The Growler’s Field Guide to Cider, Chapter 5: Cider In America

West Coast cideries, like 2 Towns Cider House in Oregon, are pushing the flavor boundaries of craft cider, just as the West Coast did with craft beer // Photo courtesy 2 Towns Cider House

West Coast cideries, like 2 Towns Cider House in Oregon, are pushing the flavor boundaries of craft cider, just as the West Coast did with craft beer // Photo courtesy 2 Towns Cider House

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Sales of hard cider in the U.S. only equal about one percent of the overall beer market, but that tiny share is expanding quickly. The number of cidermakers in America has doubled in the last four years to more than 800 operations, and there are now commercial cideries in 48 states and the District of Columbia.

Northeast Roots

An employee of Shacksbury Cider in Vergennes, Vermont, collects windfall apples // Photo by Michael Tallman

An employee of Shacksbury Cider in Vergennes, Vermont, collects windfall apples // Photo by Michael Tallman

The craft cider movement was revived in the 1980s in the northeastern U.S., once the spiritual home of cider in America. The region rediscovered heirloom apple varieties on abandoned farmlands, leveraged their abundance of table and dessert apples to make huge volumes of cider, and pushed cider back into the mainstream beverage conversation in the U.S.

Woodchuck Cider launched in Vermont in 1991, and their flagship Amber, featuring the semi-sweet tang of McIntosh apples, was the first great success and cornerstone of modern American craft cider. It was only succeeded in 2012 by the launch of Angry Orchard by the Boston Beer Company. Having laid the groundwork for national distribution with their Samuel Adams beers, Angry Orchard would account for over half of all cider sales in the country in less than two years.

The Northeast is also home to some of the country’s most respected regional players, including those making artisanal farmhouse ciders (like New Hampshire’s Farnum Hill), innovative modern ciders (Bantam from Massachusetts), and those that are doing a little of both (Shacksbury from Vermont). New York currently has the most cideries of any state.

Big Brands Rush In

Noticing this revival, international beverage companies rushed into the cider market in the early 2010s. MillerCoors acquired Minneapolis-based Crispin Cider in 2012 and launched Smith & Forge in 2014, a rich and dry cider aimed at men. AB InBev’s Stella Artois Cidre, a European cider with an almost wine-like dryness, was an instant hit in 2013.

But the real category movers were semi-sweet ciders, led by Angry Orchard’s Crisp Apple. Heineken discontinued its original dry version of the U.K. favorite Strongbow in the U.S. in 2014 to launch two sweeter variations, Gold Apple and Honey & Apple (though they brought back Original Dry this year). AB InBev launched its sweet Johnny Appleseed label in 2014. Large brewing firms also produced a surge of flavored malt beverages hoping to capitalize on the trend for sweetness, like Redd’s Apple Ale (MillerCoors) and Apple-Ahh-Rita (AB InBev).

Wild West

Two Towns Cider House's La Mûre Lambic Style Cider // Photo courtesy 2 Towns Cider House

2 Towns Cider House’s La Mûre was inspired by the historic lambic beers of Belgium. Northwest apples and Oregon-grown Marion blackberries are wild-fermented with Lactobacillus, aged in Willamette Valley pinot noir barrels for a year, and then bottle conditioned. // Photo courtesy 2 Towns Cider House

American cidermakers are largely unbound by the tradition and restraint that characterizes European cider, and nowhere is that more evident than on the West Coast. California, Washington, and Oregon together host over a quarter of the nation’s cidermakers, and just like those states were instrumental in pushing the flavor boundaries of craft beer, so too have they taken liberties with cider.

Many of the West’s biggest cideries have made their name on flavored cider, featuring everything from pineapple and apricot, to turmeric, sage, and gin botanicals. The flavored ciders from Ace Cider (California) and 2 Towns Ciderhouse (Oregon) are well known nationwide.

West Coast cider also takes cues from craft beer. The idea of adding hops to cider originated at Salem, Oregon’s Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, who took note of a Washington brewery adding cider to their IPA. With so much equipment in common with beer making, several cider operations begin in breweries. Seattle Cider, which sprouted as an offshoot of Two Beers Brewing, has grown a 15-state footprint and kegs a tart and saline Gose cider.

CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE TO CHAPTER 6 OF THE GROWLER’S FIELD GUIDE TO CIDER.

John Garland About John Garland

John Garland is the Deputy Editor at the Growler Magazine. Find him on twitter (@johnpgarland) or in every coffee shop on West 7th Street.