Today, a colleague of mine presented me with a bottle-shaped wrap of newspaper. On inspection, the newsprint looked to be slightly yellowed and aged, and the stories similarly ancient, with headlines about flappers, jazz and the like.
It looked better when I received it than on arrival home
Within the clandestine-looking wrap (which was rather torn and tatty-looking by the time I’d carted it home in my messenger bag, which was full of CDs and my Asus notebook) was a bottle of cider. He’d received a crate of Blind Pig cider for Christmas from the boyfriend of one of his daughters: he happens to be involved in the brewing industry in some kind of sales capacity. My colleague seemed to think he was in fact employed by Carlsberg or a similar major, but he was intrigued by the cider, which appeared to be an entirely independent venture. He wanted my opinion, knowing me to be something of an enthusiast and not entirely lacking in knowledge or expertise where alcoholic beverages are concerned.
Fake newspaper wrapping, and all that jazz
Indeed, the information on the elegantly-shaped and vintage-looking bottle, with its suitably retro labels gave precious little away, and the same is true of their website. Pretty much all on-line coverage is devoted to rave reviews of its pop-up prohibition-themed launch event. Moreover, inspecting what I had brought home and which now sat on my kitchen table all looked distinctly prohibition-era US: the bottle’s capacity, 16.9 US fl oz, and the alcohol content, 8 per cent proof. there’s no question that they’ve gone all out for cultivating a strong image and a brand that’s all about cult cred.
But here’s where they’ve slipped. Anyone with any real knowledge wouldn’t need to look at the rear label, which confirmed the brew was produced ‘in the EU’ and that its alcohol content was 4% ABV. All these bullshitters who try to look hard and / or cool by referring to drinks – spirits in particular – by their ‘proof’ strength are only airing their ignorance in public. Wow, you’re drinking a whisky or vodka that’s 80% proof? Must be tough… oh, no, wait, it’s only a regular 40% ABV. It won’t turn you blind, sunshine. And the nicely-shaped bottle is of course 500ml in capacity, 68ml short of a proper pint thanks for the metricisation of, well, everything.
Nice bottle neck
So, what’s pitched as a ‘premium’ cider for ‘connoisseurs’ and therefore ‘superior’ and ‘edgy’, with its unusual flavour (Blind Pig Cider comes in threw flavours: whiskey, honey and apple; rum and poached pair; bourbon and blueberry, with a bottle of the whiskey, honey and apple perched on my decidedly post-millennium IKEA pine folding table), is starting to look very like another exercise on kitsch marketing of something ultimately mainstream trendy, namely fruit-flavoured ciders.
So how is this different from, say, Dark Fruits Strongbow? Well, I’d question just how much it is. It’s light, it’s fizzy and however hard you chill it’s, it’s incredibly sweet. The flavour isn’t unpleasant, and there is a smoky, peaty tang, a hint of charcoal that hints at single malt and bourbon. And yes, bourbon is sweet in comparison to the majority of single malts (the raisin and honey hints of something like Jura excepted) but even accepting that we’re talking about whiskey and not whisky, this isn’t that kind of sweetness. Actually’ let’s unpack that flavour set again: whiskey, honey and apple. The honey speaks for itself, and you’d expect sweetness from it, but again, honey beers like Waggledance aren’t as cloying as this, and as for apple… wait,apple flavoured cider? that’s beyond audacious. What next, grape flavoured wine? Gin flavoured gin? Milk flavoured mikshakes? The point is, unless it’s a ‘flavoured’ cider, it should be apple flavoured, no? Well, actually, no: cider should taste of fermented apples and have a crisp tartness, whereas this has that claggy, artificial apple sweetness. It’s simply not refreshing.
Sorry, favourite festival glass
While they’ve done a good job of creating a mystique around the product and hiding any major brewery connections, it feels like a huge con, another example of the mainstream hijacking burgeoning trends, specifically the craft brewing fad that’s all the rage right now. A real ‘craft’ cider wouldn’t use spirit flavourings, of that I’m certain: this hasn’t been near a drop of whisky, or an apple as far as I can tell.
Sipping this syrupy fizz, I’m reminded of both Kopparberg and the deceptive marketing of Blue Moon beer, which despite its independent ‘handcrafted’ appearance, is produced and marketed by MillerCoors, and its cloudiness isn’t a natural unfiltered haze but the result of a ‘clouding agent’ being added. In turn, it’s no different from a major record label creating a subsidiary that’s pitched to all intents and purposes as being ‘independent’ as a vehicle for pushing ‘alternative’ band signings that present a sanitised, mass-market version of the underground scene. it’s the way of the world, and the way of capitalist markets: most innovations and revolutions rise from the underground, from the zero-budget, and as soon as there’s a sustained groundswell, the big corporations come sniffing around wanting a piece of the action.
While I expect the origins (and the source of its bankrolling) will be revealed one way or another in due course, the bottom line is that Blind Pig Cider ain’t what it presents itself as being (c’mon, real newsprint would be cooler and more environmentally sound than ersatz repro newspaper wrappings, as real apples would be more appealing than a syrupy synthetic shot of flavour) and nor is it especially good: I have a very real need to cleanse my palette with a can of Scrumpy Jack.
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