RG 2008 March
| This page is part of The Cidermaking Year by Rose Grant
March , 2008
Threatened "STRONG CIDER" duty increases
In the last few months we have been subjected to hyped up reporting and comment in the press concerning the "binge drinking problem" on an almost daily basis. It has become obvious that cider duty will be a prime target in the Budget, so that the Government may be perceived as doing something about the problem. Needless to say it will make little difference, since the cheap 'get plastered quick' stuff in the supermarkets will still be relatively affordable. In any case it can be so easily factory-tuned to sit just below the threshold of any new higher duty band that may be introduced. As Tom and Geoff have pointed out, the biggest effect will be visited on small scale craft cider producers. The abv of full juice craft cider is determined by sunshine and the apple varieties that are used. The need to water down a full juice cider would be anathema to craft producers.
I feel sad about the way things seem to be going. It also irritates me that most people do not understand the vast difference that exists between real cider and the plonk that should not be dignified by the same name. This is why I tried to kick start some sort of public awareness poster campaign on this Forum last year. We desperately need a campaign for Real Cider. Jez came up with several good designs. There was a lot of discussion, from which I think the UK map filled with apples was the most popular. We also agreed that A5 would be the best size to display in pubs, behind the bar, or stuck to windows, glass door panels etc. Will anybody volunteer to produce some of these as stickers and or, on thin card? I would be happy to pay for a few dozen to put round the places I go to. I'm sure others would do the same. If not I will have have a go at making my own. I aim to get my new season cider in the pubs for Easter weekend, so time is pressing.
We could be facing a battle on two fronts if the 7000 litre exemption is lost. Cidermakers like myself hovering at the limit will think long and hard about continuing, if suddenly hit by an even higher rate of duty on all that they sell. Things seem to have gone quiet concerning the EU's deliberations on the matter. They intended to hold a seminar involving all Member States at the end of last year, or early this year. Have I missed something? Has anyone heard? Are we still living in dread?
Higher duty will also make the step from 7000 litres to higher production more difficult. The general opinion is that output needs to be tripled for it to be worth doing. My own sums agree with this and I am well aware of the knock back effect that will be caused by any increased level of duty. What is already a difficult thing to do, could become out of the question. The sliding scale option, mentioned by Geoff, may be the only possibility that can realistically allow small producers to expand.
It is a worrying time for the future of commercially available craft cider. New producers need to be encouraged otherwise eventually only the cider factories will be left. Craft cider is a fragile thing that could so easily be snuffed out by unthinking legislators.
The only consolation is that nobody can ever stop each of us making our own and enjoying the double pleasure of drinking the real thing without paying a penny piece to the Treasury!
After the budget
The whole situation regarding taxation and small scale cider seems to be balanced on a knife edge. I've been following Geoff's postings with interest, especially in the wake of the Budget implications.
Geoff Morris wrote:
One consequence of this would be a move to standardise duty rates based on abv rather than have different rates and bands for ciders, beers, wines, made-wines, and spirits. Beers and spirits are as far as I know pay duty pro-rata on the alcohol by volume. Cider, wine, and made wines currently pay in bands. I do not know if this is their policy.
This would be bad news for cider. The duty on each per cent of alcohol in beer is £14.96 per hectolitre. If duty rates were to be standardised then cider at 7 % would be liable for £104.72 per hectolitre, instead of £28.90! ( This is so hard to believe, I wonder if I've got it wrong ).
Beers in UK have a concession to small-scale producers, that they pay a proportion of the duty to which the beer would be liable, depending on the output of the brewery. We have a version of that in cider with the 1500 gallon limit. If the producer is under that amount of production, no duty is paid. In some ways, the beer model makes more sense for cidermakers, as this production is not really enough for a viable business. Once over this limit, the duty is payable in full. The beer model would make it easier to expand a business gradually. It would be interesting to hear what small-scale cidermakers feel about this.
I would welcome such a move, as long as the initial 70 hl remained exempt. When considering the expansion of a small cidermaking business, the present regime is an obstacle that since the Budget has become a still greater deterrent. At New Year I resolved to 'burst the barrier' and triple my output this year. It is natural to want to grow a successful venture, but the main impetus was the wish to be able to maintain supplies to my customers all year round. It is sad thing having to tell them that you've run out in mid summer! To double the output would be enough for the present, but the big hiccup due to the onset of duty, would mean putting in the extra work for next to nothing. I have a friend who is keen to come in with me and we reckoned the only thing would be to go all out for 200 hl + . This would allow the immediate set back of having to invest in the extra tankage, to be paid for out of the extra profit in the first year. After that, the sunlit uplands! I decided to wait and see what the effect of the Budget would have on our plans.
Chris Turner of Mahoral is as buoyant as ever since they made the jump, though he cautions that to triple production 'is no walk in the park'. He refers to the wretched paperwork and the inevitable teething troubles of upping the process. Tom Oliver told me optimistically that going beyond 70 hl is like 'getting the monkey off your back'. I can understand that, can appreciate all of the various aspects and would dearly like to pursue the challenge. It has the visionary appeal of something that I think would be very satisfying to do. However the Budget and the incipient inflationary spiral are forcing me to reconsider my plans. Its all due to that double whammy for the craft cider maker; the excise duty and the motoring taxes.
A 3 pence per litre rise in the duty on a litre of cider does not seem unduly worrying. After all, it's only a couple of p on your pint in the pub (or should be!). Translated to the small producer however, it means that the price to pay HMRC for the 70 hl jump is now £2023 and thus to triple the output costs £6069. The thing that I find even more worrying is Mr. Darling's 2% above inflation escalator. We've seen the effect of the fuel tax escalator, ( due to bite us yet again in October! ) Even in the now unlikely event of inflation staying around 2%, this adds over £1000 to the duty on 210 hl after the 4 year period for which it is scheduled. Something tells me it will be a whole lot more. From what I see of the state of the pub industry it will not be easy to increase the price they are prepared to pay for craft cider, in order to compensate the producer.
A cider producer needs to have a powerful vehicle, preferably a 4 x 4. Tons of apples need to be hauled from oft-times muddy orchards in the autumn. Heavy loads of cider are distributed to customers throughout the year. I only do 6000 miles a year in my Landrover but with the ever increasing VED, due to its lack of 'greenness', and its thirsty gulping of the now ultra expensive diesel, it is getting to be a worry. If I increase production then I must also find more customers and thereby increase my area of delivery. The tendency for delivery trips to be longer thus becomes a greater loss factor than at present.
I had to smile. A farmer remarked in a local paper that we will soon all have to go back to the horse and cart! A cartoonist pictured it in another paper, something like the sawn off back end of a Reliant Robin, fitted with shafts and powered by good old Dobbin. It may prove to be less of a joke than it seems.
More Orchard Work
I had hoped to complete my work in the orchard before going on holiday in the middle of February but there was just too much to do. The new trees I'd ordered did not arrive until a few days before we were due to go, so it was only possible to get ten of them planted. The remainder had to be 'heeled in' behind the ciderhouse.
The pruning had already been completed so the long wait for the arrival of the trees did mean that I could concentrate on the grafting work. There were several days of really nice weather, perfect for the big top working job that I had in mind. My old paint splashed decorating steps made a good stable perch and allowed me to work comfortably at the right height. It is so important not to be precariously perched when using the wickedly sharp Silky Fox pruning saw! Even so I still managed to snag my fingers with it once or twice.
It is not a trivial thing to cut away the whole head of a tree that one has patiently watched develop over 15 years or more. However if a tree has proved to be a waste of space then there is nothing to be lost by seeing if it can be converted to a more useful variety. I steeled myself in the knowledge of the good advice received from Shawn in Colorado and set about the drastic surgery. (Shawn's link was posted here earlier). There were two apple and two pear trees that I had become really fed up with, but at least they all had sturdy trunks 3 to 4 inches in diameter. I cut their branches off completely, leaving stumps about 3 inches long emerging from the crown. The four amputees looked a sorry sight when I'd finished but it was pleasing to see the clean surgery that had been achieved with the Japanese saw.
The pear trees had been Catillac and Beurre Hardy. The Catillac fruited well but the pears were gritty, even when well cooked. I'd also tried them for perry but it was very bland. The Beurre Hardy had never fruited but was a well grown tree. Here was an opportunity to have some real perry trees. Ni had kindly sent me a little parcel of the real thing. An assortment of Herefordshire perry scions! Soon I was paring these to have ends like oboe reeds and then forcing them well down into the bark of the stubs on each tree. Ni 's provision generously allowed enough scions to fit four or five around the end of each branch stub. ( It is good to have more than are needed to form the new branches. The growth of the extra scions helps to close the wounded stub. Any that are surplus can then be cut back later ). I completed the job with a tight wrapping of polythene grafting tape around each stub. The ends of the scions and the sawn end of each stub were sealed with spray-on grafting wax.
The two apple trees were Sunset, a ne'er do well on my land and Annie Elizabeth, a cooking lady who had also taken against me. They were treated in similar fashion and have also become 'trunks with stumps'. In their case the stumps are now bristling with many scions of Porter's Perfection and Cherry Norman, respectively.
While I was on holiday I fondly imagined that on my return I would be welcomed by signs of life in the scion buds. I'm afraid this is not so. However it has been rather cold, I believe. I must now be patient as well as hopeful. In the meantime there are still another 18 trees to be planted!
In response to Alex in New Zealand:
It is always good to hear from a fellow apple lover, especially from those of you 'down under'. At the start of our cider drinking season here it is nice to picture you in the throes of your harvest, experiencing the joy of seeing the apples ripen to perfection. Do keep us informed as to how things go with your conversions to cider varieties. It would be interesting to hear which varieties you have chosen, whereabouts you are in NZ, the growing conditions imposed by soil and climate etc.
As for mechanical harvesting, in my experience here most farmers with orchards in the region of 10 - 20 acres here, use two items of machinery. A tractor with PTO driven tree shaker and a hand operated apple gathering machine, usually a Tuthill Temperley which is like a rather wide motorised lawnmower. The gatherer puts the apples into crates on the front of the machine. The crates are then tipped into the front loader bucket of the tractor, from whence they can be loaded on to a trailer.
Not so Free Houses
This time last year I had a bit of a sales drive to find pubs that would take my cider. I became fairly expert at spotting the tied houses and thus saved myself many fruitless enquiries. At the same time I found that my heart leapt with joy and hope whenever I spotted the words 'Free House' on a pub wall.
More recent experience has told me that 'Free House' is now becoming something of a misnomer. It is a sad thing that many free house landlords are being tempted by the big brewing companies to sign up to restrictive sales deals. The benefit to the pub is that their ales can then be obtained at attractive prices. The price they pay is their loss of choice which unfortunately is also applied to the choice of their cider. I've seen this happen to two really nice village pubs in my local area. They are 'Free' as far as ownership of the pub is concerned, but they have sold their souls to the Devil, when it comes to what they can sell.
It is easy to see why this is happening. Many pubs are having a thin time of it now. I read the other day that 3 or 4 are having to close down every week. The smoking ban has not helped, and the increase of duty, particularly with the insidious 2% above inflation escalator will make things progressively worse. The trend to buy at the supermarket and drink at home is a side effect of the ever increasing cost of living.
Today I lost one of my best pub customers. Last year the Greyhound at Corfe Castle did very well selling my cider to the summer visitors, at times amounting to two 20 litre boxes per week. I even had an email from a lady to say how much she had enjoyed it whilst on holiday in Corfe! Alas, a very different story this year. When I called in today, the landlady, who was not in the bar at the time, did not want to see me. She sent a somewhat red faced barman to apologise for the fact that the pub now has an agreement with Enterprise Inns, and can no longer sell my cider. Nor could it even be sold at their Festival next weekend.( Even some tied houses have the freedom to choose for their festivals!). On my way out I noticed that there were two ciders on tap, Stowford Press and Scrumpy Jack. Fizzy stuff! I muttered and thought to myself, that just about says it all!
It was not a wasted journey because I was en route for Swanage and Worth Matravers where I'm glad to say my cider is still in good demand. A further compensation was to regain another free house only 3 miles from home. There had been a change of ownership and the new landlord is enthusiastic about real cider. He's a perfect candidate for one of our ukcider posters. The pub even has a glass panelled front door.... ideal for a sticker!
Pubs displaying our Real Cider stickers will be like beacons in the increasing gloom of the many pubs that can't sell craft cider, even if they would like to!
I'm afraid I was feeling pessimistic when I wrote about the fate of The Greyhound in Corfe Castle, but I do wish these huge congloms would keep their greedy hands off the few pubs that they haven't yet managed to buy up lock stock and barrel. It could prove to be the death of artisan beverages. it is really sad for the micro breweries and sad for craft cider.
Let me inject a note of optimism. A while back Barry told me about a proper little free house in the New Forest and suggested that I looked it up. It's rather out of my orbit, (especially with diesel now at £1.16 a litre!), but as I was over that way delivering to Charles May, I decided to do a detour on the way home. I'm glad that I did because I found a gem! The Cuckoo in the village of Landford is the sort of little pub that you always hope to find when driving around on holiday. A little thatched cottage that still has the original rooms to form three cosy bars that are served from a hatch counter, like at the Square & Compass. Tim is a landlord of the old school, he is very welcoming and enjoys a chat with his customers. It was soon obvious to me that he also takes a great pride in his little place and in the real ales that he sources locally. His bar food is simple but good. I enjoyed a hot pasty that easily rivalled those at the Square, enhanced all the more by a glass of lovely ale from the little Keystone brewery near Salisbury.
However the cider was a different story. There was something called Fram's Scrumpy on the chalk board. This was a new one to me so I wanted to try it and asked where it came from. I soon realised that it was the stuff that we call "Tractor Diesel" in Dorset, on account of its disturbingly red hue. I did well to stick to the Keystone's ale! After a jovial but seriously educational chat with Tim, I managed to get him to try a box of my own to try out on his regular Diesel drinkers. I hope they will be suitably impressed.
ukcider stickers and posters
Thanks for your continued interest and enthusiasm in this project.
Personally I would not mind paying a pound each for, say 20 stickers, so that my customers can all have one. These would hopefully become well stuck to a glass door or a window in a prominent position! The stickers do have the advantage of being likely to stay put for much longer than a card, so are worth the price.
The cards would still be very useful for general distribution and do need to be thin card or heavy weight paper for durability. They would be useful for pinning up in pubs, off licences, on temporary bars at events, festivals etc. I'd be happy to share the cost of 500 with others amongst us who have already expressed an interest in the idea. I would also volunteer to buy the stock and send out smaller quantities by post, on receipt of a cheque from those who would like to have some.
find a suitable source of paper that either mails or is available to all (Office World or whatever), produce an extremely high quality pdf of the poster (this is likely to be pretty large file size- wise) and then members can obtain the pdf, and the paper and then take to their local Kwikprint and have it digitally photocopied/printed in small quantities.
This is also a good idea, Jez. The great advantage setting this up is that it gives long life to the project. People would then be forever able to download the poster and make it readily available for special events, festivals and so on, in whatever size they wish to print it. The pdf can be downloaded from ukcider, and will always be there ready for re-use, long after the initial prints had been discarded.
It is superb that Jez is ready to run with this! I really don't want to come over all pushy, but what we must avoid is another protracted period of discussion. The season is upon on us, folks! Cider drinking gets going from Easter onwards down here, when the grockles start heading south, so now is the time to start the campaigning. I've already done my first delivery round, so please let's try and resolve the minor issues asap.
Dick has made some valid points. I agree with him that design 'A ' was the favourite of most people. The East Anglia issue came up before. It's also a valid point, (don't want to upset the Norfolk cider groups!) so could you put the bump on please Jez. I know the design is better balanced without it, but it looks as though politics could be at stake here.
The point raised by Richard did come up before yet did not elicit the discussion I had expected. It is difficult to say whether A5 or A6 would be the best size. I can see the argument against the poster being too large, but is A6 large enough to be noticed? Our pub here has Ringwood Ale posters on the wall that are A4 and yet even at that size they seem to merge into the background. On the other hand, stickers on glass are much more noticeable and it seems rude to want to blot the light out with an over large sign. I suggest a compromise. How about doing the stickers A6 and the posters A5? It would make sense as the sticker material is the more expensive, perhaps we would get more for the same money. I presume the sticky side is also the printed side so that the sticker can be on the inside of a window, yet be read from outside. Is it, Jez?
The thing is that nothing is set in stone. We can still use the other designs and have different sizes at a later date, as long as Jez has not thoroughly fed up with it all by then! I like design 'A 'best because it links the UK and real Cider to ukcider pictorially. I also think that design 'B' is very good, the message is immediate. It would be a shame not to make use of it later on.
For the moment can we agree to leave it in Jez's capable hands and get design 'A' underway. Then we can at least begin to make our presence felt, all over this Land!