Though still a relatively small category, cider is a global industry that’s been showing significant year-on-year growth. The London-based analytics firm Global Data estimates that between 2013 and 2018 cider grew worldwide at more than double the rate of any other beverage alcohol category. In recognition of this thriving market, there’s been a marked increase in conferences and other gatherings aimed at forging strong bonds within the international cider business community.

Over the last several years, the Global Cider Forum (set in Frankfurt, Germany, and organized by The European Cider & Fruit Wine Association), has hosted speakers from Russia, Sweden, New Zealand, France, China, South Africa, and the United States, among many other countries. Each presents information about their market and traditions to an audience that also spans the globe. Other conferences, such as Ciderlands (Spain and the United Kingdom), CiderCon (United States), the Sagardoa Forum (Spain), CiderWorld (Germany), and Cidrexpo (France) have a similar cohort of multi-national participants.

Full-on in-person conferences have been impossible since spring 2020, of course, but one ambitious program has found a way forward nonetheless. Global Cider Connect was originally conceived as a means to partner cidermakers in Japan with cidermakers from other countries. Each pair would spend a week together in Japan collaborating on a special cider that would be served the following May at the Nagano Cider Collection festival. The international guests would also spend a week in the apple-growing region of Southern Nagano, whose tourism bureau is sponsoring the exchange.

Six Southern Nagano cidermakers have been paired with cidermakers from Norway, Sweden, Australia, Denmark, Spain, and the U.S. In light of the current restrictions on travel, they’re starting their collaborations virtually, getting to know each other, discussing available apple varieties and cidermaking techniques, and working out the details of their collaboration. They’ll meet in person during the 2021 apple harvest and be ready to go.

Cider is a relatively new product in Japan, but apples have been thoroughly embraced by the country since their introduction in the 1860s. They’re now the single largest fresh fruit crop grown there: 811,500 metric tons in 2018. That may not seem much, but California, the fifth largest apple-growing state in the U.S. (and roughly the same size as Japan), produced just 117,934 metric tons of apples that same year. Southern Nagano now boasts more than 80 farms that make cider, though some are not yet selling commercially.

“The project started as a way to educate Japanese cidermakers, as most of them here are quite new,” says organizer Lee Reeve, founder of the marketing and import firm inCiderJapan. “Forging long-term relationships is definitely what we’re gunning for, but we’ll also use this as a vehicle to promote cider domestically and rekindle tourism in Southern Nagano via cider.

“We’re hoping to turn this into a yearly event, inviting various cidermakers to Japan for further exchanges and collaborations,” continues Reeve. Global Cider Connect is setting up to be another exciting opportunity to both grow the larger cider market and strengthen networks within the global cider community.