We review the entire country and culture of New Zealand, one thing at a time. Today, Don Rowe gets out the duct tape and cracks into a bottle of Scrumpy.
For almost thirty years, only one word has been synonymous with both duct tape and drinking. That word is Scrumpy, the people’s cider. With 8% alcohol by volume, 1.25 litres in a bottle and an RRP of no more than $10, Scrumpy is a workingman’s cider, a zesty drop with no airs about it – as befits its origins.
Traditionally, ‘scrumpy’ referred to what was otherwise known as ‘rough’, a harsh drop made from the sort of apples Countdown sell as Odd Bunch produce.
These days, ‘rough’ refers to how you feel after a night on the Green Boys; a special kind of hangover where everything from your sinuses to your urine smells like tangy booze and Google is returning a diagnosis of suicide headaches.
Available in apple, raspberry and lemon flavour, as well as the occasional ginger beer release, Scrumpy nonetheless tastes as though it’s all brewed from a starting point of pure ethanol. And yet, in a market awash with saccharine drops, Scrumpy is eminently drinkable. The first thing I saw on January 1, 2018, was a raspberry Scrumpy disappearing down a funnel.
At 80c a standard, Scrumpy sits right at the price-point where consumption becomes a sport in itself. Take national pastime Scrumpy Hands: the questing pilgrim duct tapes a bottle in each hand, removing them only when both are empty. That’s 2.5L of cider – or 16 standard drinks – before one can so much as urinate unassisted. I’ve seen it done from the confines of a camp chair. The chair was later burned.
Scrumpy is the backpacker’s dream. Some websites even promote tours of the Harvest Cidery in Gisborne; a boozer’s Mecca. In a questionable abdication of responsibility, Harvest Cidery told one couple they didn’t invent Scrumpy Hands, but they haven’t shied away from it in the past.
In April 2017, an Advertising Standards Authority complaint alleged a Scrumpy-branded duct tape giveaway was promoting irresponsible drinking. Harvest Cidery withdrew the product at the request of the ASA.
Marisa Lansing, an American exchange student at University of Otago, listed Scrumpy Hands at number two on her “10 Funky Differences between the US and NZ” list on the Education New Zealand website, showcasing the government’s ongoing commitment to celebrating our cultural taonga.
In 2010, on the album Extended Playtime, New Zealand hip-hop act Rap Authoritar + Sensei What dropped Scrumpy Hands, an ode to whipping out the tape and sinking some units. The album notes promise a diverse style of rap and soul vocals, ‘taking influence from an equally diverse range of artists, from MF Doom to Anthony Kiedis’.
As a track Scrumpy Hands leans stylistically closer to MF Doom than Kiedis, though there is a certain sense of self-destructive behaviour and expression of the Freudian death drive in the concept. What’s more rap-era Kiedis than substance abuse and casual sex?
Gotta drink another brew / might be going home with you
Scrumpy Hands I see you / Scrumpy Hands I see you
I feel your pain / I feel your pain / Scrumpy Hands control your brain
Verdict: Affordable, accessible, and with an undeniable place in our cultural pantheon – Scrumpy truly is the people’s cider.
Good or Bad: Good.
/ Don Rowe