Something is brewing among the nation's cider enthusiasts, and it's not to everyone's taste. A row has broken out about whether bottles bearing a "pear cider" label should be allowed to do so.
The success of Bulmers, Magners and Kopparberg among others has contributed to a near 50 per cent rise in cider sales in the UK over the past 10 years. The market is now worth £2.7bn. But by labelling products "pear cider", some companies have upset traditionalists at the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), who say cider is made only from apples and that the companies are therefore giving both cider and perry – the traditional name for the alcoholic pear drink – a bad name.
Gillian Williams, from Camra's cider and perry campaigns committee, said companies such as Kopparberg, based in Sweden, should not be allowed to call their products cider at all.
"Perry is made predominately from pears and is a distinct product," she said. "Good cider and perry have been a British tradition for about 1,000 years. Calling something 'pear cider' when in our view it is nothing of the sort is wrong. You don't make an alcoholic drink from potatoes and call it whisky.
"Real cider and perry are between 6 and 8.5 per cent in strength, but most of these fizzy 'cider' drinks you find in the supermarket are about 4 per cent. Then you have the awful flavoured 'ciders' which are anything but and can contain raspberry, forest fruits or even lemongrass."
Ms Williams argues many of the mass-market ciders found in supermarkets should be labelled "ready to drink", or RTDs, the industry standard name for drinks sold in prepared form, such as alcopops. Camra says "real" cider must contain at least 90 per cent fresh apple juice. "We don't need people coming to the UK with their products masquerading as cider," Ms Williams added.
Rob Calder, Kopparberg's head of marketing, says the company names its products, such as "strawberry and lime cider", as "a short cut" adding its growing portfolio reflected a move to "lighter and sweeter tastes" in the UK. Beer manufacturers are also waking up to cider's popularity. Stella Artois launched its 4.5 per cent "Cidre" last year and followed it earlier this year with a pear version.
The National Association of Cider Markers (NACM), the UK industry body, said that drinks manufacturers were doing nothing wrong in labelling their products "pear cider". Among the definitions for tax purposes, HMRC states a cider or perry must include "a minimum of 35 per cent apple or pear juice" in making the final product.
A NACM spokesman said: "There is no difference between 'perry' and 'pear cider' in how they are produced or how they are taxed. The industry feels that 'pear cider' is the better name to explain to consumers what it is they are drinking."
In addition to the "Magners effect", many smaller brands have contributed to the surge in popularity of cider. But some British firms are staying away from the trend. Henry Chevallier Guild, a partner at Aspall, the Suffolk-based cider makers, said his company was not interested in "jumping on the pear cider bandwagon".
He added: "Sweetness is the dominant character,and little consideration is given to the word 'cider'. The whole sector teeters very close to being alcopops, which would be disastrous for the Aspall brand to be associated with."