South West of England Cidermakers’ Association

Supporting the region’s growers and makers

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HMRC policy on the use of wooden casks

Members may be aware that a misunderstanding among cider makers has recently arisen (Feb 2012) as to the HMRC policy view of the use of wooden casks or other wooden vessels for making, storing and distributing cider and perry.  On checking, the HMRC view is unchanged:  wooden vessels are, of themselves, acceptable as containers and may be used without threatening the excise duty classification of cider and perry. 

However, their use and the effect they may have on a cider, even though that effect might be unintended and indirect, must still conform to the overarching condition in UK primary law (Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act 1979, Sn 1(6)):

‘“Cider” means cider (or perry)...   ...without the addition at any time of any alcoholic liquor or of any liquor or substance which communicates colour or flavour other than such as the Commissioners may allow as appearing to them to be necessary to make cider (or perry).’ 

Therefore any such addition that might derive from the wood of which the vessel is made or from any previous use of the vessel would exclude the product from the cider definition and render it ‘made wine’.   Clearly this can be a subjective judgement but HMRC will look first for any increase in ABV (which might be in excess of their rule of thumb of 0.1%ABV and brought about by a cider leaching residual alcohol from a vessel previously used to contain a distilled alcohol or spirit) and then for change in flavour or colour of the cider beyond what might reasonably be expected to result from the maturation of the cider in wood.  Remember also that Notice 162, Sn 25 requires that:

‘colourings and other substances which may impart colour may only be used to produce cider or perry in the colour range – straw/gold/golden brown.’

Members will be aware that no duty exemption status exists for made wine producers and all made wine produced for sale is liable to wine duty.

Healey's Texan-Style Hard Cider breaches responsibility code

Portman Group's Independent Complaints Panel has ruled that Healey’s Texan-style Hard Cyder has breached alcohol responsibility rules for making alcoholic strength its dominant theme.

A member of the public complained that the product name had links with toughness, violence and aggression.

The Cornish Cyder Farm, owners of Healey’s Texan-style Hard Cyder, explained that the product had been inspired by Texan heritage and that it had purposely adopted the American terminology of ‘hard cider’ meaning cider with alcohol. In America, ‘cider’ is non-alcoholic.

In considering the complaint, the Panel noted that there was an explanation on the back of the label explaining the use of ‘hard’ cider as referring to an alcohol drink. The Panel felt, however, that such an explanation was not relevant to UK consumers to whom ‘cider’ exclusively referred to an alcoholic drink. The Panel considered that while in some UK regions the term ‘hard’ could imply a person was violent and aggressive, this term was not universally recognised, while ‘hard’ in the context of an alcoholic drink, had direct associations with strong alcohol and this led the product to breach the Code.

Henry Ashworth, Chief Executive of the Portman Group, which provides the secretariat for the Independent Complaints Panel, said:

"It is not acceptable to make alcohol strength the dominant theme of a drink. Alcohol producers must exercise extreme caution and we strongly recommend they use the Portman Group’s free pre-launch advice service. We are pleased that the company has agreed to consult our Advisory Service going forward.

 A Retailer Alert Bulletin has been issued which instructs licensees and retailers not to place orders for Healey’s Texan-style Hard Cyder in its current form after 15 April 2012.

Rulings made by the Panel are published in full on the Portman Group’s website

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