More than 10 different types of apples — carefully picked in the quiet, green fields of the countryside in the United Kingdom — are now here in Bogotá in the form of a sweet and tasty traditional cider that has been part of English drinking culture since the Romans landed on the island around 55 B.C.
Since then, apple fields started to take over the whole country, and now there are hundreds of producers and brands of cider. In many areas of England, it rivals beer as the drink of choice in bars. Aspall and Stowford Press were the favorites of Emma Laing, a Brit who, along with her boyfriend Julian Gutiérrez, decided to bring a sweet taste of her nation to the capital. “Somebody had to do it,” said Julian, adding that he is pleased it ended up being them. “You have to work with what you love.”
Because they are pioneers in the cider market in Colombia, their job is more about educating people rather than simply selling them a product. Cider is not a drink that Colombians are used to, so Emma and Julian have set out to get people to “give it a try and I’m sure you’ll come back for more.” So far it seems to be working. They already have more than 90 clients just in Bogotá.
The Gastronomy Market locations in Parque 93 and Usaquén is one place where customers can find cider by the bottle, along with many bars throughout the city. The dozens of Bogotá Beer Company pubs all carry Aspall, and both are widely stocked in Chapinero (Estatua Rota at Calle 54 No. 6-23), Zona G (Innovo at Calle 69A No. 5-59 or B&L Piano Pub at Carrera 4A No. 66-03), Parque 93 (The Red Lion at Carrera 12 No. 93-64), and Usaquén (The Eight Bells at Calle 120A No. 6-23).
But they are not the only ones bringing cider to Colombians: Daniel Hill, from New Zealand, is also producing the alcoholic beverage in a country where there are no seasons. With his Colombian partner, Jaime Andrés Venegas, they decided at the end of 2013 to start producing their own cider in Bogotá called The Golden Lion. “We’re very excited to make cider in Colombia,” said Daniel. “And what is most important is to make it with great quality, just as in British or French cider.”
Making the first batch of The Golden Lion took around 18 months as they experimented to find the perfect flavors. Stowford Press and Aspall both still take over a year to get from fruit to final form, as the trees only produce apples annually in autumn. Once the actual process starts, the fermentation takes between two to four weeks, with the bottling and packaging pushing it to a month or two.
While Daniel and Jaime met in Bogotá through a common friend, Emma and Julian met at a rock festival and lived together in London until Julian’s visa expired three years ago. After that they moved to Bogotá, and they began bringing the cider — first just for personal consumption, then deciding to launch a business called “Great British Ciders.”
Around 90% of their clients are Colombians, so it seems that the cider has found a market — and won’t be leaving any time soon. And on top of the native clientele, there are also plenty of British living in Bogotá who are relieved when they discover a reminder of home at their local bars or the Usaquén market every Sunday.
Though the sweet apples and traditional production process are now enticing the palate of the Colombians — just as they did centuries ago with the British, French and Spanish — educating people hasn’t been easy. Most Colombians are not familiar with cider. Some compare it to champagne or wine. Julian always responds by saying that you don’t drink champagne by the pint and that wine is made out of grapes, not apples. And once the apples enter the conversation, Hill says that’s when the magic appears.
Stowford Press uses six different types of apples out of about 7,500 that Illinois University in the United States estimates exist in the whole world. Aspall, the cider company that has been around since 1728, uses nine different types of apples in its draught variety. It creates an explosion of taste with an amazing texture.
The Golden Lion cider is a more relatable experience for a Colombian because it is not as sweet and mirrors the experience of drinking beer. This was exactly what Daniel and Jaime were looking for when they spent more than a year defining the perfect flavor. “As the cider culture is not that strong here in Colombia, we wanted to start with something easy to drink related with what Colombians already know,” said Daniel.
The flawless cider produced in Colombia is thanks to Argentina and Chile’s apples, which are different varieties from the ones in the United Kingdom. And it is because of that fact that both businesses are not as much competitors as they are complements to one another. Ultimately, both are facing an uphill battle in trying to win any market share in a nation of beer drinkers, so they both appreciate the educational efforts of the other and know they offer a different experience for different palettes.
A cider a day keeps the doctor away, people say. While, strictly speaking, few physicians would actually suggest the antioxidants present in the fermented juice outweigh the ingredients that make drinking it so relaxing. But the magnificent flavor and presentation is the real benefit. And now Bogotanos are starting to learn why.