Snakebite is back

Posted by on Mar 22, 2013 in Scottish Beer | 3 Comments


Take a moment and think back to your student years. Pierce the alcohol-tinged clouds of shame and recall some of those memories. Pot Noodles. Jerry Springer. Ill-advised facial hair (for me, at least). Snakebite. Regret. Well – fast forward to modern times, and at least one of those things is making a comeback. Yes, Goatee Snakebite is back. The cloudy powerhouse itself, beloved by people who should be studying, people who should be at school, and Bill Clinton* is now available in commercial form. A collaboration between Thistly Cross and Tempest Brewing Co, the new ‘craft’ version of the bartender’s favourite was launched yesterday in Edinburgh, lending a degree of authenticity to the fast-acting half n’ half.

*Urban myth has it that the 42nd President was refused a Snakebite in, of all places, a Harrogate pub, when the barman mistakenly told him it was illegal to serve in the UK. Presumably, Clinton opted for Sambuca instead.

Technically speaking (although this does vary around the country) what Thistly Cross and Tempest have produced is actually Diesel, as it’s a blend of beer and cider with added blackcurrant. So, whereas back in the day it was cheap cider, cheaper lager and E-number laden cordial, the new Snakebite contains farm-made cider, a bespoke beer from one of Scotland’s most innovative breweries, and hand-picked fruit. One of your five a day, then (an idea for the label, there). At 5.5% it still packs something of a punch, and as it comes ready-blended there’s no need for any awkward conversations with bar management, or cheekily buying half a lager in a pint glass, then idling back to the bar for the other component.

Launching a commercial Snakebite/Diesel is a fantastic idea. Back in the day, it had a huge reputation for causing trouble – mainly due to the speed with which it got people plastered. Many pubs refused to sell them – and some still won’t (Wetherspoon’s, for example, apparently won’t mix one up even today, as a matter of policy). But is it really that bad? During its heyday, Snakebite was one of a limited number of ‘bang for your buck’ options in pubs. Today, marketed shots and party drinks have become more typical. Jagerbombs are the norm now – in fact, they could be said to be the new Snakebite.

There should be a huge amount of interest for this new version, I would think. Chatting to Tempest MD Gavin Meiklejohn at the launch, he was pretty sure it would fly out, and their initial trial batch would go very quickly. As for the recipe, the beer part was produced in Kelso, and brewed to only 5IBU – with hardly any bitterness. It was then taken over to Dunbar and blended 50/50 with some of Peter Stuart’s cider, before the blackcurrants were added. For the launch, it was served on gravity from a cask and also on keg. So, most importantly – what does it taste like?

On gravity, it’s an opaque pinkish red, looking like a beetroot smoothie. As you would expect, the predominant flavour is blackcurrant, sweet berry fruit and lots of juice. There’s a fair tingle of cider at the end, as some of the apple bitterness comes out. At no point does it taste of alcohol – which, of course, was the original intention. On keg, it’s even better – the carbonation lifts it, adds more bitterness from the cider component, and the colder serve evens out the sweetness (depending on your preference, of course). Both are supremely drinkable – always the main appeal.

Let’s face it, nobody ever drank Snakebite for the taste – Diesel was essentially invented after a masking agent was discovered that hid the main flavours. Now, though, there’s this new re-invented Snakebite, poised to enter the flourishing draught cider market (assuming they class it as a cider, I’m not sure if anyone knows at the moment). As a trial, the various components could still be tweaked if needed, but it should do brilliantly well. Flavoured ciders are here to stay – and now, thanks to Thistly Cross and Tempest, so – once again – are Snakebite hangovers…


  1. Richard Morrice
    March 22, 2013

    I think that Snakebite got its bad boy reputation partly because of its name.
    If it had been called Soothing Sunset everyone would have wanted one.
    Or would they?
    Richard Morrice

  2. Owen
    March 22, 2013

    Sadly (or not) the claim that it’s “one of your five a day” would fall foul of labelling rules for alcohol, which can’t claim any health benefits.

    The classification issue is interesting as beer pays duty (as we all know) but small cider producers (and I assume Thistly Cross is still in this bracket but don’t know for sure) do not.

    I’m surprised at the exclusion of bitterness though, and I’m unsurprised the cask version would be oversweet — the pleasantly increased bitterness you note in the keg version could be achieved by actually using some hops 😉

  3. Richard
    March 22, 2013

    I was joking about the five a day claim, but, with added fruit it certainly feels as if it’s doing you good.

    And keg is always superior to cask, Owen, you know that 😉

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