A strange question but one you should be asking yourself if ordering a commercial cider.
Last month, I went to a music festival, asked by someone camping with us if I'd like a drink, I was happy to oblige. I was presented with a rhubarb cider which was so incredibly sweet it tasted of undiluted squash and felt as if my teeth were covered in fur after one just one sip. It was undrinkable, and yet strangely one of the best sellers according to the bar staff there.
Fruit ciders had become all the rage thanks to Scandinavian fruit 'ciders' dominating the market after the Magners Effect brought cider back into the mainstream. Since then along with flavoured gins, they've become extremely popular particularly with the younger market, replacing the old 90's fad of alcopops.
What's the issue?
Due to government rules on duty, any 'Cider' which contains anything other than apples or pears gets wacked with a high wine tax. To make a cider profitable enough to sell if going down the fruit 'cider' route, companies are watering down their product by up to 70% leaving only a minimum content of 30% apples to ensure they can sell it at an affordable price. This leaves a product which is largely flavoured sugar & fermented cane sugar, sweeteners, imported concentrates and water with only a distant memory of apples.
Which begs the question...are you really drinking cider?
The cider industry is booming and we are witnessing a cider revolution
There are 1000's of craft cider makers across the country making pure juice ciders from apples and pears. People are becoming aware of pure traditional ciders and the beautiful complex qualities they hold. Bittersweet and bitter sharp cider apples as well as some varieties of non cider apples produce an array of complex flavours ranging from rich hard bitter tannins and soft astringent mouth drying tannins through to acid based sharp and fruity flavours to sweet bottle conditioned French keeved ciders, to name a few...
Like a fine wine, quality cider and perry are now appearing on menus in high class establishments alongside the champagne, and rightly so.
SICA Quality Mark
SICA - Small Independent Cider Association have produced a quality mark so people can be aware of which products are made from a minimum of 90% pure juice (apples and pears only)
We are proud to say that all Blue Barrel ciders and perries are freshly pressed pure juice ciders and bear the SICA quality mark.
The Cider revolution is happening! Cider is finally getting the recognition it deserves. Pubs, particularly micro pubs are starting to stock a vast variety of different ciders and we are starting to see real cider availability increase.
Why cider deserves to be heard
When ordering a wine, you don't just ask for a dry or fizzy wine, you base your decision on the variety of grape e.g. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio to name but a few. Likewise with craft ale, you simply wouldn't just ask for a beer, you'd state your preference whether it be a hoppy IPA, a stout or a bitter etc.
Wouldn't it be fantastic if instead of being given the choice between a sweet or a farmhouse cider (if your lucky) you are given a choice based on the apple variety e.g. the classic single variety Kingston black or a blend of Dabinett, Tremletts and Stoke Red.
How can you be part of the revolution
There's still a long way to go but people's interest in cider is certainly increasing and the drinks industry is starting to take notice.
Let's take this revolution to the bar! Start requesting more info on the apples used and the styles of cider whether its a smooth balanced contemporary cider or a traditional west country farmhouse cider.
Perhaps if enough interest is shown on the origin of the cider and the complexity of flavours, it will finally achieve a more defined classification like it deserves on mainstream bars and it'll become the norm to request ciders based on their merits like it is in the wine and craft ale industry.
As for flavoured 'ciders' that's another discussion for another day....