Long derided as the fizzy staple of teenagers, cider in Britain has been transformed into a favourite of the discerning drinker -- and small producers are reaping the rewards. Gathered in a cellar lined with bulging barrels beneath his farmhouse in Herefordshire, western England, Mike Johnson and a group of local cidermakers are putting some of his carefully-crafted blends through their paces. He has had producers visit his 65 acres of orchards from as far afield as Japan, South Korea, Finland and Canada to learn the skills and complex processes involved in making his distinctive concoctions. Each of his ciders, from a full-bodied beverage made with bittersweet apples to one using the sharper Broxwood Foxwhelp variety, contains between 85 and 100 percent fresh apple juice, far higher than their industrial-scale equivalents. But Johnson admits many of the new devotees of his 'real' or craft tipples were first drawn in by the premium cider brands, which are often sickly sweet and highly carbonated, and only later became "more discerning". "We first noticed it seven or eight years ago -- we noticed we were selling out sooner," Johnson told AFP. "Then we were making 7,000 litres, we raised it to 20,000 and now we're up to 70,000. "What we've concentrated on was trying to keep up the quality of the cider and try to make it interesting, not just sweet and fizzy." A traditional English drink made through the ages, cider's image struggled through the 1980s and 1990s, regarded as the tipple of choice for old men in rural pubs or adolescents skulking in parks seeking a cheap alcohol hit. But in 2006 a revolution began, sparked by a decision by Irish drinks group C&C to launch a major campaign to push its Magners brand, which was already fashionable in Ireland, into the British market. The Magners adverts, which focused on the thirst-quenching properties of cider served over ice, brought the drink back into the mainstream consciousness. Ivor Dunkerton, who has run Herefordshire producer Dunkertons with his wife Susie since 1979, admits the so-called "Magners effect" has been central to the renewed popularity of the more old-fashioned, non-carbonated ciders he makes. "I'm sure they were hoping to sell just their cider but everyone benefited from their great expenditure," he said. Growing and pressing more than 30 varieties of cider apple for his organic blends -- from the aromatic Breakwells Seedling to the sweeter Knotted Kernel -- Dunkertons saw a 50 percent increase in sales between 2003 and 2008. The company has also experienced interest from overseas. "It's become international," Dunkerton explained. "People in Europe want our cider now, we're getting orders from Canada and we're 98 percent sure of securing orders from China by next year." While Dunkerton clearly welcomes this newfound foreign demand, the core of his company's market is still domestic. Sales of cider across Britain almost doubled between 2004 and 2009, in sharp contrast to beer which has undergone a pronounced slump over the same period. Although demand flattened out last year as the economic slowdown hit consumers, analysts are predicting growth will continue -- particularly among the premium ciders that now make up 40 percent of the market's value. Zsuzsa Szilagyi, an analyst with market research firm Euromonitor, attributes much of this to the move by drinks companies to produce ciders with tastes that veer away from the traditional apple. This includes the re-emergence of perry, a pear-based drink now widely marketed as pear cider. "In contrast to declining beer volumes in the UK market, cider and perry continues to grow," Szilagyi told AFP. "The introduction of pear cider revived the category and we have seen the launch of more and more fruit-flavoured cider variants recently." Looking further back, Fenella Tyler, head of public affairs at Heineken UK -- which owns the UK's largest commercial cider producer Bulmers -- says a major catalyst for cider's domestic resurgence was a tax break in 2002. This suddenly made the drink an attractive proposition for the multinational drinks companies. "That really started to give an indication that the government was going to help the cider industry get back on its feet," Tyler told AFP.