Cider and Perry are fairly simple products, pressed apples or pears left to ferment and produce alcohol.  Even relatively mainstream producers such as Thatcher, Westons and Aspalls produce a variety of ciders which are interesting to drink.  You can go from Thatchers Gold at 4.5% to Westons Vintage Cider at 8.3% and get an cider you can enjoy and find interesting or different.  Like single hop beers you can get single apple ciders, you get sweet, medium and dry varieties of the drink like you get different styles of beer.

I’m as much of a fan of good cider as I am of good beer, both have their time in my fridge and get pulled out when in the mood.  What I have found is that I rarely mix them at home, it is either a cider or beer night.  When out I find myself mixing them more, but once I move onto cider I generally stay with the apple.   About 10 years ago when on holiday in Devon, many small rural shops sold 5 litre plastic containers of scrumpy for a lot less than a tenner.  Scrumpy is a flat slightly cloudy locally produced cider and I openly admit that it was slightly rough and although the strength was unspecified, it was definitely not less than 8%, but was still a drink you could enjoy.

Of course not all ciders are of such quality as those of those mentioned at the start of this piece.  The likes of Bulmers, Strongbow and Magners are pale imitations of the aforementioned brands, with a slightly sweeter more generic taste, generally sitting around 4-5% ABV.   Gaymers also are a respectably sized player in this area of the cider market, but are merely a sub brand from the owners of Magners.  As an interesting side note, Magners is sold as Bulmers in Ireland due to a complicated model of national rights over the Bulmers brand name.

Further down the quality chain you have a multitude of turbo cider brands which can be purchased in 3 litre bottles for less that £3 containing an 7-9% strength fermentation.  It is these cheap ciders that gave cider a bad name for many years, it being the drink of choice for the local wino.  In breaking this market perception over the last 5-6 years and bringing cider back to the front of peoples minds, the one thing that the likes of Bulmers and Magners can take a lot of credit for is just this.

Traditional lager brands have also tried to enter this sector of the drinks market.  Carlsberg have recently moved into the market with Somersby and Carling has recently entered the off sales market with Carling British Cider.  We can’t ignore Cidre from Stella Artois when discussing this sector of the market either.  This trio are directly competing with the Irish brands of Magners and Bulmers and the long standing draught brand Strongbow in the on-trade and off-trade market.

There are also brands such as Kopparberg and Rekorderlig which in my opinion are just  flavoured alcoholic lemonade with a misjudged label.  Overly sweet, easy to drink, and leaving you not ever wanting to try another one.  They also have the gaul to call their “apple cider” Naked Apple, as if it should even contain anything else.  With this in mind, I’ll not darken this door with these drinks any longer.

However the definition of cider and perry has been bastardised by the big two Irish producers over the last few years.  Call me a purist, but cider is made from apples, perry is made from pears, if you add any other fruit to these basic ingredients you have an alcopop.   An alcopop in its classic definition is a fruit flavoured alcoholic drink at around 4 – 6% ABV.  These fruit ciders fit into this pigeon hole perfectly.

Magners and Bulmers both produce these “fruit ciders” in product ranges which mirror each other closely.  Both brands obviously offer classic apple and pear, but then add the “mixed fruit” versions of mixed berry, black cherry, red grape, a spiced apple and rhubarb winter drink and a spiced apple and honey variation according to brand. However it is not enough for them to discredit the cider name with these illegitimate children, they also call the Perry “Pear Cider”, somehow thinking that using the correct term for the drink would confuse consumers.

Just like beers such as Black Sheep and Copper Dragon can act as gateway beers to a more complicated taste in the brew, Magners and its like have the same gateway role in introducing people to more interesting ciders.  My wife has gone from being a big fan of these Irish brands to finding them far too sweet and drinking 7-8% higher quality ciders, educating people to these better products is ultimately the key.

  1. Angus says:

    Hi Sean, nice blog.

    As some one with a bit of cider making experience – to match brewing and spirits! – cider is an interesting legal area.

    From a duty perspective cider is remarkably different from beer and spirits in the fact that the tax is set in bands rather than in hlABV, hence you pay the same tax on a 2% cider and on a 5% cider, no real incentive to lower ABV. http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/rates/alcohol-duty.htm. Whilst strongbow and bulmers may not be to everyone’s palate they are still classed as cider as apples contribute to >50% of the sugar to make alcohol, the 2 of them are responsible for apple orchards sustaining the damage inflicted in the 1990s and early 2000s when a lot of farm ripper up traditional orchards, I have been told that recordlig is at best from 18% apple juice.

    The reason why bulmers and magners are called pear ciders is that they are apple ciders flavoured with pear, perry legally has to be made out of 100% perry pears, unfortunately there are not enough perry pears in the uk to sustain any commercial brand.

    For me the best uk cider is from Oliver’s in burleigh gate, Herefordshire – his bottle conditioned perry is far superior to any champagne!

    Interestingly both carling and carlsbergs ciders come out the same place…..

    • santobugtio says:

      Cheers Angus, a life long career in alcohol certainly shows. There is a lot there I didn’t know, and some I did know but had to leave it out due to 800 word print limit. I covered the duty aspect about 6 weeks ago. Seems like magners and bulmers have a lot to answer for.

  2. Angus says:

    Oh and don’t look too much at dry, medium and sweet – it’s just a measure of how much sugar added post fermentation…….

  3. […] flavourings which effectively turn them into alcopops.  I wrote about the new wave of flavoured ciders not too long ago and again the push has started on these products in […]