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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Cider - the end of the moment

They say that we leave the world as we entered it - bald, incontinent, wrinkled and without much of a clue as to what's going on (OK, I might have taken liberties with the elaboration of that piece of wisdom, but the sentiment is as it was meant).

In the same way, many a pisshead starts his drinking career as he ends it - supping extra-strong cider from a big plastic bottle, that he's got someone else to buy him, because he can't get served in pubs.

When I was a teenager cider was what you got the older boys to buy you from the off-licence. As soon as you could get served in pubs you left it behind, a symbol of your virginal, young-shaving years, and switched to adult drinks such as, er, lager and lime, or if you grew up in the south of England, "lager top". In the marketing end of the beer business we use many a hideous phrase to navigate the world of pubs, and a universal one is the "bar call" - it's a shout, and you're saying something about yourself when you're calling for a particular drink. "Call" for a "lager top", and the message you're sending about yourself is "I'm desperate to prove my mature masculinity, but I can't let go of my mother's apron strings. I want to drink beer in front of my "mates", otherwise they'll question my sexuality, but it tastes horrid, so I'd like some lemonade in mine". But I digress.

If you're about 27 or under and you grew up in the UK, you didn't follow the path I outlined above - the drink you got someone else to buy you from the supermarket wasn't cider; it was Hooch, or Bacardi Breezer, or Two Dogs, or WKD, or Smirnoff Ice. Even sweeter - even more like the drinks you had as a child. And then you could circumvent beer altogether and go straight on to hard spirits. This is why the UK currently has a drink problem - but that's another story.

What's important here is that cider wasn't naff in the mid-90s to mid-00s - it was beyond naff, it was totally invisible. So now, as the alcopop generation matures, it doesn't have the negative baggage my generation did - cider is a clean slate.

So I loved it when Magner's came in and introduced the pint bottle with a pint glass full of ice. It was immediately attractive to beer drinkers, especially those who had grown up with the cinema chain/McDonald's buckets of iced Coca Cola. Ritual is vital in drinking, and here was one that didn't necessarily need a branded glass to make it work - just a pint glass. All the other brands who'd been languishing in the moribund English cider market for years immediately copied Magner's in an attempt to negate its advantage. And a general growth of interest in cider lead to a 'halo effect' - craft-brewed ciders, such as the wonderful New Forest Cider, suddenly started to get noticed too. Even if you're a lifelong drinker of quality ciders who hates the taste of Magner's, you have to admit that this is a good thing for anyone who likes cider. Except, no, hang on, some elements within the Campaign for Real Ale condemned it, unable to compromise for one moment and accept that even if they didn't like Magner's, the brand was drawing more people to "real"cider than if it hadn't been there. But then, those people have no concept of what the twenty-first century is.
But again, I digress. Love it or loathe it, Magner's has been the mid-noughties success story in the drinks business.
But it's going to peak before September 07, and enter a decline as steep as its rise.
Why?
It's all about the ice. Magner's relies on bar staff chucking in an awful lot of ice with every bottle they sell. The ice is why people buy it - you can't put ice in beer, that would be horrid - but you can in cider. Get everyone in the bar drinking Magner's instead of lager, and suddenly your ice requirement increases a hundredfold. And you may well have cocktails, G&Ts etc. that need ice and have a far higher margin, so you hold some ice back for them. Either way, sooner or later someone orders a Magner's and they don't get that pint glass full of ice. And then they start wondering why they're paying a premium, not to mention why it doesn't taste as nice. Their pint doesn't look like it does on the adverts. They feel cheated.
The higher the demand, the more likely this point will be reached - and demand will be huge this summer.
I've already seen it happen, and in decent pubs too - the kind of pub that always makes sure to serve you the right beer in the right branded glass. Two guys in the only vaguely middle-class pub in Portland (my writing haunt last week) picked up a chess set from the bar, ordered their pints of Magner's, had them served with no ice... and switched to Guinness for the rest of the evening, before their ciders were even finished.
Pubs can't produce enough ice to keep pace with the demand for Magner's. It's a victim of its success. This is the year the bubble bursts.



5 comments:

BLTP said...

I use to serve occasionally in pubs in surrey when I was at college and you'd get the local wide boys coming in ordering pints of lager top and then complaining it was a pint shandy! I never had the nerve to say if they really respected their manhoods they'd be drinking bitter or spirits or wine even. I use to pretend to top it up with lager or sometimes water out the "gun" when their backs were turned, they didn't notice the difference, it was all for show and they went away happy with their thick necks and soverign rings and sad delusions.
Ciders always been ace, I want some now with lots of ice, to piss of Camra, and a dukebox (well maybe not) but ice and a fancy bottle and some sunshine and some crisps and young clean shaven people, without tankards and gillets with horse brasses on them or bulging humourous tshirts (unless they are ladies that is) and some cider please I like Brittany/Normandy best but the new forrest stuff is good with lots of ice and people who smiles with ice and smiles I'll stop now.

BLTP said...

Ps did ya see the article in G2 about British wine. You do just want to see 3 pages devoted to british beer all of which wouldn't be as rubbish as the wine seems to be , one bottle was good out of 10 or so tasted.
oh and I can have ice in my cider please

Thebeergod said...

Cider is going upmarket with single-varietal brands and fruit-flavours, some of which are vile, it is also being pushed at the beer and food crowd, but the hippest ones to look out for (and no ice cubes) will be Canadian ice cider and Normandy vintages. All aspirational stuff rather than the let-me-be-a-celebrity-in-my-local pitch of Magners. As for CAMRA’s APPLE, I asked one respected cider-maker, who struts his stuff in an old barn on the Somerset Levels, what he thought about them and he spat out a word Onan would have been very familiar with and then admitted the benefits of Magners, even though he thought it cack.

BLTP said...

canadian ice cider sounds like iced coors etc or is it similar to icewine ie the fruit is allowed to freeze before picking?

thebeergod said...

ice cider is similar to ice wine, pretty good stuff, crafted not industril, though at 12% you drink it as an aperitif under the stars on a crisp, bone-crunchingly cold Canadian winter’s night.