Last week the British Beer and Pub Assocation (BBPA) announced that overall alcohol consumption in 2013 was at its lowest figure in 20 years, falling to 7.7 litres per person, a drop of 18% since 2004 and 2.1% down on the previous years figures. However as always things are not that simple, and when you dive into the numbers you see how much the alcohol duty rate raises over the last 13 years has increased tax revenue from beer and cider.
In 1999-2000,61 million hectolitres (there are 176 pints to a hectolitre) were cleared through HM Customs and Excise when beer and cider are combined. In 2012-13, this number has reduced to 50.5 million hectolitres, however the tax taken in 2000 was £6.4 billion, whereas in 2013, they took £10.2 billion. So that means that for every pint sold, the amount of income took by the government has almost doubled.
What the numbers do show however is that beer as a whole has declined significantly over the 13 tax years to 2013, with a drop from 54 million to 42 million hectolitres registered with the taxman, a drop of 1 in 5. However cider has seen a rise from 6.2 to 8.7 million, a rise of nearly 30%, showing that the post millennial years have been very good to the cider producers across the country.
In the middle of this period, prior to the recession in 2007, we drank a lot of beer, almost a quarter more than we do now. Cider struggled along until 2007, moving up and down each year not really going anywhere. However in 2007 it exploded, growing by double digits most years until 2012. At its peak in 2009/10, it was selling nearly 10 million hectolitres more, a full 175,000,000 pints above the latest figures. The start of this rapid growth of cider sadly can be mapped to the mass marketed ciders twins that are Bulmers and Magners, Magners launched in the mid noughties, but it was when Bulmers joined the competition in 2006 that cider really became a regular drink for many people.
Cider has had a poor reputation at times over the last 30 years, with products such as Scrumpy Jack and Diamond White and its like giving it a reputation linked with drunk young people with the high strength “turbo” ciders being associated with the local homeless winos. In my youth, it was a well know method of getting drunk very quickly when you drank a few Stella Artois and Diamond White snakebites. There was of course a lot of very good ciders out there, but finding it was more difficult outside of the south west of the country. The best known mainstream ciders during that time were Strongbow and Blackthorn.
Magners and Bulmers with their multi million pound marketing campaigns opened peoples eyes to cider being an acceptable drink to be seen drinking. This has opened the doors for companies like Thatchers, Aspalls, Westons and a number of other Herefordshire / South West producers to get into bars across the country and into the big supermarkets. It also gave us the bastard children of cider which is Rekorderlig, Kopparberg and most of the Brothers range, as well as the big brand versions like Cidre, Carling Cider and Sommersby.
I’m a massive fan of good cider, not quite as much as beer, but can easily spend a session on a nice cider (and in the case of Old Rosie live to regret in the morning). The strange thing is that at home when drinking cider, I will normally drink 7 – 8.2% ABV products all night, whereas whilst I enjoy beers at that strength I normally have to do a mix of these stronger beers and their slightly weaker 5% cousins over the course of an evening. The other thing I like about cider is that you do have the choice of some very good flat and sparkling ciders to suit your taste. However some of these ciders I drink and are considered very good examples of cider are as strong as some the so called “turbo ciders”, however this could be said of some higher ABV craft beers and strong lager as well, strength is not longer a dividing line is what we can conclude from this.
But going back to the original topic to finish. Wine and Spirits both show peaks towards the back end of the year, indicating that they are brought by many non regular drinkers just for xmas, whether that be for consumption or as a gift. Beer stays fairly consistent most of the year, with some smaller peaking around summer and xmas. Cider follows a similar pattern, with a more pronounced summer spike, all of which makes sense from experience. Tssk to these seasonal wine drinkers, we beer and cider drinkers are loyal all year round!