Hello, it’s been a while! Although not due to lack of trying, this is blog idea number three for August… the others, well, maybe they’ll emerge one day.
The subject of this blog is volume; why do we drink cider by the pint? There certainly are those unquenchable thirsts we seem to develop on Friday evenings. Pint one and two barely touch the sides. By pint four we should be slowing down but somebody bought peanuts, typical. Another round? Been there, done that, broken my phone and woken up on the sofa. With traditional cider, pint three or four is probably enough for most mortals. Whilst your standard draught ciders sit at a low 4 to 5% alcohol, with a drop of scrump you’re looking at a much higher 6 to 8.5%. So why is it typically only available by the half or a pint? It’s worth pointing out that up until 2011, beer and cider could only be served by the pint or half, but this law was relaxed. Halves are for designated drivers and people who have eaten too much, but trying to session pints of strong cider can quickly shorten your evening. Enter 2/3rds of a pint, 379ml, a schooner… Or as they call it down-under, a Sheila pint, would you believe! (My girlfriend was not impressed by this!)
Historically, cider has been served in some very different and interesting vessels. During the 17th century and into the 18th century, cider’s popularity in Britain peaked. Due to a combination of factors including favourably low tax for cider and a scarcity of wine in England (we fell out with the French, again) meant that cider briefly became more in vogue with the upper classes. This led to cider being served in beautifully cut crystal flutes. They have many examples you can see on display at the Hereford Cider Museum. In fact, it was also during this period that English cider makers pioneered a technique more commonly known today as “méthode champenoise”.
For centuries, cider has also been served in porcelain and earthenware tankards. These tankards would often have two or three handles for passing round and wishing good health in communal ceremonies such as Wassailing. These mugs typically hold a pint, if not more and are still in use today. You can take a step back in time by visiting the Cider Bar in Newton Abbot where cider mugs hang from the ceiling, with their owner’s name written on the base. Many a collection exists and enthusiasts like myself own and drink from them. So, there’s nothing new about cider being served by the pint, but perhaps it’s time for cider to be served in something more contemporary.
Cider still struggles with being compared to beer and wine rather than being respected for what it is. I think serving it in its own way would help it’s image. It would also help to encourage more people to give traditional ciders a go. So many times, I’ve heard cider being described “too strong”, even if it’s only one percent stronger than their usual tipple. It’s something which also extends to publicans who choose their drinks based on what they think will sell and what wont. During a few months of madness, I obsessed over opening my own micro pub. In my research, I visited several in Kent, including the original one. Cider was not on offer there and I endured a hostile lunch time being criticised for my choice of drink by the owner: “Why would I stock 8% cider when my punters would be on their arse after 2 pints?!”. I suspect that he is not alone in this belief. But serving by 2/3rds offers a more sensible volume for a strong drink and makes a pub session more realistic. Add to that the reduction in price by a third, trying something different becomes that bit more enticing. Craft beer bars and contemporary tap houses have been offering schooners for a while as craft beer regularly exceeds 8% alcohol. It may also help with the serving of cider in restaurants as an alternative to wine; a classier glass and well suited to 750ml bottles. I can’t really see a negative.
It may not suit every occasion, but it would be great to have the option more available. There’s nothing wrong with drinking cider by the pint, the vast majority of what is sold in Britain is made to be so. But it would make traditional cider more accessible and appealing. All it needs is a better name than schooner… Suggestions on Twitter and in the comments!
What do you think?