Hard Apple Cider Comeback


If an apple a day is good for health, than the 32 million gallons of apple cider produced between 2011 and 2013 must also be good for something like wealth. Hard apple cider is making a comeback in England and the U.S. market, making the specialty offering the fastest growing segment of alcoholic brewing today.

The surge in apple cider production started with Widmer Brewing in 2001. Now, Anheuser-Busch, Boston Beer Company and Miller have joined the wave of new cider production outfits, among others. Leader in the hard cider movement, the Angry Orchard line produced by Boston Beer Company, reported sales of $601.5 million from hard cider sales in 2012. If Angry Orchard sounds familiar, it is probably, because the brewery invested $1 million per month in advertising after banner sales of hard apple cider in 2011 and 2012.

States like Michigan, Oregon and Washington are really getting into the spirit of apple brewing. Michigan hosts a Hard Cider Fun Run in August at Siestema Orchards, which promises a scenic jaunt through apple fields at sunset as fireflies begin to appear at dusk. Oregon alone now has 30 licensed cider breweries (up from 10 in 2010). A cider conference, dubbed Cider Con, is held annually for cider production professionals, and was orchestrated to provide an outlet to share ideas, network and affect positive change in the growing industry.

Apple cider, fermented like wine but imbibed like a craft beer, appeals to a trend in locavore dining. The process of making apple cider is labor intensive, and work in orchards is very hands-on, which attracts those who support local commerce and farm-to-fork dining. Orchards and the hard apple cider movement are helping to support a tradition of revitalizing local economies and emphasizing fresh farming practices.

The U.S. regulates that the brew must be between four and eight percent alcohol to qualify as hard cider. Apple spirits that are between eight and 14 percent are labeled as win, technically, requiring producers to obtain a winery license in order to make the stuff. Sweeter ciders, made traditionally by adding molasses or honey during fermentation, produce hard cider with a higher alcohol content.

It is said that hard apple cider is making a “comeback” because this is not the first time in the history of the U.S. that Americans have looked to the orchard for draught beverages. Apple cider was extremely popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. In fact, presidential candidate William Harrison hoped to get in good with working class constituents by touting himself as “log cabin and hard cider” kind of man in an 1840 election.

Apple cider rescinded from public favor sometime after 1840, when many Americans supported Prohibition in the United States. Beer, introduced by Germans to America, proved quicker and cheaper to produce than cider, and more convenient at the time, since many orchards were then being razed or destroyed by Temperance zealots. Following the repeal of anti-drinking laws when Prohibition ended, beer had already become popularized and took apple cider’s place as America’s favorite alcoholic beverage.

Cider seems like a niche market–and it is, at only one percent of the market in the U.S.– but it has undergone tremendous growth in a very short amount of time, Production and sales in the specialty brewing segment are up nearly 100 percent in just one year. The Beer Institute reports that American hard cider production has more than tripled from 2011-20013, from 9.4 million gallons to 32 million. A 2012 Neilson Report states that cider is “poised for great growth,” because cider seems to attract a younger, more affluent consumer.

Hard apple cider’s comeback is attributed in small part to the ale’s convenient alignment with another big trend in health, gluten-free dining. Research suggests that a diet with minimal to no gluten improves gastrointestinal function and a host of other mental and physical functions. Going gluten free has become the biggest health trends in the world, which is good news for burgeoning cider brewers. Apple, when fermented, are naturally gluten-free, adding to the short list of foods and beverages that those with gluten intolerance can enjoy worry-free. Growth is expected to continue where hard cider is concerned into the foreseeable future.

By Mariah Beckman

Michigan State University
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