Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - October 2003

* The Apple of My Eye *

Traditional cider needs a radical revamp if it is to appeal to a wider market

THIS OCTOBER sees CAMRA’s first National Cider and Perry Month. Cider-making has a long and honourable tradition in this country, and cider has a strong claim to be our second national beverage, after beer. A high-quality, traditional cider is well worth drinking, and I’ve been known to enjoy the occasional pint myself.

But, unfortunately, cider has an image of being consumed by those who want to get drunk for the minimum outlay. On the supermarket shelves, the cheaper ciders offer the most “bangs per buck” of any alcoholic drink. On the other hand, the traditional ciders sold in local free houses are rarely below 6% ABV, often much more, which limits their appeal to regular drinkers, particularly when the corresponding high price is taken into account.

There’s a growing consensus that traditional beers appeal most to a wider market at a strength in the region of 4.1 to 4.5 % ABV. The makers of keg ciders such as Strongbow know very well that, while the cans may be over 5%, the draught version sells best at a more moderate 4.5%. The same is true in those areas of the West Country where cider hangs on as an everyday drink.

Currently, real cider is scarcely found outside specialist beer pubs. To get into a wider range of outlets, most of which will never have offered it in the past, it needs a champion brand positioned at a moderate strength and affordable price level. But I see no signs of that happening, and unless it does traditional cider will never break through as a mainstream product in the same way as real ale.

* Drawing in your Horns *

Lunchtime closing is a symptom of the declining appeal of pubs

READING through the excellent new edition of “Viaducts & Vaults”, I was struck by the growing number of pubs that no longer bother opening at lunchtimes during the week. Of course there’s no point in staying open if there are no customers, but presumably all these pubs used to find it worthwhile, and the trade they once had has melted away. Many are in residential areas where there must be many retired people and others who would be in a position to call in. Indeed there’s one particular pub that I recall doing good business selling lunches to workers from nearby factories and offices – the workplaces are still there, but the pub doors are now firmly shut.

This trend is a clear symptom of the narrowing appeal of the pub trade. Large numbers of people, who once went to pubs during the daytime, for whatever reason no longer do so. More and more pubs seem to have given up any attempt to market themselves to a wider clientele and have drawn in their horns just to cater for locals. The pub listed in the guide that only opens in the evening, but has a daytime-only bus service, is an especially striking example.

However, not everyone takes such a pessimistic view of the prospects for daytime trade, as Wetherspoons have successfully obtained permission for their outlet in Buxton to serve alcohol from 10 am onwards, and apparently are doing very well out of it.

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