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.