The smashing rise of hard cider

Walk into any restaurant or pub with a decent array of taps, or any liquor store, and you’ll see something that wouldn’t have been there 5 years ago: hard cider. Johnny Appleseed would be thrilled.

Today’s ciders can be sweet, sharp, dry, and even hoppy. They can be highly-carbonated or barely-carbonated, and appear with all sorts of extra flavors like cinnamon, ginger, pear (called “perry”), raspberry, and a variety of other flavors.

Given its almost complete absence from America until recently, it’s hard to believe that cider was once the drink of choice in the US. Not only did John Adams enjoy a hard cider every morning, but former president William Harrison won his election based in-part on a “Log cabin and hard cider” message intended to show that he was relatable.

But by the end of the 19th century, hard cider had all but disappeared from the national scene for a variety of reasons: from the temperance movement, to immigration patterns, to urbanization, to the rise of lagers.

Cider’s recent resurgence has been keyed by a variety of factors. Naturally gluten-free, cider has benefitted from the recent anti-gluten and “paleo” diet movements. Cider has also benefitted from the rise of craft beers, as drinkers have discovered that alcohol can taste good and are seeking a variety of options. Finally, cider-makers have targeted women – specifically white wine drinkers – by pitching ciders as a lower-alcohol alternative to wine. While beer is viewed as a male-oriented drink, cider is gender-neutral.

Hard cider sales tripled from 2005 to 2012, and reportedly grew 88% during the first quarter of 2013. The boom has attracted the attention of national and international brewers, with Anheuser-Bush InBev, SABMiller, Heineken, and Boston Beer Company have all been hit on the head by the cider craze like Newton and his theory of gravity.

Boston Beer, the brewer of Sam Adams, makes hard cider under the name Angry Orchard. Jim Koch read the tea leaves right on that investment, as Angry Orchard sales have gone from 40,000 cases to 2.2 million cases in two years and has surged to the top of cider sales nationwide.

Angry Orchard, whose standard cider hits just the right balance of sweetness and crispness, makes a great variety pack that includes a top-notch ginger cider, an extra-dry cider, and either a cinnamon one or an elderflower option.

The big boys of brewing aren’t getting left behind. The formerly top-selling domestic Woodchuck Hard Cider, was bought out by Irish beverage company C&C Group in 2012. C&C also makes the popular worldwide brand Magner’s Hard Cider.

2012 saw further consolidation when MillerCoors bought Crispin Cider, whose beverages are firmly targeted at the wine-drinking audience. Heck, they even sell boxed cider!

Budweiser/Ambev have two cider offerings – Michelob Ultra Light Cider, and the recently-launched Cidre. An extension of their Stella Artrois brand, Cidre also targets the white-wine drinker with its crisp, not-at-all sweet cider.

Heineken purchased the world’s #1 cider, Strongbow, in 2008. Stongbow controls 10% of the global market with their crisp, medium-balanced, and fairly generic cider. Consolidation abounds.

Despite the attention of global conglomerates, small cideries are springing up across the country. Locally, Homestead Hard Cider has been working on a cidery in Attleboro, MA. They’re still in the permitting process, but look for them to capitalize on the Venn-diagram middle of the rising market for cider and for local beer. Ideally, their ciders will be available by the end of the month. (Note from the distant future: I’ve had their fine offering and it’s amazing … quite possibly the best cider I’ve tasted.)

Learn how to make your own hard cider.

Originally published on June 6, 2013