Hard Cider, Music, The Hard Cider Business

Strongbow & Heineken/Barney Bubbles/White Lightning


I hadn’t realized this before, but Strongbow is owned by Heineken. I found this out after reading up on the brand since posting about it recently. You might see our ignorance of this fact as evidence that CiderPlex is decidedly not a “world renowned cider expert,” but you’d be wrong. CiderPlex is a cider savant, like Rain Man or Forrest Gump. We might have some bind spots about Bulmers and Magners being the exact same thing, or which “parent company” owns which formerly-good brand, but we live and breathe and eat and sleep cider. Mostly drink it.


And wouldn’t you believe it? Heineken went and changed the formula:

White Plains, N.Y.-based Heineken USA, which acquired import rights to the Strongbow Hard Cider brand in January 2013, is phasing out the original Strongbow Hard Cider recipe and replacing it with new Strongbow Gold Apple Hard Cider and Strongbow Honey & Apple Hard Cider. The new ciders will begin appearing at on- and off-premise accounts this month, says Alejandra de Obeso, Strongbow brand director. In turn, the original Strongbow hard cider is expected to be completely phased out at retail before the end of April, she notes.

Like we said, formerly good.


It’s odd, I had noticed the new packaging and flavors for Strongbow, but the news of the recipe change got past our editorial news team (who have since resigned in shame).


In my Stronbow research, I came across the work of graphic designer Barney Bubbles. He designed the logo for Strongbow along with dozens of cool album covers (many for punk/New Wave acts that I’ve never heard of). You can read up on him here and here. He’s well worth checking out. You could start with the biography “Reasons to be Cheerful: The Life & Work Of Barney Bubbles” by Paul Gorman.


I also read about White Lightning, which was a cheap, high-alcohol cider available in Britain. It was part of a wave of potent “white” ciders being produced by the big British cider brands. Heineken withdrew it from the marketplace in 2008 with this statement:

“White cider is a problem drink for us as an industry; it tends to have connotations with the park bench,” said Heineken’s Mark Gerken, sales managing director for the off-trade, at the time.

I read this 2011 Telegraph article, “The Trouble with Cider” by Amy Wilson with some interest. Britain seems to be in a bit of an existential crisis about its drinking culture. It’s worth liberally quoting the article, beginning with the lede:

Cider has more trouble with its reputation than a rebellious heroine in a Victorian novel. For every artisan West Country producer persuading us of cider’s appley goodness, there is a teenage binge-drinker on a park bench undoing those efforts.”

Weird how they only use “park bench” in that Jethro Tull context.


Whereas I tend to think of park benches like this:


More from the article:

For a few years in the middle of the last decade, it looked like cider was going to throw off its image as the tramp’s beverage of choice. Irish brand Magners was all the rage, being served over ice in trendy bars. But Magners’ meteoric rise came to a screeching halt when all the other cider makers in Britain cottoned on to the over-ice idea, and a series of wet summers made a mockery of its golden-hued ads complete with Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman” soundtrack. By 2007, Magners was issuing profits warnings. After increasing public concern about cheap, high-strength beer and cider and their contribution to Britain’s drinking problem, the infamous White Lightning was withdrawn from the market in 2009.

“Tramps beverage of choice…”

You could compare this white cider panic to Four Loko hysteria in America. When that crud (basically a caffeinated energy drink + alcohol) hit the mainstream, there was quite a moral panic. From wikipedia:

In 2009, a group of US state attorneys general began active investigations of companies which produced and sold caffeinated alcohol beverages, on the grounds that they were being inappropriately marketed to a teenage audience and that they had possible health risks (blackouts). The attorneys general were also concerned that these drinks could pose health risks by masking feelings of intoxication. In December 2008, Anheuser-Busch, manufacturer of Tilt and Bud Extra, as well as MillerCoors, manufacturer of Sparks agreed to reformulate their drinks.


I also came across this 2008 NY Times article about Brits and drinking titled “Some Britons Too Unruly for Resorts in Europe.” It’s a pretty funny article about unruly tourists, but I think it’s a bit hard of the Brits.

Choice quotes:

Even in a sea of tourists, it is easy to spot the Britons here on the northeast coast of Crete, and not just from the telltale pallor of their sun-deprived northern skin.

They are the ones, the locals say, who are carousing, brawling and getting violently sick. They are the ones crowding into health clinics seeking morning-after pills and help for sexually transmitted diseases. They are the ones who seem to have one vacation plan: drinking themselves into oblivion.

“They scream, they sing, they fall down, they take their clothes off, they cross-dress, they vomit,” Malia’s mayor, Konstantinos Lagoudakis, said in an interview. “It is only the British people — not the Germans or the French.”

Malia is the latest and currently most notorious in a long list of European resorts full of young British tourists on packaged tours offering cheap alcohol and a license to behave badly. In Magaluf and Ibiza, Spain; in Ayia Napa, Cyprus; and in the Greek resorts of Faliraki, Kavos and Laganas as well as Malia, the story is the same: They come, they drink, they wreak havoc.

I think this happens at a lot of places where traveling young people wander, it’s not “only the British” who do this sort of thing. I’m sure during Spring Break, parts of Mexico like Cancun are flooded with drunk American college students doing similar shenanigans. And what’s up with the phrase “the telltale pallor of their sun-deprived northern skin?”


2 thoughts on “Strongbow & Heineken/Barney Bubbles/White Lightning

  1. Pingback: Toilet Reading: Good Woodworking | Toilet Reading

  2. Pingback: Oh, Dry Blackthorn is NOT cider either | CiderPlex

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