Monday, 2 May 2016

The apple of my eye?

In the late 1970s, CAMRA embraced campaigning for traditional cider, leading to the creation of a group called APPLE (Apple and Pear Produce Liaison Executive – yes, I know!). Cider is now a prominent feature at many CAMRA-run beer festivals, not least Stockport. CAMRA organises regular Cider Pub of the Year awards and even runs cider-only festivals.

However, many members have never felt that it’s really a good fit, and it has re-emerged as an issue in CAMRA’s current revitalisation project. So i thought I would run a poll on whether CAMRA should campaign for “real” cider, with the results shown above. A clear division of opinion, although with the “anti” faction recording a narrow majority.

I know at times in the past when I’ve ventured on to the subject of cider, I’ve ended up having my head bitten off. But I can see both sides of this debate. On the pro side:

  • Cider is a traditional British artisanal alcoholic drink
  • It is widely consumed in pints in pubs
  • In the 1970s it faced very similar issues to beer – kegging and concentration of production
But, on the other hand:
  • It’s a fundamentally different product from beer – whisky has far more in common
  • As it doesn’t experience a secondary fermentation, you can’t read across the definition of “real beer”
  • In general, apart from a few CAMRA members, there isn’t that much commonality between drinkers of beer and cider
I’m agnostic on this. I enjoy the occasional drop of cider, and each year at Stockport Beer Festival I usually have one session on cider and perry. But I know the consumer read-across is limited and that, in the absence of a clear “real ale” type definition, APPLE have tied themselves up in knots in an attempt to define “real” cider. Many of them strongly objected to last year’s AGM decision to allow natural fruit flavourings, which are, of course, generally accepted in beer, if not universally liked.

So my vote was for “Yes, with changes” – specifically a more relaxed definition of “real cider” which also allows more bottled ciders to be brought within the fold. If it’s a pure juice, unpasteurised product, I really fail to see what the problem is. I don’t think CAMRA should totally cast cider adrift, but it needs to be recognised as a peripheral activity and not a core campaigning objective. Some people, of course, would make the argument that quality cider would be better served by having its own dedicated consumer campaign.

It’s also worth saying that, unlike real ale, “real cider” has never gained significant traction in the wider pub trade. Broadly speaking, because it’s too strong and too flat. Every new-build dining pub has real ale; none has real cider.

But, in recent years, there’s been a huge rise in distribution for “craft keg” cider from independent producers s outside the “big two” of Bulmers and C&C/Magners, such as Westons, Thatchers, Cornish Rattler and Aspall. Arguably there’s more craft keg cider around than beer. Even small local producers such as Robinson’s of Tenbury Wells (no relation to the Stockport brewer) are getting into the act with their Flagon Cider. Maybe that’s where the commercial future of high-quality independent cidermaking lies, not with still, murky bag-in-box stuff..

7 comments:

  1. I voted "yes" (in fact I was the first person to vote so at that point your poll was a 100% "yes") but I can see arguments against. Personally I think that "real" cider and perry (however you choose to define it) should be a natural fit with what CAMRA does but I do not think the activities of APPLE over the years have really helped its cause.

    At times it has seemed directionless and ineffective - and the attempts to define real cider have been a right old mess. I recall that it's last attempt ran to something like two pages compared to about one sentence for real ale.

    Perhaps a solution would be to put APPLE at arms length but give it associate membership of CAMRA. I can see there being quite a bust up over this (and of course the argument for keeping real cider in CAMRA's remit has now lost one of its most persuasive and eloquent proponents).

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    1. I'd pretty much entirely agree with that. As you say, APPLE's obscurantism does the general cause of cider no favours. Wasn't there some recent argument about "chaptalisation"? Now that's really going to resonate with your average pub cider drinker.

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    2. Yes - and there had been recent agonisng over "hot filling" of the bag-in-box stuff. This is pasteurisation in all but name and is a nettle that APPLE are reluctant to grasp (for obvious reasons when you think about it).

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  2. Sitting here in Kent, there are a reasonable number of pubs that do real cider, generally the GBG pubs around here will also do a real cider or two, several have around 6. Within 15 miles of me there are probably the same number of cider makers as breweries, but there output probably adds up to the same as one of the micro breweries. Quiet a few CAMRA members I go out for a drink with will have a pint of cider if it looks interesting and local, my wife is a cider drinker (she gets fed up wife mainly female bar staff telling here to be careful its a bit strong), think that goes for a few other local members as well. Main point is that cider making and drinking is a lot more regional than real ale.

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    1. Yes Id agree I think there is a big regional difference in cider,I voted yes,but don't drink cider and the most well know UK wide Suffolk 'cyder' Aspalls actually isn't real cider :) but it's fairly common for a proper real ale pub in Suffolk to offer real cider as well,in fact I know our branch pub of the year was marked down in the regional award once because it didn't offer any real cider. And I know without a cider bar at our beer festivals the average age of attendees would double

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  3. Growing up in The West Country in and reaching legal drinking age in the 70s, real cider was what I drank. But it was becoming harder and harder to find even then, as cider orchards were being rooted up in that period. But just enough suppliers hung on, and just enough pubs stocking it remained that didn't have to discover beer until moved away to the South-East in the 1980s. That's when found real cider basically did not exist at all across vast swathes of the country, so became a beer drinker.
    And so it remained, until the last decade, when began to see real cider creeping back into pubs. Now most pubs seem to have something in a box/cask from the likes of Westons, Thatchers, or around here the local Millwhites, on. Much as one may hate to admit it, think the driving force was actually the Magners/Kopparberg et al mass marketing, which brought the word 'cider' back into public consciousness and to a new generation. Enough of those drinkers are now moving on into exploring a wider range of higher quality ciders to sustain a new market. Suspect that was far more important in the revival of 'real' cider than anything CAMRA has done.
    Too late for me - now a confirmed beer drinker, though am having to odd cider occasionally (for old times sake) for first time in three decades.

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  4. I think CAMRA should continue with something 99% of members do not give a toss about and try to get them to give a toss by pointing a finger and telling them they should give a toss about it.

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