When I moved to England in the late 80’s I was taken to my first beer festival. At the time I didn't drink beer so I found myself at the cider bar and it was a revelation. Having spent years drinking the standard fizzy cider that was available in pubs I discovered a drink that tasted of apples and you could taste the flavours coming through from the fruit. I also discovered the variety of drinks that were available. I quickly learnt that very few pubs sold real cider and that the only place that I could guarantee being able to find it was at the larger CAMRA beer festivals so I joined to find out where the festivals were and started travelling to those which were easy to get to.
Thankfully we now live in a very different world. We have seen the number of cider producers increase in recent years so many areas now have a cider producer somewhere nearby. Most beer festivals now sell real cider and perry, with even the smaller ones having a small selection. There are also a lot more pubs with at least one available and many stocking a good range. If you search for pubs that sell real cider in your county on the Whatpub website, you are given a choice of pubs. It is even possible to arrange cider crawls of larger towns and cities.
May is one of CAMRA’s cider campaigning months so, now that it is easier to find in pubs and at beer festivals, why not take the opportunity to try some real cider or perry and discover the variety of flavours that you can find in these drinks.
It seems that these days it is impossible to turn on the radio, TV or open a newspaper without seeing something about the UK and its relationship with the EU. So it is appropriate at this point to write something about how the UK levies duty on cider, and the latest proposals coming out of Europe about how we levy duty on our own ciders and perries. But first, an explanation on the current situation seems appropriate.
Unlike beer, which has a sliding scale of duty, cider rates are based solely on strength, regardless of how much is produced. This means that Bulmer’s pay the same duty rate as producers who make relatively small amounts. But there is one exception to this. The very small producers, who make less than 70 hectolitres a year (around 1500 gallons) are exempt from duty.
The EU, which does not seem to like exceptions to any rule, has told the UK Government that they must levy duty on all cider producers, regardless of their size. This could have a devastating effect on the UK cider industry.
There are now more cider producers in the UK than there have been for many, many years. New cider makers are cropping up almost on a weekly basis. Many of these are part-time, making cider as part of their main business, and many are hobby producers who have decided to expand and perhaps sell to their local pubs and beer festivals. The industry is currently buoyant and the range of both ciders and perries gives the consumer a wide choice of drinks, similarly to what we have seen from small breweries in recent years.
But what will happen if they have to start paying duty on top of the exorbitant costs of their production?
Unfortunately, the majority of them will disappear. To make it financially viable, they will have to increase their production by three or four times their current output. For many, this is just not possible. The very small producers do not have either the space or time to be able to do this. This level of production is a hobby or an add on to an existing business – something they can make a bit of money at by selling their product at local festivals or farmers market. They are entirely reliant on how many apples are grown each year, and if they increased production where would all of the extra apples come from? On top of this, the real cider market is only a small percentage of the UK’s total output, so where would they sell their extra product? If they have to start paying duty, possibly up to several hundred would have to stop.
At the moment there is a consultation into how duty is levied on alcohol products by the EU, and both the National Association of Cider Makers and CAMRA have been lobbying to keep the status quo. In fact CAMRA’s on-line petition about this collected over 20,000 names, and CAMRA has also been over to Europe to meet with the EU officials and MEPs to discuss the issue. It would also seem that the UK government is in favour of keeping things as they are, but I would assume that in the current economic climate, it is way down the list of Mr Cameron’s priorities.
So now it is a matter of waiting to see what happens. Remember, most of these small producers are not big businessmen, they are cider enthusiasts, and as such they need to be supported. The alternative could see an enormous amount of producers closing, and we must not let that happen.
CAMRA has celebrated cider and perry during the month of October for a number of years now and, this year, we are introducing a second opportunity to celebrate this traditional drink in the month of May.
May might seem a strange time to celebrate a drink made from apples and pears but there is some logic in the timing. May is a time when the apple and pear trees in our orchards are in blossom and, without the orchards and tree blossom, we wouldn’t have the fruit to make the ciders and perries that are on offer throughout the year. Unfortunately many of the old traditional orchards have disappeared over the years but, thankfully, in recent years producers have started to plant new trees to keep the tradition of cider and perry production alive.
May is also the time when the juice that was pressed the previous year has fermented through and is ready to drink. Real ciders and perries differ from the more industrial products available in that they are not fizzy and the flavours of the fruit used in their production come through in the final product. So why not take the opportunity to visit some of the many pubs which now offer real cider or perry and give them a try. Check out our Liverpool Cider Pub Map for a cider pub crawl round the Georgian/University area of the city.