Hard Cider is enjoying renewed popularity, and its comeback in the United States has been spurred by the craft beer industry. Almost nonexistent a decade ago, the demand for cider has increased dramatically. Local cideries has followed in the footsteps of craft breweries to create a niche market. Some ciders are thick and sweet while others are more traditionally sharp and dry. There is a cider to suit any taste, and Americans are starting to take notice.
Hard cider is the fastest-growing segment of the alcohol industry; production has increased 400 percent over the last 24 months. According Nielson, Americans spent over $360 million drinking cider in the past year. Most cider is brewed by small, independent cideries, but alcohol giants MillerCoors (Smith & Forge), Anheuser-Busch (Johnny Appleseed) and Boston Beer (Angry Orchard) are developing varieties to capture a share in the market. Ciders are making a splash at craft beer festivals, and a few cider fests and competitions have been started to showcase the variety of homegrown flavors. Woodchuck Cider, brewed by the Vermont Hard Cider Company since 1991, is the top-selling cider in the nation.
In terms of production, cider is more like wine because it is fermented fruit. Either yeast is added to the cider or it is aged in wooden barrels to initiate the process of fermentation. In character, cider is more similar to a craft beer. Like beer, the alcohol content of cider is about five percent. Also, local apples and manufacturing are important to the business. The purpose is to create unique flavors and high quality products while supporting local agricultural economies.
Small, independent cideries use locally sourced fruit so it makes sense that the states with the most cider production also have a good climate for apples. Washington is the largest apple producer and has the greatest number of cideries in the country. However, New York, the second largest apple producer, actually produces the greatest number of barrels of cider. Oregon leads the way in craft ciders, going so far as anointing Portland the “worldwide epicenter for cider.” California is rapidly growing its apple and cider production which is bringing the heirloom Gravenstein apple back from the brink of extinction. Michigan is the third largest producer of apples with most of its orchards consisting of under 200 acres and operated by independent families. Michigan also hosts the premier cider competition in the United States, the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition.
Cider was historically America’s beverage of choice. Although not native to the new world, apples grow well in North America. The earliest colonist from Europe brought apples trees with them. The northeast was too cold to grow barley to brew beer, but the long, cold winters, warm summers, and high humidity was perfect for apples.
In the 1800s, the influx of immigrants from Germany and other parts of Europe made beer the more popular drink. Prohibition in the 1920s nearly wiped out cider production. The last few decades have seen a resurgence of the apple brew due to a number of factors: cider is naturally gluten-free, foodies want local fare, and the gourmet/craft food industry is promoting provincial flavors.
Cider is having a big moment in the U.S. Currently, cider makes up only one percent of all alcohol sales. However, consumers are demanding more and production is soaring. New cideries are popping up wherever apples will grow. Spurred by the craft beer movement with its focus on local fruit and unique flavors, hard cider is making a comeback with renewed popularity.
By: Rebecca Savastio