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Hard cider is in its infancy, with tremendous opportunities for growth. As a premium beverage, American-produced hard cider is an emerging category fighting for distinction.

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Trending Upwards

A 15-Year View of Cider's Resurgence

by Marie Oliver

     It is impossible to avoid getting caught up in the excitement of the Celebrator Beer News turning into a quincea–era, a 15-year-old unruly teenager. In the spirit of this most auspicious occasion, the desire to join in the collective flashback and offer a cider retrospective preempts the previously proposed cider feature.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]In honor of the CBN's rite of passage, my time was spent engaging in a cursory examination of the hard cider literature, and a review of relevant citations in America's popular media over the last 15 years. Journalists are the perceived cognoscente, after all, the knowables who invariably influence public perception. This is not a one-way street, however. A little media literacy goes a long way, and often those cider producers with well-defined marketing strategies get the press. From the looks of it, hard cider is in its infancy, with tremendous opportunities for growth ahead. As a premium beverage, American-produced hard cider is an emerging category fighting for distinction.
Admittedly, it proved rather difficult at first to have a myopic view of hard cider production in the United States, as apples were not even native to America, having been brought over by 17th-century colonists. The national hard-cider scene has not yet coalesced (point me to the national association of hard cider producers, please). The leadership is lurking in true grassroots fashion; perhaps a president will surface, much like the true-blue homebrew crew members, stellar and low-key about their tremendous accomplishments.
At the risk of minimizing the uniqueness of the hard-cider producers in America by likening the category renewal to the craft-brewing movement, there are a couple of definite similarities. One is the entrepreneurial inclinations of cider makers and craft brewers; the other is the ability to build a viable industry and future on heritage and legacies of the past. Where there are apple-growing regions in the United States you will find cider makers, and in some states, such as Ohio, the demand for sweet cider outstrips production capacity. The Ohio Fruit Growers Society reported that Ohio produced 10-12 million gallons of fresh apple cider in 1998, with Ohioans consuming 15-20 million gallons of cider annually. These numbers primarily reflect the consumption of sweet versus hard cider, but just think of the boon a well-executed educational campaign could yield to the hard-cider producer.
Hard cider's depiction in the popular media through the early 1990s was through the highly romanticized lens of traditional farm life and generational orchardists. Then writers began to educate the consumer on the origins of hard cider. At that point, California and Pacific Northwest producers had already made an impact on cider associates on the East Coast. The result was the innovative West Coast development of boutique cider operations, perhaps in keeping with winery trends. Import hard ciders were in the marketplace by then, and winemaker Gallo began its product test-marketing and ultimately launched its Hornsby product in 1995. A phenomenal boost occurred in 1991 when the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) incorporated cider as a competition category.
Another interesting benefit to the sector came via Restaurant Hospitality magazine. In a series of business-building tips, the admonition during the mid-1990s was to creatively diversify. Niche tastings were the recommendation of the day, "palate to plate" matchings were being advised, and hard cider as a growth category was being promoted in the food industry. Several months later, another restaurant magazine featured a California restaurateur offering a five-course meal and hard-cider tasting.
By 1997, the push in the beverage industry was to find a niche market ASAP. Beverage-industry publication MarketWatch reported that during a time when sales of hard liquor fell and beer sales went flat, wine consumption began to rise. There was great press about award-winning hard ciders at wine festivals. Drinks writers reinforced the fact that cider was the beverage of choice for the nation's Founding Fathers. Male-oriented publications ran short features depicting craft breweries that had begun producing hard cider, effectively providing a stamp of approval for hard cider among a fierce six-pack segment of the population.
Two very short years later, aficionados emerged with sexy press on what to the general American public was the relatively obscure Kingston Black Apple Aperitif. The connection between hard cider and elegance was made. From then on, cider cookery became a prominent angle in glossy foodie publications. And then it was all about packaging, branding, festival promotions and reaching the younger consumer.
By 2001, cider was suddenly the stepchild, because Mike's Hard Lemonade from Canada had made a dent in the marketplace. Suddenly, according to fad-following functionaries, hard cider was purportedly seeking to emulate the malternative category. What drivel! Hard cider's emerging trend was not a mere passing fancy, ladies and gentlemen. The glossies continued their coverage, new cider producers were making their presence known, and post-911, cider was depicted as traditional fare -- comfort food for the holidays. That's right: Mainstream America is where hard cider belongs.
And the beat goes on. During 2002, orchardists continued to be featured, with an emphasis on new marking strategies to advance their enterprises. Specialty products were on the rise. Perry (pear cider) got more play, as did Calvados, a distilled cider. Some American-made true-to-style cider products were being marketed alongside fine wines, with heftier price tags than the norm. A long-awaited, stunning pommeau hit the shelves, a fine blend of Calvados and the juice of cider apples -- a classic meditation wine.
Fifteen years from now, if the nationwide product diversity persists and continues its expansion into relevant sectors, hard cider will reclaim its heritage as a basic household beverage. To further the resurgence, producers must trust their hard-earned knowledge and strategically direct the placement of their products. An indicator of continued success for the sector may be that restaurant sales are projected to reach an all-time high of $426 billion during 2003.
According to the National Restaurant Association's 2003 Restaurant Industry Forecast, restaurant industry sales on a typical day in 2003 will approach $1.2 billion. Before long, diners may be asking, "May I see your hard cider list?"

Cider Literature
Before the CBN hit the presses with its first issue, Vrest Orton, inspired by Ernest Hemingway's fondness for Bulmers Dry Cider, published The American Cider Book in 1973. This comprehensive historical compendium is replete with cider recipes (perfected by his loving wife) and instructions for making your own at home. This was Orton's contribution to updating the literature on modern cider making.
The Cider Book came along in 1980, after Washingtonians Lila Gault, a food journalist/cider maker, and Betsy Sestrap, a second-generation orchardist, were inspired by an excursion to France. The result was one of the best cookbooks in my collection, unique recipes reflecting the cuisine of France and England.
Another early contributor was Annie Proulx with Making the Best Apple Cider in 1983. Several additional books on sweet-cider production appeared from 1988 to 1993. The Hard Cider Handbook by JamesĘF. Willenbecher hit the shelves in 1995, followed by sundry apple theme books and brewing recipe collections. In 1996 came an apple cookbook, my favorite from that year, Sandy Nightingale's beautifully illustrated Cider Apples, a children's picture book.
From then on, the publication terrain primarily belonged to hard cider, with another Proulx publication in 1997, the well-known Cider Making, Using and Enjoying Sweet and Hard Cider. Two years later, Ben Watson's book Cider Hard and Sweet: History, Traditions and Making Your Own became available, followed by a book on small-scale production, and in 2000, Cider Press Plans: A Step-by-Step Guide for the Home Craftsman, written by KevinĘD. Hauser. In 2001 came Traditional Beer and Cider Making by Ian Ball, and last year, The Art of Brewing Instructions for Making Cider and British Beer, Ale and Wines, compiled by Scientists of New Atlantis.

Marie Oliver is a beer and cider enthusiast living in Portland, Ore., and a writer at www.pdxguide.com.

Copyright 2003, Celebrator No material herein may be reprinted without permission of the Celebrator Distributed On the W3 For personal, non-commercial enjoyment and use only. Cheers!

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