Friday 16 March 2012

Introducing the future of Bag in Box technology...

Ladies and Gentlemen. For your delictation and endulgance I give you the latest development in Bag in the Box technology..... The Bag in.... ummm, nothing. The BAG (ladies and gentlemen:-)

Should have drawn faces on them... note the bowling ball handle

No, its no illusion. this is a bag. it is standing up all on its own without the aid of mirrors or, well, a box.

Its actually a three litre, triple thickness bag which is literally a carry out. I saw them when doing the usual order for the start of the season and wanted to give them a try to see if they are a good idea. And, owing to the fact that I have a number of South Hants CAMRA people due a small amount of the cyser (honey cider to the oiks) I made but cannot sell without attracting masses of duty, I figured I had an audience to try it on.

Note to said CAMRA people. Could you let me know how you get on with it:-)

What are the benefits? Well, cheap (definitely) and environmentally sound (possibly). Easy to dispose of and even carry (although carry too many and watch the plastic finger holes slice each of your fingers off like a mini guillotine:-).

Why did we ever need a box? The answer to this lies in the use of said bag. The bag is very frustrating to fill and even more hassle to seal after filling. And, although Mr and Mrs (and Ms) Trading Standards expect a full measure, it is very difficult to achieve all of the 3 litres; impossible without spillage and/or divising some contraption to hold the bag upright. Oh, wait... yes. The contraption I eventually used was (wait for it) a box!!!

Full circle.

In conclusion. They are neat - easy to move around but a bugger to fill and seal. I reserve judgement on what they are like to use and how well they store cider. I have a bag made up that I will store for a month or two now... now that is what I call consumer testing:-)

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Budgets and Myths...

**As of 8th March, this is updated to more accurately reflect the current duty comparison**

And so we approach budget time once again - the only expectancy we can all have is that things are going to end up more expensive, whilst we're all taxed that little bit more.

And its always at around this time of year that those who would hit cider with extra duty under the guise (or pretence) of 'parity with beer' or 'giving beer a fair deal' crawl out from under their respective stones. I understand the point - beer has been knowcked about and played with by successive governments of late - and cider has seen a bit of a surge in popularity (although I don't think you can put the two things together).

So - first off, can I ask if you really want to know my response to this question? If the answer is no, don't bother reading this post (casting pearls unto swine n'all). I will give you a clue as to where it goes... cider and beer are not the same and should not be treated the same.

Now, I am a duty exempt small scale cider maker. In all common sense I should probably keep my mouth shut and be grateful for what I have (and I suspect there are beer drinkers or politicians who would probably think just that). Under the current exemption, I get to make 7000 litres (70 hectolitres or 70HL) and the moment I make a litre over that I am due to pay full cider duty on all of my production. Small brewers, on the other hand, have a sliding scale of duty, which starts as a 50% discount off beer duty up to a production of about 5,000HL and then gradually diminishes up to about 60,000HL

So why is beer and cider treated differently? Well, its fairly obvious why wine and beer are - they are different drinks - different strengths etc. etc. . However, cider and beer??? Whilst they may be percieved in the UK to be the same, they are not. Not made in the same way, or using the same ingredients, chemicals or processes... etc. etc. Its only in the UK that beer and Cider are sat next to each other in this way, in other european countries, cider is a low alcohol wine as opposed to a super strength beer (though I suspect that doesn't earn as much for the treasury!)

Today I saw a tweet (yep - catch me using high falutin technology... although I am not sure I really understand its purpose!!) from a Tory MP insisting that a brewer would pay 4 times as much in duty as cider of the same strength at 8.5%

What is wrong with that statement?  Well, technically possibly nothing (except for the fact that it is, in practice, wrong). However, apart from the obvious question - how many 8.5% beers do you get?... how many 8.5% ciders for that matter. The answer for cider is NONE. at 8.5%, cider is reclassified as 'made wine' (so Andrew Griffith's comparison is technnically very incorrect - the cider duty at the percentage would exceed the beer duty by about 22%)

The issues with this claim are compounded by the fact that this MP is sat on alcohol related committees... so he should really have a better grasp of things than to publically regurgitate verbatim propaganda from SIBA - who take it as a mission to campaign against cider.

So, assuming that we are daling with an average beer (about 4% vol) and an average cider (about 6.5% vol) - both produced by small producers (or even medium sized producers), the duty calculations are different but comparible: For the beer, the producer will pay (using 50% relief) £9ish per %vol. The cider maker however, once over 70HL will pay the full cider duty at £36ish flat. 

In all, the AVERAGE % beer will pay around 8 or 9% more in duty that an AVERAGE % cider. Not anywhere near the multiples proposed by some quarters! If you then bring into account economies of scale, cost structures, differences in carbon cost/mileage/sustainability etc. then the two are even more fairly balanced. See, not the same at all!

Bear in mind that the brewer at 5,000 hl a year only pays half the national rate of beer duty - so the difference is VIRTUALLY ELIMINATED AND ALSO, below 2.8% ABV, beer duty is REDUCED AGAIN BY HALF SO THAT AT THAT LEVEL BEER DUTY FOR THE SMALL BREWER IS HALF THAT on cider anyway.  

A fair deal for beer (as the politico claimed) does not mean do a bad deal for cider. You will just end up with a bad deal for both beer and cider! Simple parity would see the end of full juice ciders - as producers lowered the alcohol content by watering down (and hence paid less duty). Belgian ciders (and Irish ones too) which are already down to 4% or less would not be affected. The Tories would simply have just killed another traditional part of UK industry... and beer would still not get its fair deal!

One more thing to add (just to complicate things a bit more). In the last couple of years the government have recognised that not all ciders are equal. As a result a new definition was introduced which set the juice content lower limit at 35% Below this, the drink was not classed as cider but effectively as an alcopop. If the goverment are looking to close loopholes for cider, then might I suggest that this is the number to look at. Artisan and craft cider producers in the UK use much higher juice content than 35% (my own labels say 97%+). This is just my opinion and discimination may even ben against EU law, but if Andrew Griffiths wants to entertain himself by looking at cider, this may be the area:-)

Unfortunately, beer and pubs have been a bit of a cash cow for several governments now, which IS bad. Many cider makers (myself included) support the relaxation of the duty excalator to encourage enterprise and growth in this valuable and traditionally British market (i.e. what the government keeps saying it wants). However, unless they understand the differences as well as the similarities they will never make an informed judgement - and hitting cider is not the answer

And that is all I have to say about that!

To sign a petition to call for the scrapping of the beer duty escalator click here

Tuesday 6 March 2012

41 and counting...

OK - I was 41 on Sunday. So. It happens to most of us and is better than the alternative. But what do you get for a 41 year old that has a passion for apples and who is trying to 'expand' (and having recently given up smoking I do mean that literally as well as figuratively!!).

So here, for your delictation and delight we have the JShip Packing Scales for bag in box filling exactness. To those who also have the 'apple' passion, please avert your eyes now:

I should also say to those customers who have had bag in boxes from me in the past - please don't worry, I always went over the limit for your bag in boxes. Sadly, these new scales means that you will get a bit less 'cos I can now be much more accurate.

Saturday 3 March 2012

Update from the garage of 146...

My word, January and February passed pretty darn quick! Now that we are into March I have finally finished the task of cleaning and cleaning (oh, and cleaning) everything in or even near the cider garage. I am also meant to be racking ciders off to mature. After all, its not been so cold a winter.

Well, having ploughed my way through cleaning the Voran, the kegs (of various sizes), the mill and a variety of tools and 'things' I am generally ready to put the cider into storage. Aha. But the cider isn't ready for me! Not one of them. Hampshrie Heritage is sat at 1.005, Wild West is at 1.005. Eastern Delight, which was the last to be complete in early January is at 1.005. Before storage, I really want to let them reach 1.000; normally they finish at around 0.995.

So. They stay put for now. At least things are clean and ready. The sad part is that until they are ready and mature I have no cider for sale.

On the bright side, I have used the opportunity to have a sly snifter of each and can report that:

Hampshire Heritage - is a fairly deep cider this year with some full tannin in it. The acid is much milder than last year, which is no surprise. More West Country than I had expected it to be, it will be interesting to see how it matures.

Wild West - is much, much better this year. Very rounded tannins and the addition of the bittersharps balances the taste out very nicely. I hope it doesn't get too dry though.

Batch 15 - This is a special competition batch of cider. Guess what? Its still at 1.007 and tastes very juicy (which isn't surprising as it was pressed very late!). However, the balance is just right - there is acid present as well as pretty good tannins too.

Eastern Delight - This is still too youngh to try, although it has progressed well and is down to 1.005. I will report back once I have had a glass to see how it is:-)

So, on the whole everything is looking good. It just has to finish fermenting! And at least the tanks are ready to be filled.

One more thing to note - the first beer festival of the year is the Winchester Beer and Cider Festivel. I was concerned it was going to be too early for me, but I have nicked 20 litres each of Hampshire Heritage and Wild West which now accompany me in my office (which is warmer and will let them finish quicker). So I shall take them to the ball on the 16-17th March...

So, although the cider won't be on general release until May, you will be able to get a sample or two locally... well, maybe at Reading too...