Monday, 16 April 2012

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone...

This post is a plea for help to save our beloved cider traditions from some fatal legislation that will take traditional cider making to the brink of existance just as it is blossoming again. I know that sounds dramatic but unfortunately its true. I find it difficult to believe that any government (let alone a Conservative/Liberal Democrat one who are 'popular' rurally speaking) would even consider damaging changes like these. It is an ignorant and misinformed policy that will have the consequence (no matter how unintentional) of killing and nailing the coffin firmly shut the majority of farmhouse cidermakers. The 'minimum pricing' idea that the government wants to push through parliament hopes to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol in order to curb our worst drinking habits. Whilst its admirable that a government wants to do something about it and I have no doubt that this will have the desired effect, to some degree at least, it's a 'blunt instrument' approach that will smash the livelihood of all small-medium craft drinks producers, particularly Cider due to its natural strength.

There is alot of talk on and around the cider farms here in Somerset and no doubt beyond. Some people think that the European parliament won't allow it through, others think its just a matter of time before it does with both the apple growers the cider producers being brought to their knees. The Conservative party want you to believe this: but unfortunately its utter balls because this piece of legislation totally undermines that.

The underlying the problem is that the government wants to be seen to address is binge drinking, pre-loading and general alcohol abuse. The reality is that binge drinkers, pre-loaders and abusers don't get in a car and drive all the way to a cider farm to buy gallon of cider to share at the weekend. They buy cheap, fizzy, industrial alcohol (the 'ingredients' of which have never been anywhere near an orchard) in supermarkets and off license's in our towns and cities where its much more affordable and convenient.

Artisan cidermakers that have been producing some of the finest cider in the world for generations will have find an increase of cost in their product which will make traditionally produced cider very expensive indeed. To give you some idea of the price hike, a cider maker who sells from the barrel on the farm will see an increase of a gallon from somewhere around the £5 mark to £12, possibly more.

Traditional cider apples have enough fermentable sugar in them to create about 6-6.5% abv. Thats straight up, not messed about with in any way, natural sugars giving natural levels of alcohol using natural yeasts. Its often more- even up to 8% in certain seasons. The worst industrial ciders are made by mixing sugars, flavourings and aromas to create a cider about 4.5% abv, others will use a concentrate produced from their own apples/orchards (made by reducing freshly pressed the juice and storing it until they need it.) However you want to make an industrial beverage, you do it for greater profit margins and with the aid of mass market distribution. Those of us who prefer cider made by smaller producers (who have smaller margins and smaller markets) are automatically penalised purely because its made traditionally and they aren't interfering with the process by watering it down and/or mixing it with cheaper products. Tradition will be soon be punishable by a massive increase in retail price making it one of the most expensive commodities, luxuries even, which people simply won't be able to afford. It's not just a commodity or a luxury, its a goddamn right here in Somerset. So now, by making something purer (and so, so much greener environmentally speaking) you run the risk of making it unaffordable and unsustainable. Its ludicrous. As Roger Wilkins remarked, farmhouse cider is supposed to be cheap because it was always produced by farmers for agricultural labourers for generations- our entire regional economy was based on it at one stage. And besides, people have invested so much recently - do you really want to do that to them? It grows on trees for fuck sake!

This legislation could work well at curbing the affordability of industrially made drinks wether cider, beer or artificially flavoured, brightly coloured alcopops, but whats the point if you are killing the one thing you should be protecting and encouraging- quality and tradition. Cider is on trend at the moment and is so strong, and we don't have to accept this.

I would urge all of you, even if you live in outside UK to make your friends and collegues aware of this because there is still something that can be done about it. If you live in UK, you can let the government know that you want to make artisan cidermakers exempt from the changes by signing a petition here:


It only takes a few minutes (you have to have a valid e-mail address and be a resident of the UK to be included.) If you don't live in UK, please make any UK nationals you have any influence over aware of the problem and encourage them to do something about it. Petitions need 100,000 signatures to even raise a debate in Parliament so every signature really does count... I don't expect that many responses but its certainly not impossible. The difficultly with asking people to do this is that we rarely do because we're lazy by nature and sadly many people won't realise the significance of the consequences until its added to their pint at the bar, their weekly shopping bill or they're arrive at the cider farm one day only to realise they've gone out of business. Cider was born on a farm and it appears there it shall die too unless we object.

Save our scrumpy peoples.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

                                                     WH Auden


  1. i have heard from the South West Cidermakers Association (SWECA) on this issue and their response is:

    The South West of England Cider Makers’ Association is seriously concerned about the potential damage the Government’s proposed minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcoholic products will cause to traditional West Country cider makers, their customers and the rural economy in general. Traditional cider makers and their customers are not part of the problem that the Government wishes to address with this policy and they would be unfairly penalised by the policy. Cider is an important part of the rural economy in the South West, with makers investing in orchards with an expected life of 50 years or more and creating long term sustainable employment. We urge the Government to carefully consider these issues before making any decision that might damage our industry.

  2. The "it's natural!!!!" argument doesn't stack up, as the concern is alcohol content, which is the same whether the 7% comes from apples or from industrial adjuncts.

    The "people who preload don't drive to farms" argument doesn't stack up because if industrial cider is 45p a unit and farmhouse cider is 20p a unit, people WILL driver to farms. It also ignores that some people [i]do[/i] abuse scrumpy.

    The "out regional economy was once built on it" argument doesn't stack up because the regional economy isn't built on it any more. Some regional economies were once built on child labour on the brink of slavery, but that's not an argument to support it in the name of tradition.

    I might agree that the minimum pricing strategy put forward by the government is lacking but frothing, ill-conceived arguments do no one any favours.

  3. Thanks for commenting Anonymous- although you seem angry.

    We both agree that the issue is indeed alcohol content but even with that in mind, what regard does this new policy has for existing traditions and the livelihoods of rural communities? None that I can see so far. Why should legislation designed to curb bad habits penalise our traditions and discourage people from striving to make a high quality, environmentally sound product the way they always have?

    I would argue that yes, whilst some people might abuse farmhouse cider - its likely a much lesser amount than the majority of other alcoholic beverages by sheer fact that there is less of it available to the masses. How many people who don’t live in a cider producing region do you anticipate making the effort to leave their own county in order to save money by buying cheaper alcohol somewhere else?

    My point on our regional economy was one of heritage, something that many, many people are passionate about and morally somewhat different to slavery.

    I entirely agree I can be ‘frothy’ and ‘ill-conceived’ at times, I’m probably not as patient and disciplined with my arguments as I should be. However, a huge increase the price of cider sold on the farm, fresh from-the-barrel to curb binge drinking, pre-loading and alcohol abuse will make a negligible difference to binge drinking, pre-loading and alcohol abuse whilst hammering innocent cider-makers livelihoods and the customers that enjoy and support them. That makes me feel frothy.

    Here in the UK, our cider industry depends on both the small artisan cider-makers dotted around the countryside making unique, specialist products as much as it depends on the mass produced ciders from the larger businesses- they have a symbiotic relationship -each benefitting the other. Would a final dominance of an industrially made product at the expense of any traditional farmhouse alternatives really make things any better? It may even exacerbate the problem. Whilst it will mean ‘white ciders’ are suddenly much more expensive and have a positive effect on the drinking issues at hand, it will also mean non binge drinking, non pre-loading and non alcohol abusing normal people will soon discover they either can’t afford to buy cider the way they always have done. Or they won’t be able to buy it because its not being sold ‘loose’ by the producers anymore as it becomes unsustainable economically. Smaller cidermakers will be forced to bottle everything, making it more expensive still and less environmentally friendly and some will stop making cider altogether. Hardly what the legislation was designed for.

    Can I ask, how and what would arguments you suggest we make to protect this aspect of rural life? I’d welcome any help.