Swedish and English cider: How do you like them apples?

Swedish and English cider: How do you like them apples?
State alcohol retailer Systembolaget claims to be committed to stamping out underage drinking. Why then does it describe its range of ciders in terms best understood by connoisseurs of children's candy? wonders cider aficionado René Rice .

There has long been a stigma attached to the consumption of cider in England; it has a reputation for attracting teenagers not yet old enough to legally drink.

Merrydown cider, with an ABV of 7.5%, was the staple for teenagers where I grew up – despite the fact that I lived within five miles of two distinguished Kentish cider makers; Biddenden and Kenny Cramp’s.

Biddenden’s range of ciders all have an ABV of 8% and Kenny Cramp’s produced the infamous Double Vision, with an ABV that ranged from 8% to 12%, depending on whether you believe the man himself or the label on the bottle.

Is it absolutely necessary to make these ciders so strong? By naming your brand Double Vision you are certainly catering for the type of person that will drink it with one goal in mind. Is it really any wonder then, that the kids are more interested than the serious cider drinkers?

It seems that Sweden’s cider producers are also unsure about their target audience.

Firstly, let's consider Swedish cider’s exclusive retailer and prominent reviewer Systembolaget. Believe it or not the words 'pärongodis' (pear drop), 'skumbanan' (foam banana), 'gelégodis' (jelly baby), 'smultronkarameller' (wild strawberry caramel) and 'tuttifrutti' (erm, tutti-frutti) are all used by Sweden's state controlled alcohol store to characterise the flavours of the Kopparberg and Hanna's range of ciders.

Does anybody else find this just a little disconcerting?

Perhaps you have become accustomed to the fact that Systembolaget currently has a monopoly on the sale of alcohol in Sweden. Maybe you are able to ignore the way in which they have used sugary confections to describe these drinks – near blasphemy for cider aficionados.

However, can you honestly tell me it doesn't insult your intelligence that while you have to be twenty years of age to buy alcoholic cider in this country, the only store legally entitled to sell it is proudly telling you it tastes like kids' candy?

This brings us to my next point: the Swedish breweries. By producing sickly sweet, carbonated ciders with names like strawberry desire and flavours we have already mentioned, what exactly is their target demographic? If it's anyone actually old enough to purchase their products then they are way off the mark.

Carlsberg Sweden's Xider brand even produce a bottled special edition Xider X-mas, which claims to have 'Julstämning med snö i flaskan' or 'Christmas spirit with snow in the bottle'. The drink is 'Christmas red', flavoured with ‘mistletoe and orange’ and the 'glittery snowflakes' are created using a harmless artificial colouring called Candurin.

Maybe Carlsberg have struck gold here – you can just imagine the queues at Systembolaget during the festive season; young professionals, newly-weds, fathers-to-be, housewives, pensioners – all keen to get their hands on a red sugary drink called Xider that tastes like Fanta and thinks it's a snow globe.

This brings us to my third and final point: the question of responsible marketing. Is it really socially acceptable to give alcoholic drinks frivolous names and childish gimmicks, whilst comparing their flavours to children's sweets?

This is definitely where England’s hypocrisy shines through – I recall from my days as a pub landlord the birth of the 'alcopop' market and the political backlash it created. One of my best selling bottled drinks in 1995-1996 was Hooper's Hooch but brewers Bass were forced to re-launch the product with a new label – the words 'Alcoholic lemonade' were replaced with 'Alcoholic lemon drink' – and a lesser sugar content, following fears that it was encouraging underage drinking.

Fair enough, but do they honestly think that Kenny Cramp’s Double Vision is aimed at the discerning adult cider drinker?

I’ll leave you with my personal favourite of Systembolaget’s cider reviews: Kopparberg's imaginatively named Cider Super Strong (with a formidable ABV content of 8.5%) apparently tastes like a 'svartvinbärsvingummi' – that’s a blackcurrant wine gum to you and me.