The Hard Cider Insider
by Steve Lonsway
Hard cider is the result of apple juice being fermented with yeast, and thus contains alcohol. Hard ciders range in alcohol concentration from about 3% in France to 8.5% or more in traditional English ciders. Ciders are still very popular in Britain, which has the highest consumption per capita than anywhere else in the world. England also has the largest cider producers in the world.
With the craft beer market surging, ciders are doing well right here in the United States, as well. In Dec. 2015, the United States Congress passed legislation that clearly defined the allowable alcohol concentrations of hard ciders in the U.S. This legislation also defined allowable levels of carbonation, and brought the parameters of hard cider into alignment with international standards.
Hard ciders date back thousands of years with the first recorded references dating back to Roman times. Celtic Britons used native crabapples to make their cider, as witnessed by Julius Caesar. In northern Spain, people made what they called sidra before the birth of Christ. In 1066, the Norman Conquest of England brought many new apple varieties from France, which diversified the flavors. Hard ciders gained popularity and rose to the number-two slot behind beer.
Shortly after landing in Plymouth, colonists went to work and planted apple trees in the Massachusetts Bay Colony for the purpose of cider production. Hard cider was very common, so much so that even children drank a diluted form as the water wasn’t safe for consumption. In early American rural communities, it was not uncommon for taxes and wages to be paid with hard cider.
Hard cider also played another key role by being the basis for other things such as vinegar, which farmers used to preserve foods.
The American Industrial Revolution brought on a sharp decline of cider production. Several factors were key such as the tendency of people to abandon their orchards to work in the cities, Also, the unpasteurized ciders of that time did not travel well. Another factor was the availability of low-cost brewer’s grain from the Midwest and the surge of German and Irish immigrants that preferred beer and brought the expertise to expand beer production in the U.S.
The late 1800s saw a change in attitudes towards alcohol mostly inspired by the church. Abstinence and moderation created a 75% slide in cider production. Then in 1919, Prohibition was enacted and all but knocked ciders out of the picture. Nowadays, hard ciders are making a strong comeback and are now one of the fastest growing segments in the U.S. alcohol industry.
Not all American craft brewers can legally produce hard cider. To do so, a specialized license must be obtained through the Federal Tax and Trade Bureau. Oftentimes, breweries and brewpubs without the appropriate license will have a guest tap featuring a hard cider.