Cider makers and MPs were out in force last night as the All-Party Parliamentary Cider Group held its annual bash on the terrace of the House of Commons.

The mood of the night was largely one of celebration – the summer’s good weather has meant a good harvest and an increase in cider consumption – but there was a definite call to arms. Tory MP Ian Liddell-Grainger, who chairs the group, warned of “dark clouds on the horizon”, in the form of the duty escalator, which he said would put cider beyond the reach of ordinary folk.

“We have to get rid of it or it cider will hit the buffers in the future,” he declared.

Paul Bartlett, C&C Group’s marketing director and the chairman of the National Association of Cider Makers (NACM), said it was important to keep up the pressure as the industry was investing heavily in planting orchards to boost production, as well as looking to make progress on the sustainability of the industry.

“There is a great deal of investment on the back of confidence in the industry,” he said. “It’s not through good luck that cider has been the best-performing drinks category – it is a result of an unstinting focus on product quality and the willingness of producers to invest in their businesses.”

Exports, he added, were the next big push – and there was a clear sign from both cider makers and trade representatives that they were gearing up for Anuga. “There are exciting opportunities on the horizon,” Bartlett said, pointing to markets in North America, Scandinavia and Australia. However, this could only happen if the tax regime in the UK remained stable – a critical point for the industry, he said.

However some argue that cider has been given an easy ride compared to other types of booze – and little mention was made of cider’s apparent ‘identify crisis’. The questions often bandied about within the industry as to what constitutes ‘real’ cider – whether fruit ciders count, what defines a British cider – went largely without discussion. Even the representatives from CAMRA seemed silent on this point, despite the real-ale organisation having a long ‘name and shame list’ of products on their website that they do not recognise as ‘real’ cider – many of them made by people in the assembled crowd.

Real or not, The Grocer can report that cider was the principle theme of the drinks menu on the night – with tap water the only available alternative.