Brewers to take snakebite upmarket with new drink

Peter Stuart says snakebite has unfairly got a bad reputation and he wants to prove it can taste delicious. Picture: Julie Bull
Peter Stuart says snakebite has unfairly got a bad reputation and he wants to prove it can taste delicious. Picture: Julie Bull
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IT’S the head-spinning blend of lager and cider synonymous with binge-drinking students and drunken down-and-outs.

But now the formidable brew is set to hit shelves as the world’s first commercial snakebite – and strike at the connoisseurs’ palate.

Commonly known as “red diesel”, the heady mix is being taken upmarket by East Lothian cider makers Thistly Cross and craft ale producers Tempest as a new tipple said to be a delicious fusion of quality produce.

Keeping with tradition, the concoction has been branded “Snakebite” but the two breweries are hoping to turn convention on its head with their 5.5 per cent blend by appealing to the craft-beer market.

Snakebite famously hit the headlines in 2001, when former US President Bill Clinton was refused the drink at a North Yorkshire pub. Licensee Jamie Allen mistakenly advised that it was “illegal to serve” it in the UK.

Many bars refuse to serve the drink because of its cosmetic appearance and 
association with rowdy 

Peter Stuart, 37, head cider maker at Thistly Cross Cider, explained his decision to create the limited- edition snakebite.

“Snakebite is viewed as a cult favourite among party-loving students and is renowned for its foul taste – blackcurrant cordial often being used in an attempt to mask the taste,” he said.

“The Tempest and Thistly Cross Cider snakebite collaboration looks to tackle that by creating a drink that can be enjoyed, savoured and is made to craft standards.

“I think it’s unfairly got a bad reputation and the whole point of the craft agenda is to take unlikely influences and make good on them – take the potential and reinterpret it.

“In doing so we’re challenging the UK’s drinking culture and also proving that snakebite’s unpalatable reputation is due to the low-quality ciders and lagers used rather than the combination itself.

“We’ve managed to stick to the half-cider, half-lager combination which is blended with homegrown blackcurrants from the Thistly Cross Cider fruit farm.”

Mr Stuart said the bitterness from the beer gives way to a “fruity quality” from the cider and blackcurrant creating an “intriguing” taste.

A 1000-litre batch of Snakebite will be released next week with a commitment to produce it regularly if it proves popular.

Gavin Meiklejohn, managing director of Tempest Brewery Company, based in the Borders, said he was delighted with his joint creation.

“It’s snakebite but it’s not an industrial mass produced product. We are using fresh fruit rather than cheap extracts and syrup so it will be an expensive product to make.

“I’ve obviously tried it and there’s a big fruit taste – the beer and cider sit well together.”

And he added: “This is something that we have never been before so we’re excited.”

The limited-edition craft snakebite will be available at a series of special events up and down the UK.

A reputation for being abused

Paul Waterstone, chief executive of Scottish Licensed Trades Association, said the reputation and aesthetics of snakebite were key factors in a publican’s decision not to serve it.

“Snakebite is very cloudy – like bad lager – when you mix it and some pub owners don’t like customers to see that because it will make the place look bad.

“It’s also a stronger drink and can make people drunk very quickly. People have mixed the elements together to abuse it, so it has a reputation for being abused.”

But he added: “These are two craft breweries that produce good products so as long as it is within responsible alcohol limits I’d have no problem with it.

“This drink sounds like it’s for a quality market and not a gimmick trying to cash in on selling a very strong product.”