I can't remember when it began, but there has been a trend for many years of creating non-alcoholic versions of alcoholic beverages. I guess one could include so-called 'virgin' cocktails in this phenomenon. I can dimly remember trying Kaliber, the 'Non Alcoholic Premium Lager' from Guinness (sorry, 'Diageo') way back when it first launched amidst a flurry of TV advertising featuring Billy Connolly, and finding it utterly foul. Then again, I found any 'Premium Lager' utterly foul and, for the most part, still do.
Since then, many more have come (and gone, probably), but non-alcoholic drinks generally are springing up all the time. One such example is Marks & Spencer's 'Alcohol Free Apple Soft Brew', otherwise known as "the soft drink born in a brewery".
The blurb further explains that it is a "Carbonated soft drink made with Apple, Lemon and Pear juices from concentrate", and that it is "Traditionally brewed using English hops & malt for a full fruity flavour without the alcohol."
Now, I'm not a big cider drinker. Partly snobbery, because it's such a popular (read: cheap) drink with students, and partly because it always strikes me as an unfathomable waste of good fruit juice. What can I say? I have a sweet tooth. Search your feelings... you know this to be true.
The thing with this drink is that, based on my rare samplings of fermented apple juice, it has a fuller, and far more musty flavour that your average cider... but that's just the immediate hit of flavour. It's aftertaste is dry, but far more fruity than a true cider. It's also very lightly carbonated, and so probably far less frothy and gassy than the 'grown ups' version.
Now, certainly, some might argue that giving a drink like this to underage kids will encourage them to seek out the alcoholic variety sooner but that arguement is for another blog. All I have to say on the matter is that a family that take these on a picnic, rather than cider, will probably have a better picnic, and a safer drive home. The flavour isn't quite a substitute for the real thing, but it's close enough (albeit sweeter and fruitier overall) and doesn't have the obvious downside of alcohol.
Addendum 4/7/11: This stuff also generates a very satisfying head when poured into a glass or mug (275ml is just over a pint, so be prepared to drink the last mouthful straight from the bottle!). It doesn't last as well as a beer, but does last slightly longer than cider.