Saturday, 10 April 2010

Winning My Vote?

I am not one of those people who chugged on one too many bottles of White Lightning in days of old and now can’t stomach cider. That is not to say, I never sat in a park or woodland clutching a White Lightning or White Star bottle. I am no stranger to the pain of that acidic sting as cider courses out of your nostrils while you vomit and retch. In fact I am sure I fairly frequently drunk one too many bottles but for some reason, unlike other beverages, no matter how bad my hangover, I have never been put off supping on alcoholic apple juice.

I have never been a beer drinker, much to the annoyance of other mystified alers and at times to my own detriment; Pints of beer are always the cheap option. In Uni days, I went through a phase of re-testing things I didn’t like in the hope that something inside me had changed. Forcing the odd pint and scrambled, fried and boiled eggs down me, I had to admit, my tastes had remained faithfully the same.

During my days travelling, in many countries beer would be the only option, aside from particularly lethal local spirits. On a budget and trying to be sociable, I attempted to drink beer again but was left bloated, entirely unconvinced by the taste and purchasing lemonade on the side to make more bearable pints of shandy. It seems I am destined to remain a freak of nature as a non-tea, coffee and beer drinker.

The only thing that has changed over the years is my taste in cider. Gone are the days of strong nasty urine coloured liquid with “white” tellingly included on the label. I have recently found myself to be quite the discerning cider drink – some might say, I have even become a cider snob. Over the last six months, I have denounced Bulmers, Magners and Strongbow, walking out of several pubs after discovering that they only sell one of these three “big names”. For a short while, I was an avid Magners and Bulmers drinker but that was when they were novel and a welcome change from Dry Blackthorn, Woodpecker (tasty but effectively very sweet appleade) and Strongbow. As their popularity grew, stocking Magners and Bulmers became commonplace and suddenly Blackthorn and Woodpecker started to disappear and when sold, were a more attractive prospect – at least a pint of either didn’t cost an extortionate amount like the re-branded trendy Magners/Bulmers (it’s the same drink anyway!) with ice.

Us cider drinkers, have been hard done by for far too long now. Compared to beer, there is so little choice in pubs and bars, it is insulting and insinuates there is an assumption that dirty cider drinkers will be happy with whatever they can get their mouths round. I seem to have begun an almost obsessive quest to find the perfect pub that caters for the underdog cider drinker. Trailing around pubs in Amsterdam, we failed to find a single one serving anything other than the dreaded Magners – it was only in the Hague that we accidentally stumbled across one such place.

Wetherspoons might be cheap and cheerful and in some people’s eyes characterless, dirty and rough, but at least they always stock a few other decent cider options. Ad campaigns have started to try to win over more cider fans by marketing it as trendy and a refreshing alternative to beer and supermarkets have started getting their act together and making my weekend. So why then were the government attempting to pick on us minority cider drinkers?

Back in December pre-budget reports indicated potential threats of a review of the duty levied on cider to bring it into line with beer. A 10%-plus-inflation change on cider duty, on top of inflation, was introduced on March 29 but will now be reversed on June 30 unless Labour wins the election. The increase was postponed so that other key legislation can be passed before the dissolution of parliament on Monday.

The original decision announced by Alistair Darling triggered a huge public backlash, most noticeably through the Facebook campaign, Leave Our Cider Alone, that attracted 55,623 members. Through the site cider fans expressed anger at the prospect of paying an estimated 5p a litre more for still cider, and 9p extra for a 75cl bottle of sparkling cider.

West Country band The Wurzels, who recorded the farm classic, The Combine Harvester, also expressed their disappointment. In a statement, the group said that: "We are all very upset that Scrumpy cider, being one of the few pleasures that we cherish down here on the farm in the West Country, is being hit by such a tax rise. We all realise that, in these current times, we have to tighten the string on our trousers but we must admit that having to cut down on this local favourite leaves us feeling that we are being unfairly penalised, and we'll tell [Darling] something, he won't be the Darling bud of our May. We would like to offer our 50 years of experience of cider drinking, and of playing within a cider community, to the government in an advisory capacity and the public can be assured that we would obviously register our interests in cider before any lobbying commenced."

Cider manufacturers view the decision to drop the controversial 10% cider duty increase as a temporary reprieve rather than a U-turn. Simon Russell, spokesman for the National Association of Cider Makers, said that Gordon Brown's decision to freeze the duty on cider between 2004 and 2008 had doubled the size of the industry and led to huge innovation, which was now at risk.

With this uncertain temporary “victory”, I might be forced to join my first facebook group and follow the election more closely than I normally would. The Conservatives have made a pledge that might just force me into action, whether they honour this promise is another matter...

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