Most people have a way to telling that the warmer, lighter seasons will soon be upon us, whether it be certain birds coming into song, animals coming out of hibernation or simply the fact they leave for work and return home when it is no longer dark.  Me, I know spring and summer are just around the corner when the big breweries launch their latest alcopops and fake “ciders”.  Let me tell you there are no shortage of them this year.

Carling and Stella have some market leading cider brands in Carling Cider and Cidre whilst Bulmers and Magners still command an equally significant share of the market.  The latter two have launched fruit flavoured variations of their core cider products.  The competition for these “fruit ciders” include Rekorderlig and Kopparberg.  Now Heineken are joining this party and launching Old Mout Cider, a brand which has been successful in New Zealand already.  Out in 3 flavours, but not in traditional perry or apple cider form, there is very little to differentiate it from rest of the market.

There is only so much space in the fridges of our pubs and bars and why would you pick this unknown drink when there are so many recognisable brands which can sate your desire for sweet fruit flavoured alcoholic drinks.   It is only when you read that the product is being listed by Enterprise Inns and Punch Taverns that you realise they will aim to challenge the competition by selling volume at a lower price to the two biggest pub companies in the UK and with half an amazon rain forest cut down to produce Point of Sale promotion to support it they may make a some money after spending £3m to launch the product.

Other companies in the market are also joining the band wagon, Carling is launching a blackcurrant version of its 2.8% lager joining its citrus sister whilst Strongbow Dark Fruit (premixed cider and black) is being rolled out nationally.  The question is why is there a herd mentality when it comes to the big brewers.   But first we need to address “fruit cider”.

Cider is pressed apples, perry is pressed pears, you can change the mix of apple or pear varieties, but for a proper cider or perry, that is all that goes into the drink and from this simple premise many cider producers all over the country make excellent examples of this fantastic drink.  Even the big producers like Westons make a really nice range of ciders which are very different from each other.  If you add anything else to a cider, it is an Alcopop, down there with Hooch and WKD.

Going back to the lack of innovation between these big companies, it is the opposite of what is happening in the craft beer market.  There is experimentation with new styles, different hops, the flavourings of the beer.   These flavoured beers are a different beast to the mass produced examples.  The beer has been designed from the ground up to include these flavours, and the correct stage of adding them is carefully considered as well as the correct hops picked to balance the flavours.  Carling Blackcurrant is simply the Carling Citrus production line with the vessel of flavouring syrup swapped over.

Look over the last few years, one of my favourite styles is the Black IPA, a dark drink resembling a stout with roasted malts, but with the drinking quality of light, hoppy refreshing IPA, a great example being Magic Rock 8 Ball and Thornbridge Raven.  Craft brewers have also not been scared about putting out strong beers at 6%+ up to 11% and believe me these are no barley wines.   Again Magic Rock do an excellent example of higher strength in Cannonball, with local rivals Summer Wine Brewery brewing Diablo and Cohort.  However a special mention should go to Great Heck Brewery who have done a couple of my favourite beers this year, Yamika IPA (7.4%) and Black Jesus (6.4%).

Whereas you would have no difficulty telling these beers apart in a blind test, as well as many of beers from other good small independent brewers in West Yorkshire and across the country, if you lined up Rekorderlig, Kopparberg, Old Mout and flavoured Magners or Bulmers and asked people to tell them apart in the same blind test, most people would struggle to tell one from another.  This “me too” attitude just flood the market with clones until most fail and the ones with the strongest marketing campaign survive, and this because the market they are aiming at, the 18-30 year olds who use these drinks as “social glue” have no reason to be loyal, why should you when you can get your same kicks off 5 other products.