At the same time, don’t tell American crafters what they can and cannot do. In brewing, Germans make lagers. The British make ales. And Belgians make… divine beer, but they don’t make much that’s fresh and hoppy. “In America, there’s no bs tradition that you can only make this or that. Everybody makes everything,” Hall enthuses. With AB-InBev’s buy-out of Goose Island, he found himself looking for a new gig when he decided to apply that same craft approach to ciders. Look for Virtue Cider to appear on draft at bars and restaurants in Chicago this summer. Hopefully 750-milliliter bottles will hit sub-regional shelves next year.
Craft beer continues to grow by double digits annually, so even though cider is a tiny slice of the cobbler, 25 percent growth in the category is no slouch. Comparing beer to cider in many ways is like comparing, well… let’s just say there’s still bushels of room for growth. No one understands that better than some of the veteran craft brewers.
Boston Beer Co. hasn’t just grown into the largest craft brewery since 1984. In addition to their 40-something active Samuel Adams recipes, they just introduced three Angry Orchard brand ciders (Dry, Crisp, and Apple-Ginger). If you’ve ever seen Hardcore Cider, that’s them, too. Boston neighbors Harpoon Brewing began selling cider in 2000. In Olympia, WA, Spire Mountain opened in 1985 to remain the oldest craft cidery, and is made today by the brewers at Fish Brewing, meaning both their ciders and organic ales are tapped fresh at Fish Tale Brewpub. Across the border, where the cider market is more developed likely due to Canada’s Anglo culture, Tree Brewing in British Columbia just launched Dukes Cider.
In fact, even the top bananas in the beer business have noticed how this apple cart has wheels. MillerCoors’s craft and import division, Tenth and Blake, recently acquired Crispin Ciders from Minnesota. Anheuser-Busch is fabricating Michelob Ultra Light Cider.
Still, wineries are more apt to add cider to their portfolio than breweries. They already know that the product comes down to having impeccable, fresh fruit whereas brewers can buy barley from anywhere, anytime. Having said that, Hall would like to see more brewers get into ciders, and for good reason. Innovations in fermentation are directly attributable to craft brewers’ experimentation and flogging of tradition. Some of the new cideries are neither offshoots of wineries nor of breweries.