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Flavoured cider: all the questions and no answers

Whatever your stance on flavoured ciders, there is no denying that as a category it’s flying off the shelves. It makes up 35% of market share of a market worth £1.3 billion. It’s fairly broad too, consisting of ciders with added hops, herbs, spices, fruits, or flowers, each of which adds a completely different dimension to a cider.

But before we go any further, lets address the huge elephant in the room of whether they are indeed ciders. Well according to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs they are not. The use of any fruit other than apples or pears or any flavouring or syrup in cider, makes an alcoholic drink a “made wine” for duty purposes. Which makes sense right, or does it? I’m sure wine purists would say, only grapes should be used for a drink to have the title of “wine”, but what about “fruit wine”, where the wine is made from a different type or blend of fruit, say gooseberry or elderberry? Is that ok? If it is then why can’t it be called fruit cider? Well cider’s only made from apples isn’t it? Is this just all about alcohol by volume…. do you see my point? This is just a minefield.

Ultimately I think this is possibly the most polarising category in drinks today. It’s like the marmite of the cider world; you love it or hate it. The truth however is so much more than agree or disagree, because as with all ciders, they are not made equal. Your mainstream berry offering is not made in the same way as a full juice blend or co-ferment like Adam reviewed here, but essentially in the eyes of HMRC they are all the same for duty purposes…. as in they aren’t ciders.

Despite HMRC’s rules, ‘Made Wines’ don’t have to be called that. Hence we have a plethora of flavoured ciders, because, I mean what  else would you call them? ‘Fruit wines’ as I’ve mentioned is taken, and these hybrids don’t cut the title; they’re lower alcohol (usually 4% as the duty spikes considerably as you increase the ABV) and for many the base alcohol is apple or pear in origin. So what are they? Alcopops… surely not, I feel like that does many of them a disservice. These are not vodka and flavoured water… that’s Hard Seltzers isn’t it? Also, where would you draw the line? Should a raspberry and mango cider with more syrup than apple be in the same category as a full juice cider blended with raspberry juice or apple juice co-fermented with raspberry fruit?

So does it come down to whether its more apple than addition? Or should someone buying a pineapple cider for example, expect the dominant flavour to be pineapple? If we go back to the fruit wine comparison, buying a strawberry or gooseberry wine, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s going to taste like the fruit it’s made from and that’s because in almost all cases with fruit wine it is made just from those fruits, not a fruit plus grapes. Let’s not forget that you can get made wine purely from apples, but only if you have an alcohol content of above 8.6%. Strangely nobody argues with that one too much… not even the wine folk as far as I’m aware. 

Then should it taste of cider plus the addition? (Did I already ask that?) Why wouldn’t it? Or why would it? Well I guess it depends on what sort of drink your making as some additions are quite powerful flavours. Are you trying to make a cider that tastes like raspberries or a raspberry cider? Either way the tax man says they’re not cider so does it even matter? Well yes, because you’re calling a drink a ‘cider’ but it potentially tastes like a fruit that isn’t apples. But if you call it a ‘made wine’ and it doesn’t have grapes in it, where do you stand? I find myself going round in circles here.

I should probably finish soon (or I’ll lose you, dear readers) by giving my view on this whole category, otherwise this article will just be full of questions and no opinion. So for what it’s worth, personally I don’t drink “fruit cider” very often, I find in the main they are too sweet and that’s one of the biggest obstacles for me as I have a much drier taste these days. However, I have had many co-ferments and dry ciders blended with other fruits (quince, blackberry, etc) that have worked in harmony with the base cider and that’s a beautiful thing. I’ve also tried (for occasional research purposes) a few of the mainstream fruit ciders that have had no evidence of apple in the taste whatsoever. But… and it’s a big BUT… I do recognise that consumers that regularly drink these flavoured ciders expect the drink to taste of the flavour it states. Perhaps the solution is “rhubarb cider” if the rhubarb dominates or “rhubarb and apple cider” or “cider with rhubarb” if there is more harmony with the base fruit. 

We’ve been messing about with additions to cider for many centuries, but now we have duty laws and large industrial producers labelling their products as ‘fruit cider’ or ‘cider with…’ to avoid the taint of ‘alcopop’. Which means that there is a real challenge for those innovative producers who might want to create full juice flavoured cider but are being unfairly tarnished with the same brush. There is a line, but the question (if we haven’t had enough already) is ‘where do you draw it?’

What I think concerns the me the most for the future is that cider has always struggled to overcome the often-held belief that it is a one dimensional drink that just comes in different levels of sweetness. That all ciders are nothing more than a cider, which is one of the biggest travesties of our modern drinking era. I fear and I’ve seen recent examples in pubs to suggest the frame of mind exists, that fruit ciders will be grouped into that same one dimensional view. Where all ciders are the same, but just in different flavours. Imagine walking into a pub and the only cider they have on is a mango one, because they have a belief that it’s a cider like all the others and that particular flavour sells well. Or as Adam once experienced when he ordered two thirds of a keg conditioned dry cider and they brought him another makers ‘rum and raisin’…. “It’s a cider” was the bar tenders response when Adam requested what he actually ordered. Honestly I want to focus on the positive (I do try sometimes) and see the stepping stone that flavoured cider represents, but there is a real danger that without education on the depth and difference of the cider category, especially the flavoured element, we will continue to perpetuate that myth that cider is cider whatever the fruit involved. 

So maybe we should just throw caution to the wind and campaign for “wine” to be renamed “grape cider”… then at least we’re all in it together.

1 Comment

  1. A great thought provoking piece James, and one that I totally agree with. It certainly feels unfair (or at least unwise) to group a ‘macro’ fruit cider with some of the phenomenal co-ferments or fruit blends that are available. It’s difficult to know where to go with it but co-ferment or cider with X seems a better description than fruit cider.

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