There's a craft cider revolution brewing in South Africa
What does it take to start a revolution? For Karol Ostaszewski and his business partner wife, Laura Clacey, the first ingredient is education.
According to Chicago market research firm IRI, cider sales in the US surged 75.4% to reach $366-million in 2014. This makes it the fastest growing segment, with craft beer sales increasing by only 21% (albeit from a higher base).
In Australia, cider has been growing at an annualised rate of 34% over the past five years, according to figures from IBISWorld.
And, according to TheJournal.ie, premium cider sales in the UK grew 25% in one year, with total cider sales reaching £3-billion in 2014.
"With the growth in the craft beer movement, we saw South Africa as the next big opportunity for cider," says Ostaszewski.
"By dollar value, South Africa is in the top 10 countries worldwide for cider consumption. It's driven largely by the big commercial brands and the craft component is still small, but that's exactly the niche we're looking to tap into."
After returning from Australia in 2014, Ostaszewski and Clacey produced their first cider in May last year.
But rather than be content to sit in the background and wait for consumers to find their product hiding on a bottle store shelf, they want their brand to be "standing up on tables, kicking and screaming, and telling the world about the cider revolution".
"Who do you want fighting for you in a revolution?" Ostaszewski asks.
"You want somebody who can convince, somebody who can hustle, somebody who can break barriers, somebody who can jump over the obstacles. And we know that the skollies [defined by Urban Dictionary as a rebel or revolutionary who rejects the status quo and seeks a higher purpose] are the people who drive change. That's why we called our cider Sxollie."
Although the correct pronunciation of the brand is SKOLL-ee, many South Africans see the X and pronounce it with a click. But Ostaszewski explained that this was more about the design.
Specifically, the Xs on the ancient Sotho drinking jugs represented a crocodile's back. And given Sxollie's decision to make handcrafted cider using fresh apples (instead of the mass market ciders produced using concentrate), he believes this sign of strength fits the brand.
"Our goal is obviously world domination but we'll start here in Mzanzi," he laughed.
"We've got a whole nation to convince about the benefits and the beauty of cider. But we are the ones who will witness this cider revolution from the get-go.
"We have an amazing product that we can be proud of; a product that celebrates Africa through its raw materials, its flavour profiles, and its exceptional branding."
• Sxollie is available at liquor outlets nationwide, and at selected bars and restaurants in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban. Join the revolution online at sxolliecider.com and facebook.com/sxolliecider.
• This article was originally published in The Times.