In Britain in the 1960s and 1970s the ice cream van used to bring so-called cider lollies, Lyons Maid Cider Barrel and Cider Quench among them. Buying one outside the school gate seemed a bit daring and a little grown up, as a primary school kid. They did not contain any alcohol but for whatever reason – the Trade Description Act, fashion, moral panic – they disappeared.
At home, kids could drink alcohol-free, fizzy Whiteways Cydrax or Peardrax. The newspaper columnist Victor Lewis-Smith called Peardrax ‘a foul, resinous, cloying, sweet beverage’ which lacked the ‘saving grace’ of getting you drunk. Despite that, it staggered on for years in the face of falling sales. It was finally taken off the UK market in 1988 although the sibling products were made under license in Trinidad by Pepsi-cola for another two decades. The acetone flavour of Peardrax made it a favourite on the island where it was often mixed with Scotch.
Teenage angst, or is it the lager?
Meanwhile, slightly older under-age drinkers would arrive at parties in clutches, sharing bottles of Olde English or Strongbow. These were often destined for punch, topped up with vodka smuggled in, in quarter-bottles. This gave factory cider a debatable reputation as training wheels for alcoholics.
Scrumpy was hard to obtain away from the deep countryside but had a shamanic aura due to its ability to induce a trance and/or vomiting. Grown-up cider remained a secret kept by grown-ups.
Novice pub-goers in the 1970s graduated to trendier drinks such as Snakebite (equal measures of cider and lager with a dash of blackcurrent cordial) before abandoning all forms of cider for dead beer and sticky vodka and lime.
Skunk cider: your doorway awaits
Cheap super-strength cider in cans emerged far later. It was the drinks equivalent of skunk and may well have been a gateway to dependence and abuse for some but the influence of alcopops is more insidious even if their alcohol content is only around that of a beer (i.e. lower than a decent cider’s).
If a cider lolly put a kid on any kind of path it was towards being and behaving like an adult. Alcopops, by contrast, appeal to young adults’ childish tastes if not childish pockets: Kopparberg Frozen Fruit Cider Sorbet costs a socking £8 a litre.
Let’s assume that it will sell. If so, price clearly isn’t an obstacle to its consumption; quite the opposite: buyers tend to infer value from price and despite being in a plastic pouch like cat food or plasma, it’s touted as a premium product.
On 1 May, 2018 Scotland introduced a minimum price on alcohol expected to see a four-pack of factory cider rise in price by at least 10 percent, intended to persuade drinkers to cut down or to cut out the booze. It was aimed mainly at supermarket sales of drinks such as white cider and super-strength lager.
The Daily Mirror reported that one Scot had driven 300 miles to buy 100 bottles of cider in England because the price had jumped from £2.15 for a two-litre bottle to £5.75. He is thought to have spent £70 on petrol to save £100 and to tell Holyrood to ‘get it up ye’. Advocates of minimum pricing in Scotland reckoned it would prevent 60 deaths, 1600 hospital admissions and 3500 crimes a year. It might, but the Kopparberg example suggests it won’t. It could actually create more Jakies by forcing poor but hardened boozers even further down market. Hairspray and lemonade could make a come-back.
If drinking goes down, it will probably be because it was going to anyway. There is already a trend among the young towards abstinence. A decade ago about 19 percent of young adults were teetotal; now the figure is around 27 percent, although those that do drink are more likely to binge. I can’t help feeling that rather than bringing in super-priced sorbet it would be cannier to reintroduce the cider lolly.
Freeze your own cider, well, maybe
Back in (secondary) school days we tried freezing factory cider with the aim of creating a kind of eau de vie by taking off the ice that separated from the main liquid. It didn’t really work, not least because no-one had a big freezer and we were trying to do this in the little box at the top of the fridge. But it’s not a great idea anyway because what you’re doing is concentrating the stuff that gives you a hangover.
When it was common practice to make applejack in New England by leaving barrels of cider to freeze in the winter and pulling off the ice, they managed to push the alcohol content up to between 25 and 40 percent but it was harder work than distilling, as well as causing ‘apple palsy’. The practice more or less died out, and these days commercial applejack is made by adding spirit to apple brandy in order to ‘jack’ up the alcohol content. Cheating, really. But there are worse things.
Back to the Swedish alcopop factory Kopparberg, which produces a fruit-flavoured cider sorbet that is frozen in a plastic pouch and drunk like a slushie. It is supposed to have been conceived as an April fools’ joke. At 4% ABV and tinged with strawberry and lime-flavoured flavouring it is clearly not intended for the mature palate.