West Country cider drinkers have launched a stinging attack on their formerly-beloved Blackthorn, claiming the drink's manufacturer has gone all cosmopolitan on them. The Gaymer cider company has rebranded the famous Blackthorn brew, cutting its alcohol content and sweetening it in a bid to get more people drinking the stuff. But the move has sparked outrage among traditional cider fans.
And despite cider drinkers' image as an old-fashioned bunch, proof of their opprobrium has come in that most modern of forms: a Facebook group dedicated to the new brew's destruction. Meanwhile posters in Bristol announcing the cider's relaunch have been defaced by traditionalists determined to take the fight off the web and onto the streets.
One Bristol barman claimed the rebranding survey must have been done in London, where they are not ‘real' cider drinkers. And although it's easy to feel a little sympathy for those who believe their favourite pint and way of life is being trampled on to pander to the metropolitan crowd, there's also a good reason behind the move. Blackthorn has been left behind in the cider stakes over recent years, overtaken as the likes of Bulmer's and Magner's became trendy drinks.
Both launched major advertising campaigns based around the idea of drinking cider with ice - not at first sight a revelation, but enough to bring the cider market back from the dead. Notably, though, neither trade on having a dry taste: something most traditional cider drinkers would see as a prerequisite - that and it being strong enough to make you go blind. While the popularity of Bulmer's and Magner's has soared, Blackthorn has been pushed into the background. Only now has the Gaymer firm acted, with a massive £1.5m relaunch that has seen the drink ‘mellowed' and its alcohol content reduced from 5% to 4.7%.
And no matter what the people of Bristol might think, when it comes to the crunch Gaymer knows it has to make an impact way beyond the West Country's cosy village pubs. Londoners might not know their cider, but they know what they like - and until now it hasn't been Blackthorn. Gaymer seems to have decided it's worth risking its core market for a chance to play with the big boys. We can only hope they are right - but we can't help worrying Blackthorn's already missed the boat. London fashions move quickly and Magner's success peaked a few summers ago.