What is in this article?:
- Cider: America's drink returns
- Bringing wine drinkers to cider
The rise of cider sales in the United States over the past two years has been staggering.
It is said that John Adams began each morning by drinking a tankard of cider. He felt it contributed to good health and cured his flatulence. You may have to test the latter claim for yourself — preferably in a well-ventilated room — but for those yet to be inducted into the legions of newly crowned American cider fans, much good awaits your stein.
Although still a niche market, the rise of cider sales in the United States over the past two years has been staggering. According to Impact Databank, a service that tracks industry statistics for the wine, beer and spirits market, the top 10 best selling cider brands in the U.S. market in 2012 collectively saw 62-percent growth. Imagine sitting on a board of directors of any company and receiving those numbers at the end of the year (insert sound of popping corks here). But this is merely a repeat of American history — a history that is now being rediscovered.
In 18th and 19th century America, cider was deeply enmeshed in the fabric of everyday life. From the average citizen to the founding fathers, nearly every homestead was growing cider apple trees and fermenting their fruit’s juices into hard cider. And if you were to roll up in your blinged-out buggy to Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello, you may have been offered a cup of crisp, cold cider upon arrival.
By 1767, the citizens of Massachusetts were drinking an average of 35 gallons of cider per person per year, according to Ben Watson in"Cider, Hard and Sweet: Traditions, History, and Making Your Own." John Adams, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were growing apple orchards, fermenting their own ciders, and keeping meticulous tasting notes and farming records.
Within a mere 150 years, the entire market collapsed. A stunning series of knock-out punches led by an influx of immigrants bringing beer-brewing practices to our shores, coupled with the scythe of Prohibition, sent the industry down a dark hole. Axes were wielded, and cider apple trees — no longer viable, as their fruit was too tannic and acidic for eating off the branch — were felled by the thousands.
Only now is cider finally seeing a renaissance, with double-digit growth in all corners of the industry. And for savvy restaurateurs and beverage directors looking to push the envelope, cider is fast becoming an exciting and diverse category that’s converting legions of fans from sea to shining sea.
Drawn by cider’s diverse range of styles — from bubbly to still, and from dry to sweet — sommeliers and beer directors are finding eager guests and staff who are open to its charms. Eduardo Porto Carreiro, sommelier at DBGB, Daniel Boulud’s upscale gastropub in New York, has recently become interested in the category, and carries six bottle selections of cider and one on draft.
“I have so much to learn; this is a much bigger world than I had anticipated,” Carreiro said. “Cider has an extraordinary history, and depth of expression. We’re seeing single apple varietal ciders, and different terroir-driven ciders.”
Incorporating cider into your beverage program is easy, and with it being a gluten-free alternative, more guests have begun to ask for it.
Jeff Smith, owner of Bushwhacker Cider in Portland, Ore., has gone even further, and runs a cider-centric bar.
“At Bushwhacker, the beverage program is cider,” Smith said. “We have over 260 ciders in bottle, and eight on tap. We carry only four bottled beers, two wines, four meads and two sakes.”
Smith said he’s winning people over daily.
“Cider is naturally gluten-free, yes, but it also offers the drinker something that won't make you feel full after drinking it,” he said. “It's a great value, and the ability to get amazing cider for a good price distinguishes it from wine.”