The inventor of double speak, already one of the best writers on pubs we've ever had, would have loved the shenanigans happening in the drinks market today.
A couple of days ago, the BBC proclaimed 'The quiet death of the alcopop'.
|These are - or were - alcopops.|
Under the image above, they told us that the ready-to-drink, flavoured alcoholic beverage sector of the drinks market (alcopops to you or me) has halved in size since 2005. Interestingly, the decline is blamed on the tacky, garish image of the products above. Not much is said about the desire for sickly sweet, fruit-flavoured alcoholic beverages, and whether that has gone away or not.
The truth is, our desire for these concoctions is just as strong as ever. Sales of alcopops are soaring. The leading brands just don't want you to call them alcopops, and some get angry if you do.
A few weeks ago I wrote in my column for the Publican's Morning Advertiser that Kopparberg and Rekorderlig, which refer to themselves as 'premium fruit ciders' are nothing of the sort. They are alcopops in disguise - admittedly a very fetching, stylish disguise, especially in the case of Rekorderlig, whose packaging and labels are so beautiful that it sometimes takes a mental struggle to remember how unpleasant the product was - to my palate - when I tasted it.
|And this is another alcopop.|
|This is also an alcopop.|
Likewise, Rekorderlig consists of ‘fresh spring water, pear and apple wines, sugar, acids: citric acid and sodium citric, berry flavours, preservatives: E202, E220 and caramel colour.’
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 cider is made from apples.
It's sad that we have such a lax regulatory environment that these alcopops are allowed to get away with calling themselves ciders. But of course they want to, 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|
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 - I don't know whether it is nor not.
|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 fuck this is, but it's certainly not a premium ale.|
But no: look at the second bullet point down: on the basis that ginger beer could be confused with actual beer, Crabbie's clains to be not an alcopop at all, but a premium ale. That's right: as a product within the Crabbie's brand, this 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.