However, it was interesting that, in at least three pubs, I saw taps for Aspall cider, something that ten years ago would have been unknown. Back then, the only keg ciders you would see in pubs were those produced by the major national producers, Strongbow and Blackthorn, and possibly a few remnants of Woodpecker and Gayemer’s Olde English.
However, since then there has been a dramatic increase in choice, and not just in trendy or upmarket pubs. Wetherspoon’s now offer either Thatcher’s Gold or Stowford Press, produced by Weston’s. Aspall, as mentioned above, is often seen in the more aspirational type of establishment, and I recently spotted Sheppy’s Oakwood alongside it. On my visit to the West Country there were plenty of taps for Cornish Orchards, and even a few for Cornish Rattler with its distinctive and rather cartoon-like snake’s head handle. A photo in Doghouse magazine shows a pub with a tap for Robinson’s Flagon cider, which I have also spotted elsewhere in the Welsh Marches. It’s quite a dramatic change in the marketplace that has largely gone unremarked.
Now, some purists may argue that these products aren’t really “craft”, that they are fairly undemanding, mainstream ciders that just happen to be made by independent regional producers. But, in the US sense, that is how “craft” is defined, and you’re not really going to find many customers with a product that tastes as though it will take the enamel off your teeth. They key point is that these are independently-made ciders that are selling to the ordinary man and woman in the pub, not to self-conscious aficionados.
In the coming years I can see much the same happening for lager, as pubs increasingly go for products from small British independent brewers rather than jaded licence-brewed international brands. But much less so for ales, as cask already offers the innovation and distinctiveness that the more discerning customer looks for. And it has to be said that most British craft lagers are fairly middle-of-the-road in flavour and not extreme or cutting-edge.