I love cider. And it's been my drink of choice since I was 18. I confess I had a misguided year in the early 90's when I drank Guinness instead but I recovered, repented and rediscovered the joys of cider drinking all over again.
But the life of a cider drinker is not made easy by the way breweries treat us. Back in November 1997 I felt forced to post my feelings on several newsgroups. This is what I had to say:-
Date: Mon, 24 Nov 1997 15:05:46 +0000
Subject: Dry Blackthorn - WHY?
I am a cider drinker (you could make a song out of that...) and, for my sins, have been since my youth. Now I'm long past the 'growing out of it' stage and have to accept that cider is *my* drink.
Being a cider drinker means realising that choice is rarely an option. You can drink the draught cider - or not. Choice, then, is made by selecting your pub.
I live in the Midlands of England (Bromsgrove for those who know where it is) and have been detecting a disturbing trend. Choice is disappearing as the dreaded 'Dry Blackthorn' (or, as I prefer to say, 'Dry Cackthorn') invades an ever increasing number of pubs.
Wetherspoons, a pub chain I've alot of respect for serves Blackthorn on draught. Thankfully, they also sell bottled Westons Cider (of several varieties and strengths) in 500ml bottles - near enough to a pint to make it not worth worrying about.
A pub crawl with a mate in Alvechurch took in three pubs. `The Red Lion` used to sell Cidermaster but that had gone in favour of the dreaded brew. The other two pubs were Blackthorn infested too.
A night out in Solihull with the lads from work only took in two pubs since we found the new `Yates's Wine Lodge` the place to be. Both pubs sold Blackthorn.
On return from my holiday this year the inevitable depression was multiplied tenfold when I discovered my local had changed from 'Bulmers Original' (a rare enough brew as it is), something I enjoyed greatly, and had replaced it with - yes, you've guessed - Cackthorn! Now, being
my local I've been able to find out more about this change. The pub owners are Pubmaster and they told the manager to change. Shortly after the change sales of Blackthorn were about 1 barrel per week compared to 4 of Bulmers which sort of confirms my view that no one really likes it and it only gets drunk 'cos there's nothing else! They experimented changing to `Blackthorn Sweet' (more palatable but ultimately tasteless) but have now reverted to the dry. They did have the good sense to put cans of Strongbow in the fridge but Pubmaster have put a stop to that and now the fridges only contain other Taunton rubbish.
Then, within a week of that change one of the town centre pubs (The Queens Head) fell to the scourge of cider drinking too! This really depressed me as they insisted that the brewery (Banks's this time) had forced the change and I was convinced that my other favourite Banks's pub in town (The Black Cross) would follow suit. Thankfully, when asked they said not (and so it has proved - long live Strongbow!). But whilst discussing it at the bar, a woman overheard and expressed her horror at the loss of the Queens Head. She agreed that 'Dry Blackthorn' really is the worst cider you can buy. And it always makes her ill (worse cider hangover - Dry Blackthorn). She was also saddened by the demise of Bulmers Original from my local which we agreed was, 'a nice pint'. Oh yeah - when asked how the Blackthorn was selling the barman at the Queens Head said that sales were down about 50% on the Strongbow they used to serve.
And only today whilst boring a colleague (who's also a barman) on the latest from my local he recounted a story of his own. Whilst in the 'Newt & Cucumber' in Birmingham he overheard an irrate customer complaining about the cider being changed. Guess what to? BLACKTHORN!!! He said he wouldn't drink that p**s water...
So what's all this about? Well, I'm after feedback from other ciderdrinkers. Specifically, I'm after answers to the following:-
1) Have you experienced a Dry Blackthorn takeover in any of your favourite pubs?
2) Do you actually like it?
3) Does anybody like it???
4) Does anybody in the trade know why Blackthorn is so widespread? Are there some business dealings here that the Office of Fair Trading need to know about?
5) Does anyone know who owns Taunton now - and are they on the Web? (My searches have drawn a blank).
6) What's *your* favourite cider. Scrumpy Jack has got to be best but Westons Stowford Press isn't far behind. I rave about Strongbow above but that's only by comparison with Cackthorn. It's OK, nothing more.
7) What draught cider does you local sell?
8) Does anybody but me actually care about this situation!?!?!?
This is a personal appeal by a desperate cider drinker. Maybe if there's enough support out there we can reverse this insidious invasion and put some choice back into our pubs. And above all, if you don't like Blackthorn and are just drinking it because it's there - DON'T! If the pubs can't sell it they won't sell it. Then maybe they'll change to something more enjoyable to drink...
The most intriguing response by far came from a respected member of the trade. This was what he said...
From: "Matthew Batham"
Subject: Re: Dry Blackthorn - WHY?
Date: Fri, 28 Nov 1997 12:16:20 -0000
For various reasons I am reluctant to debate here, the points you raise, although I sympathise with your predicament. We changed from strongbow to Blackthorn only to change again to Westons which seems very popular
May I suggest you try the Swan in Chaddesley Corbett (on the Kiddy road) where the following draught ciders are served
White lightning (from time to time)
Also the Dog at Harvington serves Your favourite Scrumpy Jack, best of luck in you quest for knowledge
The good news is that Cackthorn got booted out of The Merlin and The Queens Head less than two years later and both now serve Strongbow instead (what a relief!). Bromsgrove is now almost Cackthorn free. Only the J D Wetherspoon's pub, The Golden Cross, continues to have it on draft in the pubs I frequent.
But that doesn't help when I'm on holiday! Weymouth, much of south Devon and seemingly the whole of Weston-super-Mare are badly infected. I found it hard to find anything *but* the evil brew is those parts. Thankfully in south Devon at least I often got a positive response when I asked if a local cider was also available, but not always. What I really could not believe was that the only pub in Cockington, that most quintessential of South Devon villages, only served Cackthorn! No local cider at all!!!
I repeat my guidance of three years ago - if you don't like it, don't drink it. If the pubs can't sell it, they won't sell it!
recent years I've taken to attending Beer and Cider festivals and it's
been a revelation. The real ciders I've tasted at these knock the big boys
brews available in the pub into a cocked hat. It's totally different and
so much nicer. If only I could go back 100 years to the Bromsgrove of yore
when brews like these would have been available in many of the local hostelries...
If you want a flavour of this type of cider I can highly recommend Westons
Extra Strong Scrumpy available from many supermarkets. That's
it pictured on the right.
Whilst discussing Westons ciders (have a look at their website) I may aswell say that they are all worth a try. If you come across Old Rosie then try a half - it's strong stuff and a fairly honest scrumpy style cider to boot. You'll also find bottled Westons ciders in Wetherspoons pubs. My personal favourite is the red topped Medium Dry. But mention of this brings more cider frustration to the fore...
Up until late 2000 my local Wetherspoons only sold blue topped Medium Sweet (4.5% A.B.V.) and white top Extra Dry (6% A.B.V.). I was told it was the managers decision based on red top being too strong (6.5% A.B.V.) and thus drunk by trouble makers. When a new manager took over I was over the moon when red top appeared in the fridge. But it didn't last. One day I went in to find no Westons cider at all! When I asked why I was told it had been discontinued. But visiting another Wetherspoons, there it was. More digging and I found the new manager had withdrawn it because hooligans had been causing trouble after drinking red top. Great logic - troublemakers get drunk on a particular product so the manager bars the drink not the drinkers. Hmmm...? I asked for at least blue top to be brought back and was promised that it would be. Nothing happened. So I wrote to Wetherspoons and was told that Westons was not a 'must stock' item but my comments would be passed onto the Area Manager. A couple of months later I enquired why the Addlestons cider always seemed to be off. "Oh, we're getting Westons instead - the Area Manager told us too"! I can't say it was my letter but I'm just glad that Blue and Red top are back in the fridge!
Enough moaning! Cider is great - get out there and drink it. You know it makes sense...