There’s been a lot of chatter lately on social media about ‘real cider’, the definition of it and what should and shouldn’t be included. In this short blog I’m not going to try and resolve the debate but on my recent holiday to Greece I started thinking about transparency and whether us cider and perry drinkers in the UK actually know what goes into our drinks and whether we’re able to really make informed choices about what we buy.
Honestly I didn’t expect to find cider in Greece, it’s not well known for its orchards after all, more olive groves and vineyards. However, on the beautiful island of Kefalonia there were a few bottles to be found in a couple of the small supermarkets. Namely: Strongbow, Rekorderlig, Kopparberg, Somersby, Woodpecker and Magners. I know....! So many, but not any I would normally mention on here or drink for that matter. It’s not that I’m anti, it’s just if you remember from my first blog, I cut my cider teeth at Perry’s Somerset Cider, 100% juice, wild yeasts, natural processes and a totally different drink to any of those I found in Greece. However, what I did notice about the cider I found abroad is that almost all listed their ingredients.
Now most craft cider and perry producers in the UK (especially the ones I normally review on here) are already putting lots of information on their bottles, be it what goes in or the processes. However, when it comes to the bigger commercial players that you find in most supermarkets or on draught at your local, the info is lacking, except it would seem when you are abroad.
So I started thinking; why are the UK public not seeing the information they should to make an informed choice?
I’m not going to tell anyone what they should and shouldn’t drink. Just because I don’t normally drink the ciders and perrys that I found in Greece doesn’t mean I’m against them in principle. After all without the “Magners effect” or all the orchards funded by Bulmers in the West Country, we wouldn’t have the booming craft cider and perry market we have today. I did try a few whilst on holiday and it did reaffirm my opinion, they were too sweet, watery and artificial. They don’t taste anything like the ciders and perrys I normally drink, but shouldn’t really be compared to them. They are totally different drinks, made to cater for different tastes. But that brings me to the point of this article, I’m not sure the general public know that there is such a vastness of taste, quality and ingredients in the cider and perry category. If you thought all ciders were like Strongbow and you didn’t like it, then you’re missing out on some amazing 100% juice creations.
I don’t believe we are going to get the law changed on what constitutes a cider. Excise Notice 162 says 35% juice minimum and that includes concentrate. The big players have based their products on this and there would be significant challenge. Where I do think we can make a change is on the packaging. Many craft producers are already doing it and the bigger brands do it for the export market so I can’t see why they can’t use those labels in the UK too. Surely it’s a consumer’s right to know what’s in the drinks they buy, they can decide whether to look at it or not, but at least it would be there for those that do. I for one was interested to know that water is the first ingredient in Rekorderlig and Kopparberg ciders and that Strongbow is made from concentrate and contains glucose-fructose syrup. That way I can finally know why it tastes so different from what I normally drink.
If you look at other sectors like food for example, there have been huge changes in recent years to improve the transparency of packaging. Consumers want to know what they are eating and also where it has come from. Think about the ‘Free Range’ movement for example. It’s not showing signs of stopping either, with proposals from the current Environment Secretary including a “gold standard” system for animal product labelling to remove any misleading terms. Probably more comparable to some of the ciders I’ve mentioned above are soft drinks and interestingly in one shop in Greece I found the fruit cider in the same fridge as the soft drinks, not in the alcohol fridge next to it. People are becoming increasingly concerned about the levels of sugar and artificial ingredients in their soft drinks, so why shouldn’t they be able to know what goes into the alcoholic ones too. After all as you can see above apart from the alcohol they read like a soft drink.
The point I’m trying to make is that we can argue forever about whether ‘real cider’ means just 100% juice or still and unpasteurised or whether it allows some added water or back sweetening, but if consumers can’t see the differences on the packaging then it feels a bit pointless. If we want to promote the artisan natural creations, then we first need honesty on all cider and perry packaging to help the public understand the difference. Our energy would be better spent fighting for transparency to show how great ciders like those in this month’s subscription box really are.
James Finch @thecidercritic