Social Media Buttons

Description

WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

What's new?

What's new?
New beer and music events added for Brighton - click here to book.
The possible rebirth of the British hop industry? My latest Publican's Morning Advertiser column
The 2014 Cask Report is out now. Click here to download.
>

Monday, 25 April 2011

So I drank some Stella Cidre...

It's here...

Analytics suggest that my post ridiculing AB-Inbev's launch of Stella Cidre is the most popular thing I've written on this blog in 2011 so far.  Long time readers will know that among the multinational brewers, I reserve particular ire for AB-Inbev because their relentless focus on cost-cutting is destroying some once decent brands, and because they keep bringing out new 'innovations' that are nothing of the sort.

It was therefore with a hint of nervousness that I spied Stuart Macfarlane across the room at the annual Publican Awards a couple of weeks ago.  Stuart and I used to work together, but with the piss-taking I've subjected him to on here recently, I wondered if we were in for a bout of fisticuffs.  Especially when, the second he saw me, he got up from his table and made a beeline straight towards me...

We had a good conversation.  Stuart's actions suggest that he is not passionate about beer itself, but you only have to be in the same room as him to realise he is certainly passionate about the brands he's responsible for.  (I would argue that you cannot be truly passionate about beer brands if you're not passionate about the beer itself, but that's a whole other blog post.)  He reads this and other blogs regularly, and he doesn't like the criticism.

"Well just make better beer then!" I hear you scream in frustration.  But in the strange world of multinational brands, it's not as simple as that.

Once we'd established that I wasn't simply criticising AB-Inbev because they were big, but specifically because of their actions, Stuart challenged me to try some Stella Cidra. I said I didn't have a problem doing so, because at the end of my blog post on it, I did say that when I saw it I would try it, and that if it was nice, I would say so.  I'm not pushing agendas here - if it's a good product, I have no reason for saying it's not.

Fair play to Stuart, at lunch time the next day, there was a knock at the door and a case of Stella Cidre, with a note from Stuart saying how much he'd enjoyed our chat.

Stuart asked me to judge the product against its peers - "the two big yellow ones" as he described them - and one quality 'premium' cider.  I chose Aspalls, because I like it, and because it's probably the first 'premium' cider many Magners/Bulmers drinkers would see/try.

Mmmm...

If you're a craft cider purist, look away now - you're going to say it's not cider because it's not 100% apple juice, and that at least three of these four brands are tasteless abominations.  I'm not about to say anything that will convince you otherwise.

But I'm fairly relaxed about cider.  On a hot day, I like a pint of Aspalls or Addlestones, I LOVE Badger's Applewood cider made for them by Thatchers.  Not because it's layered and complex and structured - it's not.  But because it has a moussy mouthfeel and a clean, dry crispness, with just a hint of satisfying tart tingle, that's refreshing without the bloating gassiness of lager.  I'll even happily drink a bottle of Magner's over ice if I'm in the right mood and the wrong pub.  So I'm not judging Cidre by the standards of farmhouse cider - there's no point.

Side by side then:


These are poured in the same order as the bottles above.  You can see that in terms of colour, Stella Cidre has gone toe-to-toe with Magner's and tried to match it exactly.  Bulmer's is more lager coloured, which is interesting - looking more for that lager-cider pint crossover I guess - while Aspall's resembles a glass of white wine.  

I should also point out that, according to the labels, Stella Cidre is made from 50% apple juice.  Not much if you're a purist, but significantly above the 35% minimum you must now have if you want to call your product cider.  Aspall's is made from 100% apple juice.  Neither Bulmer's nor Magner's disclose this information on their labels.

None of them apart from Aspall's really had much of an aroma - although this may be due to the temperature.

Bulmer's was simply a monotone, a fizzy, flavourless thing that, if served truly blind, you would simply have no way of guessing was a cider.  No apple taste or character whatsoever.  Not unpleasant at all - you'd have to find fizzy water unpleasant to be able to say that - just...nothing.

So Stella Cidre then: after the vacuum of Bulmers, there's a bit more of a fruity flavour up front here, followed by an acidity that makes my mouth water.  A bit of a chemical hint, and then, nothing.  It's amazing how quickly it disappears, leaving you unsure whether you've drunk it at all.  Again, not unpleasant - I think - but odd.  

Magner's has more discernible apple aroma, a bit more of that moussy mouthfeel - Stella was more watery - less fruit, a little more of that tartness, and a slightly longer finish.  It's very similar, but fits together a little better and leaves you more certain that you've just had some cider.

Finally, Aspall's was quite different.  It clearly tasted of apples, had a nice aroma, was more structured and had a long, dry finish.

Stella Cidre - judged by the standards relevant to it and its competitors - is not a bad product.  It's certainly nothing like the abomination that is Stella Black.  Both in appearance and flavour profile it seems to be trying to match Magner's.  The interesting thing is that people perceive Magner's and Bulmer's to be the same thing, and they're quite different, as this tasting shows.  I might have a Stella Cidre instead of a Magner's if Magner's wasn't around.  But Magner's would remain my first choice - it has the edge in terms of aroma and overall product delivery, and just feels slightly better made.  Stella Cidre strikes me as being a little bit like the monsters from this weekend's Doctor Who - as soon as you're not looking at them any more, you forget you ever saw them.  As soon as Stella Cidre is no longer in your mouth, you forget you've drunk it.

I believe it will do well where it's sold, and people in the mainstream cider market will like it.

The product, then, is not a disaster.

But.

The marketing launched last week as well.  The image at the top of this blog is one of the posters currently up everywhere.  I won't offer my own comment on this, I'll just share a response to it from a more creatively minded friend of mine:

22 comments:

scott murray said...

Enjoyed this write up and comparison on cider. True you don't always wright directly about beer but thats not a bad thing as you stated, when so many people are doing the same thing it gets too repetitive. Good to hear something different. Bit of banter cant hurt too on recent post regarding royal proceedings.

Melissa Cole said...

Whomever made that mock-up is a comedy genius - good post mate.

Eddie86 said...

'Stuart asked me to judge the product against its peers - "the two big yellow ones" as he described them - and one quality 'premium' cider.'

I thought Stella Cidre was completely innovative, fresh and new?

Good write-up though, I thought Bulmers and Magners were the same thing. Learn something new and all that...

Ben said...

Nice post, I think tasting it against its peers as you did was a good call really, it doesn't strike me as something that's supposed to be competing with the premium brands/niche producers.

Cider in general is something I'd like to learn more about. I think it looks like a fascinating category to explore.

Bill Bradshaw said...

I Stuart Macfarlane was right by asking you to think about the cider as compared to its rivals/peers. By doing so, you've managed to avoid the pitfall of comparing it to all cider. As a seasoned farmhouse cider drinker, recent blogger and part time cider snob myself I fell into the obvious trap of comparing it to all cider (here: http://iamcider.blogspot.com/2011/04/stella-cidre-quel-dommage.html)

Then, after a discussion with a well known and outspoken artisan farmhouse cidermaker here in Somerset (who was much politer about it that me) some further thought on my behalf and some emails from the marketing team launching SC, I decided to follow it up with: http://iamcider.blogspot.com/2011/04/stella-cidre-part-deux-contextualiser.html

There is no point in slating industrial ciders outright, they have their place and to a certain extent help the farmhouse cider market. I think you did the right thing by a direct comparison with its peers ('the two big yellow ones') Incidentally, I suspect the darker, colours of Magners and Stella Cidre are obtained by higher pasteurisation temperatures where the sugars start to caramalise.

On another note, a pat on the back sir for sticking to your guns. One should be able to write about whatever you choose on your own blog. You are as free as each person is to read and write, or not, whatever they choose, and I know how disappointing it is when people forget they make their own choices.

Pete Green said...

What's particularly funny about the patronising advertising is that "see-dra" is a pretty awful way of presenting "cidre" phonetically, and results in mispronunciation.

Thank you for publishing all of the negative comments on your other articles -- I know many bloggers who would not. To those saying "unsubscribe", lively debate is what changes things, not ostrich-like head-burying.

Pete Brown said...

Thanks, Pete: sometimes it's hard for me to click 'publish', but the only comments I censor are spam and those which are simply abusive (which means I guess by your standards I should sometimes censor myself! ;-))

darrelkirby said...

Very interesting. I am an enthusiastic real ale drinker recently forced into cider drinking due to an alarming (and hopefully temporary) intolerance to barley. This seems to inadvertently put me right on trend; first with Magners, now Cidre. I tend to avoid the over-marketed, big company products when I can out of a natural suspicion and cynicism. I would prefer to drink the real thing, but it's not always practical when it is normally stronger than 7%, so a review of more reasonably strengthen ciders is helpful.

Curmudgeon said...

Aspall Draught is lovely stuff, but according to APPLE, the absurdly purist provisional cider wing of CAMRA, it isn't "real".

Stono said...

question though, ok I know taste testing with ice is a bit daft as you wont get the full flavours of the drink that way, but if Stella Cidre is to be judged by its relevant standards and competitors, doesnt it need to be done as an iced drink (not just fridge cool) as thats where AB-Inbev are aiming it at right ?

because then the question isnt about whether its a premium cider with some taste or not, its does it suitably copy that cider over ice taste experience, and if it does than the fact its in itself a rather bland albeit inoffensive drink sans ice doesnt matter.

its just down to a brand/ads/cost/bar fridge design pull fight between 3 brands IMO as to who wins, and its clearer to spot why AB-Inbev might think they can squeeze into this market.

I exclude Aspalls from that, because whilst I think your right to include it in a straight premium cider match up, Aspalls arent really aiming for that over ice drink stuff, I mean Ive seen people drink it like that, but its not really designed for it, whereas I think Stella Cidre is designed specifically for ice, I mean that poster ad sums it up thats like a fast food restaurant coke, 3/4s ice, 1/4 drink.

Anonymous said...

Just one small but important point that the media, and yourself have been cleverly duped over. Using less than 35% juice doesn't mean you can't call an apple juice/corn syrup/water etc. concoction cider, it just means you have to pay a higher rate of tax on it.

What this means of course is that following the new ruling, some 'ciders' will have had their juice content upp'd to remain 'ciders' for tax purposes, but it's just as likely that some may have had their juice content lowered to mitigate the higher tax their manufactures now have to pay.

Where we are with most of these 'ciders' now is anyones guess, since we still have a situation where 'cider' can be made from a wide range of ingredients not grown on apple trees, and ingredients listing is still nowhere to be seen on the horizon...

Incidentally, I'm posting this anonymously because the last time I posted an inconvenient truth on the web, it was picked up and used out of context by the beer industry to support the argument for higher taxation of 'all' cider. Something I strongly disagree with.

Simon Johnson said...

Thanks for an objective view, Pete: I've tried discussing this with the cider jihadists that I know but I feel like I'm just pissing in the wind.

On which point, it's good to see that my urologist has made good use of my last four samples. From that photo and your description, I now know that any lingering infection of mine can now be described as "a bit Cidre-looking".

Baron Orm said...

I never drink cider but I was at a friend's house this week who is a big cider drinker (mainstream ciders only I think) and he offered me a Stella Cidre.

I thought is was was pretty unpleasant but not undrinkable, just seemed to taste artificial and overly fizzy.

The label is also misleading with it's "50% hand picked apples" - does that mean the rest is not handpicked, or not apples, or something else?

Nor'easter Brewing said...

Enjoy reading about all the beers this blog reports on. We are in the planning stages for a new brewery in Northeastern USA called Nor'easter Brewing Company LLC and our business plan is to grow to over 25,000BBL within 5 years.
The breweries you report on, allow for much encouragement.

http://noreasterbrewing.com
About to take the craft beer industry by storm!

Curmudgeon said...

I tried some of this last week as it was on offer in Tesco (as you do). I do enjoy some of the bottled craft ciders, so I'm not a total novice. It was actually quite pleasant, fairly sweet and distinctly appley. Not a sophisticated, complex product, but as alcoholic apple juice entirely acceptable. Some of the mass-market ciders taste more like fermented corn syrup than anything that has anything to do with apples.

rubadub said...

"people perceive Magner's and Bulmer's to be the same thing, and they're quite different, as this tasting shows"
The bulmers you have is the UK one, magners is the same as the Irish bulmers. From wiki "Magners is a brand of cider produced in County Tipperary, Ireland by the C&C Group,. The Magners product range includes the cider varieties: Magners Original, Magners Light, Magners Pear and Magners Berry. The cider was originally produced as Bulmers and continues to be sold under that name in Ireland and Scotland, even though the Irish product is no longer owned by H. P. Bulmer."

Anonymous said...

I work in the cider industry and I can assure you that Stella Cidre is tasteless fizzy pish even by big brewer/industrial standards.
It is far too sweet, has low acidity and not much apple aroma or taste coming through. Its not cider in taste, so in that respect the AB-InBev marketeers are bang on! Its aimed squarely at young people or those who dont like anything too challenging on the palette. It is to all intents and purposes an alcopop.
If AB-InBEv want to disagree ask them to list the chemicals, additives and flavours they artificially introduce to a bog standard fermented cider base and see what they say......

Anonymous said...

I find the 'Cidre' thing hilarious considering on the front of the bottle on the adverts in smaller print it says "Belgium Cider".

So which one is it then?! Cidre or Cider?

shep said...

Nice comment on Stella Cidre Peter i love the drink personally. How are you getting away with defacing a trademarked brand. What if Google decides to slap you a penalty?? you may wake up and find you have 0 traffic if Google has a complaint for the brand owners Inbev?

Pete Brown said...

Shep, it's a perfectly fair and balanced review, written at Inbev's request.

The mock-up poster is a bit cheeky, sure, but that wasn't me. And it's a statement of opinion. And it's true.

We are still allowed to freely express our opinions about the actions of multi-million pound global corporations, and I find it a little disturbing that you think it's bloggers who need to be reined in rather than the aforesaid corporations.

Clara Lea said...

A rather good product once you get past the cidre good value for money.REASON LOÏC Breton top brands
cider, sweet cider and cider recipes (Breton aperitif, cocktail, crepe, rabbit, chicken, duck, pork ...)

Bill Deans said...

Thoroughly enjoyed your blog Pete. If you just want value for money then Weston's Vintage Cider at 8.2% ABV is great