make sure that all our ciders get to where they need to in time,” he says.

Another key relationship was with Eventbrite, which formed an important piece of the puzzle for Morrell. “There are many different aspects of Eventbrite that are especially useful to a small business like us,” he states, highlighting the ability to connect events to Facebook to reach an even wider audience. Being able to list all of the event details and view a list of attendees in one place has been another boost for his company.

But what he appreciates most is being able to advertise as a free event. “In these difficult times, we need to collaborate and use every bit of leverage that we can find in order to get our message out,” he says. “And that’s an aspect that’s really, really helped us.”

Positive partnerships in Britain and beyond

Eden Cider Is Wine
Cider Is Wine member, Eden

Running online events hasn’t just allowed Cider Is Wine to raise its brand recognition. It’s also given it the chance to work with other British businesses. “We are now positioned as a leader in online tasting events and that’s attracted some interesting partners to us along the way,’ Morrell says. One recent event included a partnership with British Charcuterie Live for an evening of cider and cured meat. There are more exciting events in the pipeline, including a potential collaboration with The Truckle Cheese Co for cider and cheese matching.

The remote nature of the events has taken Cider Is Wine way beyond Blighty, too. In July, the tasting was broadcast from Cork, Ireland. During the Zoom call, the attendees were transported from their front rooms to the 200-year-old Killahora Orchards, walking among the trees and the cellar where the cider is produced.

Another event took place in the north of Sweden, and there are plans for attendees to (virtually) visit cideries in New Zealand, the USA, and Chile. “It’s like going on holiday!” Morrell says.

The future of the drinks industry

Although Cider Is Wine didn’t originally set out to run online tastings, today Morrell sees it as a central part of his business. “Online events are sustainable for the longer term. We’re certainly planning with that in mind,” he admits.

He also offers a few tips for those in the drinks trade who aren’t sure how to move forward. Remember that people are drinking less but better, so quality is key. And, he says, “be adaptable and flexible. Don’t be afraid to fail. Fail hard and fail quickly and if you do, you’ll be better off for it.”

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