I’ve started and re-written this piece several times, which I think highlights the challenge that fruit cider presents. To general consumers it is cider, I’ve heard people comment “I like cider, but not apple cider”; it has become a part of the definition of the beverage. To others, it is an abhorrent stain on the name of Britain’s native drink. For those maybe a bit more on the fence, like myself, it is a conundrum… and why? Because we are still struggling with transparency.
‘Fruit ciders’ are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, there’s no doubt about it. The market share is increasing year on year, just the last year saw a 4% growth from 36% in 2018 to 40% in 2019 (source: Westons Cider Report 2019) and they are predicting a rise to 50% by 2022. Cider purists will argue they’re not ciders and I don’t completely disagree, but regardless of whether you like the thought of adding fruit or not, there is actually more of a history here than you might think.
As a nation, we’ve been adding fruit to cider for hundreds of years. If you can get a copy of Vinetum Britannicum by John Worlidge published in 1676 (but don’t get the kindle version, take a look and you’ll see why), not only can you read a celebrated record of the craft, but also hear about how adding blackberry and elderberry juice to cider was recommended. As well as steeping herbs and flowers in cider to create medicinal tinctures so the benefits can be “conveyed into our bodies by the most pleasant vehicle that can be obtained”. Can’t argue with that. Source: www.westons-cider.co.uk
There’s no doubt that the mainstream fruity creations you’ll find in your local are responsible for the current fruit cider boom. We have become a nation of sweet tooths and ‘fruit ciders’ from the big companies have catered for (and perhaps helped fuel) that change. I’ve heard how in some city-center pubs Dark Fruits outsells Original Strongbow by over 3 kegs to 1.
So enter some of the craft producers who have seen the opportunity the current increased market has provided to create pure juice fruit and flavoured ciders. After all, not everybody likes the taste of apples… I know! But wouldn’t it be great if they could still partake of the craft cider market rather than head off to the ‘dark fruits’ side?
But back to transparency... as with all alcoholic beverages, there is huge variety of ingredients, because unfortunately, the law is ambiguous enough to allow that. In the same way, you can get cider made with artificial flavours and additives in contrast to 100% pure juice, the same is true of fruit ciders. But I am struggling to show you the difference. Why? Because even some craft cider producers still haven't embraced open ingredients. So I’m going to attempt to show what I can and then you can make up your own mind about what you want to drink.
Concentrate & Concentrate Fruit Ciders
Firstly you’ve got the ‘concentrate and concentrate’ group which is made up mainly from the big companies: Heineken (Strongbow, Bulmers & Old Mout), Koppaberg and Abro (Rekorderlig). Here the base cider is made up of just over 35% juice and that has come from concentrate. The fruity addition is also a syrup from concentrate. Don’t believe me? Pick up a bottle of Bulmers, they’ve added ingredients to the back.
This is the group that causes the most frustration to the craft crowd. Words like ‘Premium’ and phrases like ‘100% Hereford Apples’ are misleading. Bulmers finished many apple contracts early last year, because they didn’t need all those apples in their fruit flavours. Orchards have been grubbed up and apples gone to waste. It’s a travesty that damages the reputation of a culturally essential beverage. The higher price point also adds confusion, it has nothing do with quality (which is a subjective term in itself). The reason is simply that adding anything other than apples or pears to make cider means it’s regarded as a ‘made wine’ by the government and that means a higher tax rate.
An additional note here, following some feedback since this was published (thanks to Worley’s Cider, Abel Cider & Caledonian Cider). In terms of duty, ‘made wine’ doesn’t have the minimum 35% juice content that is required for cider. So it is possible that this group could have no or hardly any apple juice or concentrate in them at all.
Chaptalisation & Concentrate Fruit Ciders
Secondly, you’ve got ‘chaptalisation & concentrate’, which is where additional sugar is added to the pressed juice to push up the alcohol content. This means that is can then be diluted with water to bring it back down to a more sensible percentage and you increase the quantity of product. Westons openly do this, think Stowford Press Mixed Berries. There is real apple juice in there, but it’s watered down by at least 50%.
Pure Juice Fruit Ciders
Thirdly is ‘pure juice’, but this is where it starts to get murky because there are a lot of craft makers that use 100% pure apple juice to make their cider but then say very little about the fruit addition. I can understand why they may be being secretive, it doesn’t fit with all the stuff they’re saying about ‘100% freshly pressed juice’ for their base cider.
However, if we’re going to progress as a drinks category then consumers need honesty and transparency for all. The big players are laying down the gauntlet and craft is lagging behind. They’ve got to list ingredients to show the drinkers they’re different. People will understand that some may use concentrate syrups with the full juice base to get certain flavours and if they like the taste I’m sure they’ll keep drinking it. If they use full juice for everything then they should be shouting about it because they’re in another league to the mainstream.
So where do I stand on fruit cider?
Well, I think there is a place for fruit additions where the flavours complement or enhance the drink. If the addition overpowers or results in a cider that isn’t recognisable as such and the apple can no longer be tasted then that misses the point for me. I also know that using pure juice is a more natural process with less waste and a lower environmental impact, so it’s a no brainer which side I’d choose.
Look out for my ‘Top fruit ciders’ article coming soon.