Where’s George Orwell when you need him?
A couple of days ago, the BBC proclaimed ‘The quiet death of the alcopop‘.
|These are – or were – alcopops.|
|And this is another alcopop.|
I understand that both brands were rather angry with the PMA for printing my opinion. I don’t understand why. I based my contention that these producers are not cider simply by quoting the ingredients they list on their labels/websites.
|This is also an alcopop.|
Kopparberg is made from ‘naturally occurring soft water’, fruit juice, sugar, acidifier (citric acid), flavouring, and potassium sorbate.
Cider, on the other hand, is made from apples. The character of any cider depends on the varieties of apple that are blended, just as most great wines are about the blend of grapes (you can of course have single varieties of either). Even a leading commercial cider such as Magner’s – which many cider geeks would not consider cider at all – proudly talks on its website about the 17 varieties of apple used to make it. Say what you like about Magner’s, and I don’t drink it myself, but the draught version contains more Dabinett apple than the bottle does, a specific move to compensate for the fact that it’s going to taste different when not poured over ice.
By contrast, I can find no mention of apple varieties anywhere in Kopparberg or Rekorderlig’s promotional material. Rekorderlig’s website has a tab telling you about ‘flavours’. When you click on ‘apple’, this is what it says:
“Made from the purest Swedish spring water, traditional yet modern Rekorderlig Apple Cider is best served over ice for a crisp, cool and refreshing experience.”
IN THEIR OWN WORDS, the ‘apple-flavoured’ variant of their ‘cider’ is made from water rather than apples.
Click on the ‘history’ bit on Kopparberg’s website, and the word ‘apple’ doesn’t appear once. Instead it talks about the minerality in ‘Koppaberg’s lakes and waters’, which proved inspirational to Kopparberg’s first ‘brew master’. Cider is not ‘brewed’. And once again, cider is made from apples. Not water.
It’s sad that we have such a lax regulatory environment that these alcopops are allowed to get away with calling themselves ciders. They do so, of course, because cider is so much more fashionable these days than any kind of flavoured alcoholic beverage.
But this post is not just about faux ‘fruit’ ciders – the current alcopop boom is much broader than that.
|This, too, is an alcopop|
Jeremiah Weed has had a brilliant launch. Again, it looks and feels too posh to be called an alcopop, but as a ready-to-drink, flavoured alcoholic beverage, that’s exactly what it is. It reeks of authenticity and heritage. In fact it has none whatsoever – it’s entirely a creation of 21st century Big Marketing. That aside, at least it doesn’t claim to be a different kind of product from what it is.
Or that’s what I thought – until the second comment below from eatingisntcheating.blogspot.com alerted me to this news story from last month – it seems Jeremiah Weed is now a cider too! In the company’s own words, although this product:
|This is an alcopop, also|
has not changed from when it was launched as a ‘ginger brew’, it is now, apparently, a ‘Kentucky style cider brew’. (Remember, cider isn’t brewed. At all.) And why have they pulled off this astonishing feat? Why have they changed one type of product into a completely different type of product, while not changing the product AT ALL? Why, “to help consumers, retailers and bar staff to better understand the brand’s exciting and innovative offering and [entirely fictitious] Kentucky heritage” (my italics). That’s right: they’ve started calling something a cider that isn’t a cider and didn’t used to be called cider to help people better understand what it is.
And then there’s the recent summer sensation: Crabbies ginger beer.
This is a tricky one, because ‘ginger beer’ is a recognised style of drink. You could get into an awful lot of semantics here because a true ‘ginger beer’ is brewed from a combination of ginger, sugar, water, lemon juice and a bacteria called ‘ginger beer plant’, and this fermentation process produces alcohol. But while it may be called ‘beer’, it resembles what we commonly understand as ‘beer’ in no way whatsoever – it has a completely different base of fermentable sugars and flavour ingredients from any beer. In terms of ingredients and process, it looks a lot more like an alcopop. And that’s assuming Crabbie’s is brewed in the traditional way – which it isn’t.
|This is – oh, you get it by now.|
But this ambiguity has now led to something truly absurd, something which makes the whole long-drinks market look utterly farcical, even more ridiculous than water-based ‘ciders’. Here’s the trade ad for Crabbie’s that ran on the back of the Publican’s Morning Advertiser last week:
|I don’t know what the hell this is, but it’s certainly not a premium ale.|
A cloudy alcoholic lemonade. Haven’t we had these before? Oh yes, they were the original alcopops weren’t they? Before the riot of different flavours came along. Surely there is no argument whatsoever that this is an alcopop.
But no: look at the second bullet point down: on the basis that ginger beer could be confused with actual beer, Crabbie’s claims to be not an alcopop at all, but a premium ale. That’s right: an alcoholic lemonade is classed as being the same kind of product as Fuller’s London Pride, Thornbridge Jaipur, and any other ale between 4.2% and 7% ABV.
Alcopops are enjoying a boom to rival anything they saw in the mid-90s, but they’ve learned their lesson and are now seeking to establish a credibility that will allow them to outlive the natural ‘fad’ life cycle they enjoyed last time. Because they do not have any intrinsic credibility of their own, the leading brands are stealing it from beer and cider, ashamed to admit what they really are.
A lot of people like them and that’s fine – not everything has to be crafted and balanced in flavour. But by claiming to be something they are not, they displace other products that have some integrity, increase confusion among paying punters, and denigrate the image of the drinks they are masquerading as.