Leading UK cidermakers have told Imbibe that the Government’s proposed new higher duty band for ciders is ‘completely useless’ and ‘shockingly stupid’.
In last week’s budget, the Treasury announced plans to bring in an additional duty band between 6.9% and 7.5% from 2019, ostensibly to target problem drinkers by raising the price of so-called ‘white ciders’.
However, producers that allow ciders to ferment fully through to dryness and do not wish to dilute will also find their ciders caught in this abv window.
‘The targeted “white ciders” will be reformulated below 6.9%, leaving high juice, high quality cidermakers looking to have to pay the new duty increase,’ said Tom Oliver of Oliver’s Cider & Perry, and chair of the Three Counties Cider & Perry Association. ‘It is completely useless as a measure.’
Simon Day, founder of the award-winning Once Upon A Tree cidery, agreed. ‘The larger producers that are prepared to dilute their ciders will do so,’ he said.
‘Like winemakers, what we pride ourselves on is making cider that reflects each harvest,’ said Mark Venton, founder of Ventons Cider in Devon. ‘If we are forced to add water, we will be compromised.’
The government is planning to introduce the higher-tax band as a way of targeting what it sees as problem drinkers. But higher-strength artisanal ciders have been caught in the net.
‘I think it’s shockingly stupid to be honest,’ said Venton. ‘They haven’t addressed the issue. It is not going to stop the production. And there are still plenty of other drinks.’
‘One problem in isolating “white cider” is a lack of definition,’ said cider expert, Gabe Cook. ‘They don’t mean anything from a technical point of view. [Legally speaking] there is nothing that divides a “white cider” from an awesome, 100% full juice cider. This is going to impact on a sector that is in growth.’
Some in the industry are calling for a dispensation for high juice ciders. Current minimum juice content for cider in the UK is 35%. ‘We could have the minimum juice content bumped up to 70%,’ suggested Venton, although he acknowledged that this could be difficult to police.
Minimum unit pricing is another option. If the scheme recently introduced into Scotland was applied, a three-litre bottle of white cider typically costing £3.50 in a supermarket would become £11.