Meet Nicky Kong, The Retailer, founder of The Cat In The Glass cider and beer web shop.
When Malus Magazine asked me to write a feature about Britain’s Cider Women I sent the same questions to several of the UK’s leading orchardists, cider makers, advocates, and retailers. With limited space in the magazine I was unable to include all their responses but did not want to waste their fascinating comments, so I have posted them individually on this blog. I cast the interviewees in an imaginary film called ‘Sisterhood of Cider, The Movie’ and I asked them not to be modest in their answers because I was ‘bigging’ them up for feature. Please meet The Retailer.
What is your role in cider?
I am a B2C Retailer – I set up The Cat In The Glass online bottle shop in 2020 and built it up to stock a very wide range of ciders and varieties of artisan cider and craft beer, from independent, exciting producers from all over the world
I am co-founder of Manchester Cider Club. Nothing like this existed in Manchester before my friends and I discovered a shared love of cider and wanted to share it with more people. It is a monthly meet up showcasing a variety of craft producers from around the UK with some special guests from US – Eve’s, Eden, Anxo. It’s almost 50 events so far and counting. We carried on throughout the pandemic and now run most of our producer showcase events as hybrid events – in person in central Manchester and online for anyone further afield.
I am an accredited Pommelier and this has helped me build my technical knowledge of cider. It also brings a focus on advocacy for the advancement and promotion of quality cider.
I am passionate about creating Connectivity in the cider world, connecting customers to great Independent small craft producers they might not otherwise get to hear about. I am also a Cider women member.
What does your work entail?
Sourcing the best examples of ciders and perries from the UK and around the world for customers of The Cat in the Glass.
Advocating for cider and perry through hosting and attending cider events, including guided tastings, talks, panels etc. I am also a judge for national and international cider competitions such as International Cider Challenge and the Cider and Perry competition at the Royal Three Counties Show.
What is your favourite aspect of your work?
Visiting producers, talking about their ciders, seeing how/where it’s produced, tasting the products. The cider community is like a big family! Everyone is super friendly and welcoming and keen to show you around and talk to you.
It’s a joy to work with people who do what they do mostly for the sheer love of it. It’s great to think I can play some small part in sharing their enthusiasm and passion with an even wider audience through my customer base and through providing them with another route to market. I particularly enjoy recommending new ciders to customers and helping them find new favourites – people message me for advice on what to try and that’s great fun, as is deciding what to stock in each month’s Mystery Box.
What does cider mean to you?
Cider is a huge part of my work and so means a lot to me – through cider I’ve met people who’ve become really good friends, visited some lovely places, had a lot of fun and found a product that goes beyond business and into a genuine love for the drink and the community who makes it.
Why should a person drink cider?
It’s still a bit of an unsung hero, and is as interesting as wine. Great for food pairing! One of your 5 a days!
Cider is a very sociable drink and can be as complex and varied as wine and beer, bringing in everything from terroir, wild fermentation, artisan production techniques, hand crafted small batch production through to industrial scale, drinks that use heritage fruit from ancient trees in disappearing woodland and that help in the preservation of rare native single varieties right through to people making approachable and fun drinks in their shed from everyday apples you can find growing in parks and gardens all over the country.
I love how approachable cider is and how there really is a cider for everyone, whatever your palate. Any product that compels so many people to make it in their spare time whilst managing full time jobs and busy lives and giving up their holidays to squish apples and label bottles etc, often without expecting to even make much money from it, you know has got to be good!
If you were to be nominated for an award for your ceaseless work for cider why should you win it?
Having won CAMRA’s ‘cider pub of the year’ award in my previous role, it’d be great to win best online cider offering in the UK or something along those lines if such an award existed – and if/when I get my own premises I’ll be coming for an award for that too!
Last year I was honoured (and beyond embarrassed!) to be described in Adam Wells’ article as ‘the most important person in the world of aspirational British cider right now’. This was such a generous and lovely description and I can only hope to live up to even part of that as I continue to try to build the business and keep representing cider and perry, and women in the drinks industry more generally.
Why did you choose cider and not wine or beer?
Originally my background was in hotels, restaurants and wine. I then moved into pubs and beer which is where I discovered cider after a short break in Cornwall. I had one of those lightbulb moments drinking a particularly great craft cider. I enjoy drinking wine, cider and beer, and whisky too and there’s definitely a place for them all in any good drinks cabinet! There’s just a world of choice out there and products to suit every requirement and price point, you just have to know where to look.
If you have a favourite apple what is it and why?
Foxwhelp – I love the acidity it brings as a single variety and how it balances a blend with its acidity. This is coming from a sour/wild fermentation beer fan!
Do you think the UK’s cider sector is in a better position than it was before you started working in it, and if so how?
Yes, the explosion of interest in cider and perry in the last few years is related to regular producer-led tastings. As a retailer I have organised many online tasting events and Manchester cider club’s in person monthly tastings. With a quality product, it sells itself most easily if you can get people to experience it first-hand. I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve converted to drinking cider and perry after strenuously telling me “I’m not a cider person”… They just needed to find their one!
I couldn’t quantify this but it’s been said my shop has arguably the best range of ciders and perries in the UK. I’m massively proud of the range of styles, varieties, makers and regions I stock. Some small craft producers without their own online shops are now reaching people all around the country that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to sell to, e.g. Cwm Maddoc, Bartestree, Blue Barrel, etc. That’s something I’m very happy to see.
What would you change about the UK’s current cider sector?
Having clearer labels to distinguish full juice ciders from the mainstream that are full of sugar and from concentrate. If you’ve never been told what’s out there, you might think all ciders are like that, just mass-produced sweet alcoholic apple fizz when the reality couldn’t be more different. People deserve to know what they’re drinking and then they can make an informed choice from the whole market, not just the one or two big brands.
What is the biggest challenge we face as cider advocates.
Limited distribution options in the UK… difficulty in importing ciders from abroad. Currently exporting to areas outside mainland UK is very difficult as a retailer as well.
Some people also seem to have a lot of misconceptions about cider that it’s just one type of drink – usually overly sweet, artificial fruity flavoured and gassy and that can put some people off. Or they might remember the litres of scrumpy or White Lightning type ciders from their youth and they might not have great associations with that! Cider has come a long way from that, but those quality full juice ciders and perries need to be available where people can find them.
Mainstream ciders are a lot more accessible and cost less to mass produce compared to small craft, independent cider producers who handpick their own apples and pears and who still do much if not all of the production by hand. In this sense it’s a lot like gin but hopefully cider is heading towards the same spotlight moment that craft and small batch gin did when it broke out of the old mainstream and had a massive resurgence.
What slogan should be on cider t-shirts?
Drink cider! Cider – have you found yours yet?