I have this flight of fancy, I walk into a pub and I ask “Do you have any ciders?” The response I get overwhelms me, “Certainly sir (it’s a very polite flight), we have traditional ciders, fruit ciders; both on draught and bottle, full juice and concentrate, single variety and blends. We’ve also got ice cider and a good selection of Perries.” Chances are if you live in Bristol, Manchester and maybe London, there might be a few establishments that could respond in a similar fashion to that. For the rest of us and particularly on my side of the Midlands (East) there is no chance. The reality for most of us if we say the ‘C’ word the response we can expect is “We’ve got a fruit cider and an apple one on tap and a few other fruit ones in bottle”. As I’ve encountered recently, sometimes they only have a fruit one on tap. They may also have no idea how they’re made or what they’re made from.
Depending on your age you will have your own impression of what cider is. Perhaps it’s of very sweet and fruity combination flavours, or a large cheap plastic bottle of strong abv. Maybe you recall holidays in the south-west where local scrumpy was purchased and ended in some sort of headache due to the infrequency of consumption and the strength of the offering. Or you may have some fondness for Babycham (which I was surprised to see you can still get).
Why am I getting you to reminisce potentially negative memories of cider? I hear you ask. Well what I’m actually trying to highlight is the variation of those memories. You see cider has become a multifaceted beverage and that position presents both opportunity and hindrance.
It’s a hindrance because it’s spread itself a bit thin and that’s resulted in mixed views and misconceptions. Revisiting those memories again highlights how people can get a tainted view of cider from an encounter with one facet and close themselves off to the chance of more. Basing your opinion of such a diverse drink on one particular encounter means you’re missing out.
That brings me on to the opportunity because no other drink can compete across such a broad spectrum. Cider can compete with and be drunk like wine, beer, alcopops and in some cases sipped like a spirit. None of the aforementioned can do all that, wine and beer can do it to a certain extent but not to the breadth of cider. That’s something to be celebrated, something to embrace.
So my point is this, you and I may not like all ciders, we may not like the way some ciders are made or the ingredients in them. However I recognise that for cider to continue to grow, it needs to appeal to as many consumers as possible, and that means acknowledging all its manifestations as part of a wider goal. Quality and provenance will win out in the end I have no doubt, but consumers need to go on the journey from dark fruits to real fruit. My friends sometimes ask me why as the ‘Cider Critic’ I’m not more critical in my posts and articles. My view is that as an ambassador for the beverage I’m like a tour guide, pointing out the good landmarks. Focusing on the negatives only serves to put off the tourists that I want to come back again and again.
Good post, and very true. Perceptions are changing as is the cider, the biggest thing holding cider back is publicans/buyers. You can go into the majority of micro’s and they curate their beers, gins etc, then offer the cheapest cider they can find. Its not an easy road we’ve chosen, but it makes the journey more interesting.
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I also have moved gradually along a road with both beer and cider and had my snobbishness challenged in numerous ways.
Ive been asked why, when I clearly am passionate about the good stuff, do I still buy things that aren’t seen as kosher by many in the cider community. Fact is I can’t even begin the conversation about the good stuff and what’s different about it if people a) won’t come in the pub at all because they think I don’t sell anything they’ll drink and b) feel they’ll be mocked or belittled for their choices and preferences which after all are based on their experience of these drinks up to now.
I see it so often:
Me: What do you normally drink?
Cc: not this kind of stuff
Me: that’s ok, I can help you with this, but if you went into another pub what would be your choice?
Cc, practically whispering and looking almost ashamed of themselves: well, Strongbow/ lager or something
Me: asks about other preferences and gives them something to try…
Some people aren’t even ready to have that conversation and taste a few things though, hence I’ve got to have something likely to satisfy the majority of people, while also sticking to my own ethics about where I want to draw the line to separate our pub from the rest.
The main thing though is that in both beer and cider worlds we need to stop being snobbish about what people normally drink because there’ll be really good cultural and experiential reasons for it, and putting them down for it instead of welcoming them in is only going to entrench their position.
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