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Exclusive Interview: Small Independent Cidermakers Association (SICA)


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The Cider Critic gets an exclusive interview with SICA to find out all about their quality mark.

The Small Independent Cidermakers Association (SICA) was launched in summer 2018 to create an independent voice for craft cider makers who believe in making cider from fresh apple juice. Initially an informal group with over 200 cidermaking members, it is now fully registered as a non-profit making Community Interest Company. Whilst this registration has taken some time to achieve it makes SICA a unique vehicle to educate consumers and spread the word about cider made from fresh apples.

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A quick read of their objectives (recently updated in Nov 2018) and you can see they’re not just about campaigning for cider and perry made from fresh apples and pears, they want to work closely with regional cider associations and orchard groups to make a fairer duty system, which is essential to support the industry, but they are also working on helping the consumer with better transparency and promotion of craft cider.

As they prepare to launch their Quality Mark for Craft Cider I caught up with James McIlwrath (Sampford Courtenay Cider) and Mike Brown (aka Cider Mike) two of the founders of SICA.

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So, tell me how SICA came about?

JM: Back in the ‘90s I was on the NACM executive committee and helped to put together a presentation about the benefits of moving cider away from the, then, single duty rate and towards the beer duty system where small and medium-sized brewers only pay half the duty rate of the major brewers.

Unfortunately, this fell on deaf ears at the time. However, the topic came alive again in 2016 when the EU decided to review how the duty system worked across Europe. This was a great opportunity to get cider recognised as an important drink with its own category and regulations (previously, it was just lumped in with “other fermented beverages”). So, something called the Small Cider & Perry Makers Duty Group was formed. Initially, we were just interested in the EU duty review, but it soon becomes clear that members wanted it to do more.

As we talked with the EU about making a unique category for cider and perry, we ran into the issue of what should be the definition of cider and perry. There was universal agreement that Notice 162 was far too loose to be an adequate definition and everyone thought that we should pursue agreeing on a definition, and then having a way of marketing the definition using something like a Quality Mark, so a few names were bounced around and SICA was born!

Who are the founders?

CM: As well as him [James from Sampford Courtenay Cider], thereʼs Dave from Udders Cider, Hannah from Kniveton Cider, Ben from Green Man Cider, Simon from Simonʼs Cider, Ian from Ruxton Cider, Ray from Torkard Cider, Tim from Marshwood Vale Cider and me! I’m the only non-cider maker in the team and I’m very proud to be part of it.

 

 

As you can tell it’s a great mix of cider lovers, ranging from new producers to old, traditional to eastern counties styles, as well as folk from all over the country.

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SICA seemed to really storm on to the scene with the “Cider X” meeting back in September 2018, where members agreed your ‘cider definitionʼ. How important was it to get that definition and what do you think are the key parts of it?

CM: We needed something we could start with. Iʼve seen so many groups try to make a difference but get nowhere because they canʼt agree on the fundamental question of what cider actually consists of.

You might ask 'why isn't it 100% Mike?'

Well, there’s two reasons, firstly there are limits to what can actually be proven, particularly by small craft producers. To measure the difference between say 98% and 99% is impossible even with an expensive laboratory.

Secondly, unless every apple or pear is going to be hand dried after washing and the inside of every barrel wiped dry, you couldn't ever truthfully say it was 100% just juice. So, if the claim on our Quality Mark wasn't to be an empty one firm evidence is needed, but we also needed it not to be so expensive or technically difficult to join, that it would deter small makers.

As a result of the experts who came to the Cider X event it was agreed that a MINIMUM 90% was an honest claim that could be backed up with proof and have a certified Quality Mark that is externally audited to show that this claim is true.

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Tell us more about the Quality Mark? It says“minimum 90% juice” and “not from concentrate”; is this about education, transparency, heritage? Or is it all that plus more?

CM: The latter, we think it’s really important to try and educate customers about what they’re buying and drinking and were all particularly proud of our Quality Mark - the first of its kind to guarantee that the cider or perry is made to the highest standard with a MINIMUM of 90% fermented fresh juice in the finished product. We believe the best cider & Perry is made from fresh juice, not from concentrate.

Unfortunately, confusing, some would say clever, advertising, branding and marketing makes it hard for consumers to know what a product is really made from. Most people don't know that the legal requirement for juice in cider or perry is a minuscule 35% - hence our 90% Quality Mark. 

Can you tell us anything about any assurance you have set up to monitor the Quality Mark?

JM: The Quality mark is being managed and audited by Kiwa Agri Food, a UKAS-accredited product conformity and certification body who specialises in feed, food and farm certification. One of the leading accredited food product certifiers in Europe, they are a world leader in the design, implementation auditing and monitoring of protocols that provide safety and assurance throughout the international food supply chain. Our Cider Quality Mark is the first national independently audited quality mark for Cider.

CM: The QM is going to help distance white ciders, fruit ciders, or alcopops from expertly made traditionally ciders. As with all Quality Marks of this type, itall comes down to consumer choice and making it easy for them to choose the character and flavour of the ciders they prefer. When they see the QM the consumer will know what to expect and can choose between ciders and perries made from fresh apples or pears or more commercial products.

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Will there be an audit process to ensure standards are maintained?

CM: I’m getting asked this a lot on our Twitter account (@SICAcider) and the simple answer is yes, there will be records and an annual questionnaire collected by Kiwafollowed by an audit undertaken by them to make sure everything is as it should be. There are full details about the process on our website at SmallIndependentCidermakers.co.uk

JM: A few of us including Simonʼs Cider, Rutland Cider, as well as Udders Orchard are already using the Quality Mark as part of the beta testing program.

CM: Yes, and already there’s a buzz about it. When I highlighted the QM on one of Dave’s products at one of my locals the landlord told me how reassured he felt by it, and that it meant he could pass that reassurance onto his customers. Its a win/win for everyone!

If you have a cidermaker member, is it a requirement to have the badge on their products? And if so, is it all their products? 

JM: In the case of the QM the license gives them the right to use the logo on products that they register with us. In theory, they could pay the fee and register the products and then not bother using the logo, but that would be a bit odd. It is important to say that the Quality Mark is based on a product by product basis and so a maker can make, say, a strawberry “fruit cider” that doesn’t qualify and fresh apple cider that does. Obviously, the QM logo can only be shown on the qualifying product.

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At the moment it feels like the majority of communication and discussions on social media for SICA is cider makers talking to other cider makers.

CM: You're right, it has mostly been aimed at cider makers so far as it's them we want to represent, however, non-voting membership is open to a much wider group of people with a real interest in cider and orcharding.

JM: Indeed, we are a national, independent association for small producers. One of the things we want to educate people about are the costs and special difficulties small cider and perry producers face in making their unique products. This is really the key point in asking for a fair duty treatment for us small producers.

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How do you go about getting the public engaged?

CM: I'm sure once we’ve laid down the foundations of the Quality Mark and ironed out a few things with technology we’ll be talking a lot to people, besides we all live and breathe cider so consumers are bound to find us online, or at the bar explaining what the Quality Mark means for them.

We aim to be reaching out to pubs, festivals, cider wholesalers, drinkers and enthusiasts like yourself James - I’ll be making sure of that! Maybe you could talk to Crafty Nectar about having a SICA approved box for their customers? You can have that idea for free!

Do you see SICA trying to collaborate with the National Association of Cider Makers at any point?

CM: We have very good relationships with the regional cider producer groups who all work closely with the NACM (who represent the very large producers who make the vast bulk of the cider sold in the UK). However, we feel that there are some things, like the Quality Mark, the use of fresh apple and pear juice and duty relief where complete independence is a virtue.

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Lastly, what does the future hold for SICA, whatʼs next? Especially in light of Brexit (as you refer to the EU Small Cider Makers Relief Scheme in your objectives).

JM: We had hoped that the Cider Duty Relief Scheme would become law before we left the EU. That probably won’t happen now, but we hope that it will still be introduced in the UK. Research shows the Cider Duty Relief Scheme could grow the craft cider sector with 300 to 400 small to medium sized new cider makers producing fresh juice cider and perry, creating 3500 full-time jobs and protecting 7500 acres of UK cider and perry orchards.

Thanks to Mike and James on behalf of SICA for this insightful and informative response. Crafty Nectar are excited to support and follow their journey for full juice perfection!

  • CM: Cider Mike
  • JM: James McIlwrath

Follow the latest news on SICA here: 

 

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