Not Your Father’s Hard Cider
Today it gets barrel-aged, Brett-o-mized and sake'd out
In the UK, at least 15 percent of the people enjoy cider regularly to the tune of well over 5 million barrels annually. Cider is roughly a quarter as popular as beer, according to Nomura Equity Research. That means some four million pints are enjoyed daily, according to Simon Russell who handles media relations for the National Association of Cider Makers. Heck, the British have such a thing as the NACM. And lest you think it’s mostly the birds drinking it, the blokes quaff twice as much. Stateside, it is tearing through its reputation as something mostly ordered by girls who don’t like beer.*
“UK cider makers–large and small–have remarked that the US is becoming more significant in terms of export sales,” says Russell. “I suspect the strength and success of the craft beer sector in the US and a willingness for consumers to increasingly consider quality and provenance in their food and drink.”
The cider category today resembles beer 25 years ago, says Alan Shapiro of SBS Imports, a more than 20-year veteran of sales and importing in both beer and cider. He talks about ciders in terms of “refreshment” brands and artisanal ones. The former likely includes brands found in six-packs dominated in the market by Vermont Hard Cider Co., producers of the best-selling cider in the US, Woodchuck, and importers of Heineken-owned Strongbow from England, the top-selling cider in the world.
Some ciders today contain concentrated apple juice, additional sugars, and other additives. There is no cider equivalent of theReinheitsgebot—the Bavarian Purity Law that limits beer’s ingredients to the bare necessities of malted barley, hops, water, and yeast. But when connoisseurs seek that provenance that Russell describes, it’s typically found in bottles or kegs that contain juice straight from the apple press and yeast. “What I’ve seen since in last eight years,” says Shapiro, “is not only a significant increase in producers but dramatic improvement in the quality.”
Of course, cider’s gluten-free for those who suffer from Celiac Disease, but there aren’t enough Celiacs to explain how cider sales erupted 25-percent last year to make it a $50 million industry, according to SymphonyIRI. Having said that, it’s still a pittance compared to beer’s $100 billion mark. And cideries old and new are banking on the boom from the Johnny Appleseed-come-latelies.
Brian Yaeger lives in Portland, OR.