If you order a drink in Poland, it's probably going to be vodka. Even though Poland is the largest apple producer in Europe, there's not much of a thirst there for cider, the alcoholic kind.
Tomek Porowski thinks that’s a shame. He worked as a lawyer for a pharmaceutical company, but he always dreamed of making cider. So he joined forces with another young Polish entrepreneur, Marcin Hermanowicz, whose family has grown apples in the village of Ignaców for four generations.
“I think about 100 people live here. All the people are fruit growers,” Marcin says.
The surrounding area, Grójec County, may be the largest apple growing region in Europe. Yet cider production, has never taken off in Poland.
During Communism, it was illegal for fruit farmers to produce or sell even a single liter of their own alcohol. That ban remained largely in place until 2011, when the Polish government relented and allowed growers to produce up to 10,000 liters of alcohol per year.
That year Marcin and Tomek teamed up to become Poland's first commercial cider producers. Their first artisanal brew is called 'Ignaców Cydr'.
“On the shelves in shops, there was cider from France, cider from Ukraine, even cider from Ireland, but there was no cider from Poland,” says Marcin. “So there was definitely a niche.”
But it wasn't an easy task. Marcin says apple-flavored moonshine had a bad reputation in Poland.
“In Communist times, the cheapest alcohol was ‘wino owocowa.’ It was apple juice that you add some sugar to, a lot of sulphur, a lot of bad things,” he adds.
Dealing with cider's historical baggage was one thing. But the new law gets in the way, too.
“This new regulation has many, many hidden problems,” Tomek says.
For instance, he says, they wanted their cider to be bottled by a professional company, and they needed to attach government-approved customs labels to the bottles. But it's against the law for another company to attach the labels.
“The law forgot about producers like us,” he says.
So they came up with a solution of sorts. They had to sell their cider to the bottling company and then buy it back.
“It wasn’t an easy operation,” Marcin says. “There are a lot of holes in the law.”
But Marcin and Tomek persevered. They’re now selling their Ignacow in three Polish cities. And they have hopes it will catch on in bars and clubs around the country.
“I think this is the new opening of cider in Polish life,” Tomek says.
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