Sunday 5 May 2013

When is a cider not a cider? (and other fruit)

For this last of the current range of 'interesting things I would like to talk about', I'd like to turn my attention to those ciders that are called cider, but in fact many people (including me) proclaim are not. Fruit ciders have become a bit of a fad of late. Whether it be strawberry, blackberry, summer fruit or even ginger and passionfruit (etc.) they are all the rage - even at CAMRA festivals.

Before I (or anyone else) launches into some kind of tyrade against this type of beverage, let me outline exactly what they are, as per the industry duty regulations (HMRC Notice 162).

On the basis that they include ingredients (i.e. other juice than apple or pear juice) that are not classified within the cider or perry 'allowed' list... they are deemed as 'made wine'. This is where the white ciders live, and the Hooch (etc.) Indeed, under NACM guidelines (that is National Association of Cider Makers - they who represent Magners, Bulmers and the top fruit cider producers of the UK) they ought to be called 'cider with ....' as opposed to ' ... cider'.

Picky? Yes. Does it make an ounce of difference? Well, enough people who love and care about cider feel that this is simply bandwagon jumping and alcopops 'riding in on the back of a respectable drink'.
But that would be forgetting that cider has had an identity crisis for years (and often at the hands of those who are members of the NACM!)

There are some who argue that 'fruit ciders' are traditional. In some ways I would agree. Traditionally (and by that I mean historically), the reason that cider makers added flavouring to cider was to consume what was probably most kindly called poor cider. Badly kept, badly blended or just plain borderline drinkable was often turned into 'Crewkerne Sunrise' or something similar.

OK, tradition aside, lets step backwards a bit. There is a factor a bit more current: the UK governments strategy towards alcopops and 'teenage drinks'. These are the 'Hooch' and such like of the 90's (and I recall more than one headache as a result of this sugary fizzy stuff). So, large beverage companies needed a more respectable vehicle than alcopops... and low and behold, flavoured cider started to appear on the shelves. I mean, why not; cider has had a crisis of identity since the 70's and although the 'Magners effect' is wearing off slightly for them it is all still fair game (the Magners effect was the positive effect on the cider industry as a whole due to the money spent on advertising by said Irish company).

So, conspiracy theory laid out - or facts depending on what you would like to believe. So, what can a poor cider maker do about this? Well, the rules are simple - if you are a duty exempt producer you cannot make it. If you do, then you cease to be a duty exempt cider maker and must pay duty. If you are not exempt, then the duty element for the fruit cider (made wine) is much higher than for cider/perry.

And there you go. That is fruit cider. But it's not why I don't like it... well, I don't like cider being used as a cover for alcopops - that road leads to all ciders being treated like alcopops. The main reason I don't like it is because cider has a problem that it needs to sort without the hindrence of fruit cider/alcopops.

Perhaps the cider industry has taken a few huge steps forward in the last decade. Frustratingly it seems to have taken a few in the wrong direction too.


  1. Thinking of the big companies and their politics, you are probably right. But otherwise: I don't think that it is completely wrong to mix some good blackberry liqueur into a good cider - e.g. Gwynt's Autumn Magic. What's wrong with that? Better this one than Kingstone Press "Premium", for example ...

  2. Thanks for the comment. Sure, done properly I don't have a problem with adding anything to a cider. But its not then cider, is it?!

    In your comparison, you mention a high juice cider with an ingredient that makes it 'fruit wine' with a low juice cider that is merely a commodity. And there is the rub. Cider's identity crisis is a result (or symptomatic) of both these things.

    So, I would say there is nothing wrong with it (though why you would want to make a 'crewkerne sunrise' out of a good cider is puzzling:-)


    1. That's a typical problem in England (i am running a cider-online-shop in germany): You are officially allowed to call everything "cider" that contains at least 35 % fermented apple juice, and that's the real reason for the english cider identity crisis. Your parliament is massively supporting the big brands. Let me say this: if in germany a drink contains just 40 % beer, even 80 % beer, it would never be allowed to be labelled as "beer". See what i mean? You don't have a cider identity crisis, but are lacking a strict labelling system.

      Cheers, Christoph

  3. Its frustrating isn't... though 'low juice' cider pays significantly more duty than 'high juice' cider/perry.

    The EU has a problem in general for better labelling of alcohol and ingredients. I believe it is the wine industry that doesn't like the idea of having to declare ingredients or percentage of water content!

    Still, if all ciders were fantastic there would be no need for reviewers:-)