Did Prohibition Kill Cider? A Malus Myth Investigated

This article accompanies a panel at 2021 Cider Con called “Malus Busters” chaired by Greg Peck, with Chris Gerling and Doug Miller, devoted to busting some common myths of cider making, cider consumption, and cider history.

Prohibition is so often cited as the reason for the death of cider, the beverage of our founding fathers, that it has become something of a truism: founding myth of the contemporary cider industry in America. From the ashes of Prohibition and a long sleep in the aftermath of Temperance madness, the modern cider industry has risen again. But truisms deserve interrogation, and I’ve long wanted to investigate this one. This post is not necessarily an answer to the question about whether Prohibition killed cider, but a start to framing the question.

Malus – Myth

My professional scholarly discipline specializes in the study of myth. Myth is defined very narrowly in folklore studies. In The Study of American Folklore by Jan Brunvand, myth is defined as:

“…traditional prose narratives which in the society in which they are told, are considered to be truthful accounts of what happened in the remote past. Typically they deal with the activities of gods and demi-gods, the creation of the world and its inhabitants, and the origins of religious rituals” (Brunvand 170)

In everday usage, the term myth is often simply used to refer to something that is fictional, untrue, or contradictory to facts. Using the spirit of the definition of myth that Brunvand offers, however, help us understand why people tell stories in everyday life that are often at variance with demonstrable facts or science. If we think of myths as stories that define our worldview, it becomes clearer that any story, large or small, which is repeated often enough must have some cultural significance or social power. Such stories answer anxieties, beliefs, or questions that are important to the people who tell them. Often it is not enough to offer facts to dispute a myth, because a myth is not just a collection of facts. A myth is a framework for understanding facts. So to dispute a myth, you really have to break down the framework of the story.

I’m interested in the myth of Prohibition, not necessarily to prove it is completely untrue, but because it is a defining part of our story of cider in America. This story is such a prevalent narrative that it overpowers many other nuances in the history of apple growing and cider making in America. Studying it can also tell us as much about how people want to understand the world of cider today than about what actually happened in the past.

The Tall Tales of Temperance

Just today, the New York Times has published an article on the the comeback of applejack in the article, “America’s First Moonshine, Applejack, Returns in Sleeker Style.” The following clip from the article outlines the usual narratives about the relationship between Prohibition and cider:

None of the things mentioned here are untrue per se, but they gloss over a lot of nuance and in the end, overstate the influence of Prohibition as the event that that ended an era of cider making for America. First of all, the article they link to from 1884 “A Wicked Beverage” is clearly a example of satire. It is making fun of the overzealous attitudes of certain elements of the Temperance Movement, using hyperbolic and melodramatic characterizations in order marginalize their viewpoint for the reader:

One serious question worth asking: Why was cider and applejack considered so much more destructive and madness-inducing than whisky? And perhaps less seriously: What poetry might a New Jersey man crazy on applejack recite as he blows up his town?

In seriousness though, this piece of satire shows both how widespread and also how controversial such zealotry was considered at the time.

Orchards Razed? Or Repurposed?

The second point, that millions of acres of orchards were “razed and never replanted, because cheap and plentiful grain made whiskey easier to produce” is partially true as well. This is a second and very important part of the Prohibition myth: the chopping down or burning of apple trees and the razing of orchards, either directly by the hatchets of Temperance zealots or indirectly due to the decline of market for cider because of cheap grain available for whiskey. The story of the razing of orchards by Temperance zealots has been circulated in many contemporary popular publications, like this 2015 National Geographic article:

This claim has been addressed by historian William Kerrigan in his book Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard: A Cultural History. Kerrigan shows that even in the 19th century, the influence of the Temperance movement on the decline of orchards was probably less than commentators published or circulated at the time, and certainly less than our own contemporary commentators claim. Kerrigan’s historical research and analysis are worth quoting at length:

“By 1829, at least a few farmers had taken the advice of ‘BURN THEM’ to heart. One report circulated in several journals told of a New Haven, Connecticut, gentleman who ‘ordered a fine apple orchard to be cut down, because the fruit may be converted into an article to promote intemperance.’ The editor of the New York Enquirer mocked this wasteful action, opining that, ‘in this age of Anti-societies, we may soon see the worthless of the land in league to establish an Anti-Apple and Anti-Rye Society.’ […] The story of the monomaniacal temperance man destroying apple orchards became part of the folklore of New England and the Midwest, and not only about missing orchards but also abandoned ones were attributed to the zeal of the reformers […] The number of orchards actually chopped down by temperance ultraists was likely not as great in reality as in local folklore. But endless moral castigations orchard-owning farmers faced from the temperance crusaders seemed to have an effect. Many a pious farmer was surely troubled by the accusation that by selling apples to cider mills he was serving Mammon instead of God. Many writers attributed the abandonment and neglect of old seedling orchards across New England to the temperance crusade, their owners apparently deciding to forgo the attacks on the moral character by simply neglecting orchards and letting nature swallow them up.” (Kerrigan 146-147)

Kerrigan goes on to show that Temperance was only one of several changes being wrought in American society that let to the decline of orchards used for cider:

“The self-provisioning farmer’s orchard that provided an abundance of household uses from cider and vinegar to dried apples and hog feed eventually yielded to the market-centered farmer’s orchard of fruit destined for the cider mill, the brandy distillery, or the big city market as fresh fruit. The temperance movement’s campaign against cider apples accelerated the shift to an age when Americans no longer drank their apples but ate them fresh instead.” (Kerrigan 191).

Kerrigan’s analysis highlights several nuances that can expand our understanding of the decline of cider by seeing the changes in agricultural economics that contributed to the changing place of the orchard in the family farm. Our contemporary popular image historical cider making generally appeals to the first example Kerrigan mentions: the self-provisioning farmer. This is the idea most people today have in their mind when they think about cider as part colonial and early westward settlement, assisted by the ministrations of Johnny Appleseed and his seedling orchards. Cider was part of a self-sustaining farm economy where the farmer produced much of what he needed on his own land.

But the move to a market economy allowed the farmer to sell his excess apples for profit, leading to some of the mass production of spirits that Temperance advocates were so opposed to. This market economy set the stage – not for a wholesale extinction of orchards – but for a switch to growing apples that were oriented for a different market: the wholesale fresh fruit market. This was aided by increasingly efficient transportation systems via canal, railroad, and expanded highway networks. As fresh fruit could be moved more quickly through these means, new markets for fresh fruit and juice, were created. Hard cider and spirits – stable products that could be easily transported across distances and without danger of spoilage – were simply no longer the only way urban and distant customers could enjoy the fruits of the land.

The parallel growth of the Temperance movement probably contributed to the growth growth of the fresh fruit market, but the availability of alternative forms of apples for consumption probably likewise fueled Temperance arguments against drinking apples as cider in a mutually self-reinforcing cycle of social movement and market economy influencing each other.

The gradual change from self-provisioning farms to more mobile market economy driven farms marked a gradual but significant shift in American society from a mostly agrarian to a mostly urban industrial society. It was in this context that the rise of cider’s replacement beverage, beer, became ascendant. Beer, brewed from grain which could be stored year-round an used when needed, became an industrially-produced product, available to sate the tastes of urban factory workers, and perfected by the knowledge and traditions of German immigrants who came to American shores in the late nineteenth century. When agriculture markets had shifted apple production to fresh fruit, aided by Temperance attitudes and transportation infrastructure, Prohibition put a nail in the coffin of an already dying cider and applejack trade. While the industrial production of beer could resume after Prohibition regardless of lingering Temperance attitudes against drink, the agricultural infrastructure for cider had already pivoted away and was not as easy to get back.

Prohibition, instituted from 1920-1933, certainly was the closing page of a chapter for cider, coming after almost a century of of activity in the Temperance movement and ongoing industrialization of agriculture and industry, but it can’t be blamed entirely for killing off cider-making.

The Endurance of the Myth

So why does it still loom so large in our popular imagination, conjured up as it is in these reputable media articles and on the lips of countless contemporary cider makers? The answer to this question lies in an analysis of modern ideas and interests rather than a sifting of the evidence of the past. Myths are made by people to explain their current understanding of the world. Myths are totalizing, world-defining, and less concerned with facts than with human drama.

So what is it about the “Prohibition Killed Cider” story that is so compelling. In the first place, it is a convenient, short, simplistic sound bite that appeals to a basic understanding of a significant milestone American history. It is not false, but it also glazes over a complex truth.

Clearly defined in time by the dates legislating its beginning and end, and in substance by its effect on the legal status of alcohol production and consumption, Prohibition is a clear mark on the long calendar of the nation’s history. Prohibition is much easier to conceptualize as a distinct moment than the much longer and more complicated strands of the Temperance movement, extending over two centuries and riddled with both positive and negative impacts on American life, intertwined with changing agricultural and industrial economies as well as the rise of urban life and the decline of rural communities.

However, I also think the myth of Prohibition killing cider persists because this narrative does substantial cultural work in creating a public perception of the industry and cider makers today. It positions contemporary cider makers as culinary heroes, showing how they have brought cider back from its dreadful grave of Prohibition and celebrates the the standards of taste that have allowed craft beverages like cider and applejack to flourish today.

In many of the media articles in popular circulation, cider is primarily discussed in term of its place within the context of food and drink appreciation, not agricultural economics. The bulk of this New York Times article on the resurgence of Applejack is about cultures of drinking centered around craft beverage, urban cocktail culture, and culinary appreciation. To blame Prohibition for the death of cider is to contrast our current cultures of culinary taste with the bores and the fuddy-duddies who enforced Prohibition on the country rather than preserve the food and beverage traditions we are now so keen to celebrate. To target Prohibition is to elevate the current state of our more cosmopolitan appreciation of craft cider and applejack.

What the myth of Prohibition ignores are all of the things that aren’t really of interest to the majority of urban consumers of craft beverages: the impact of market economies on commodity crops, the development industrial food systems, and all the messy cultural implications of the temperance movement. Prohibition is easy to blame and in reciprocal evaluation, makes contemporary cider makers easier to love.

Why Nit-Pick? Just Pick Cider!

Why take a long blog post to nitpick on the fine points of a popular myth? Positioning and promoting cider in terms of its culinary relevance is certainly a savvy thing to do if you are a business. But the ubiquitous use of the Prohibition narrative to explain cider narrows the kinds of stories that can be told about it and the significance it can have in the communities it wants to cultivate.

There are a plethora of other stories to tell: of family farms who have weathered the changing economic winds, of communities who have continued to use windfalls of old orchards of local food resilience, of indigenous communities reclaiming their land. Cider is a small part of the story of apples in America, and Prohibition an even smaller story still. If cider can tell a wider variety of stories about its relationship to apples, landscapes, people, and places, it can forge a more varied, resilient, and real relationship with its consumers and communities. Let’s pick more stories of cider to tell than Prohibition.

Post Script: Great Minds Think Alike

After presenting this talk and post, Dan Pucci pointed me in the way of this recent post from Mark Turdo of https://pommelcyder.wordpress.com and Andrew Tobia discussing this same topic! Great to find minds that thinking alike! Check out this post to find out what Mark and Andrew have to say https://www.alcoholprofessor.com/blog-posts/rise-and-fall-of-american-cider-culture

Cider Con 2014 – (Re)Learning to Taste

IMG_0354There are so many things to discuss about Cider Con 2014, but I want to start off by talking about tasting.  It makes me think of the movie Playing by Heart from the nineties that started off with a character saying “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture”.  It’s so hard to talk about tastes and smells – trying to translate a sensory experience into words.  Of all the senses, smell and taste are so intimately linked with memory that talking about them is like translating a whole language of memories, each one intimately connected to other memories.  And personal memories are just the beginning of talking about whole cultural vocabularies of taste and smell.

I remember tasting cider at the Barrels Pub in IMG_0355Hereford with the Three Counties Cider and Perry Association, and as we were describing the grassy scent of freshly cut hay, I wondered, how can anyone who has never stood in a hayfield, looking at all the wildflowers, and the birds, and smelling the earthy musty smell of dirt, have any idea what to call that aroma trapped inside a glass of cider? So how do we come up with a vocabulary for taste and smell?

The Sensory Analysis Workshop on Wednesday at Cider Con is one method of establishing some common sensory terms, while simultaneously linking them to the underlying chemistry of fermentation.  By starting with a reference cider and doctoring samples with various chemical additives that represent possible outcomes of fermentation chemistry, we were able to compare this with the reference cider to identify certain scents and tastes that might occur as a result of production processes.  These included diacetyl, the compound responsible for buttery flavours, which results from malolactic fermentations, as well as sulphurs, phenolics, and acids.  Charles and Gary, who led the workshop, told me that they developed it as a way to train judges for the Great Lakes Cider Association competition, so that they would have a common understanding of how to evaluate ciders for off-flavours and faults.

When I experienced this workshop last year, I was really confounded by it.  My days of tasting small batch barrels in the barn to determine a good blend had never included discussions of phenolics.  Nor had my experience ever included complex chemical approaches to fermentation.  So this sensory analysis approach kind of floored me last year.  This year, however, I found it a really interesting tool.  This kind of tasting vocabulary helps create a specific kind of palette – one that understands the chemistry of fermentation.  It does not speak about apple varieties, or terroirs, or cultures of cider, or personal memories.  It should be understood in that light.

Palettes and vocabularies of taste are created in many different ways, and it is interesting that the American palette, at least in this specific instance, is being informed around a vocabulary of fermentation chemistry. (See the end of this post for a rundown of the sensory analysis workshop in detail).

Session Tasting: Eden Ice Cider
Session Tasting: Eden Ice Cider

The whole conference, however, was a multitude of tasting opportunities.  In between sessions, tables in the lobby would fill up as individual cider makers brought out bottles of their products to share with professional contacts and passers by.  Sessions on ice cider, mixology, and cheese pairing provided opportunities for guided tasting and creative uses of products.  And of course, as we spilled out into the bars and restaurants of Chicago, the tasting went on.  I ended up in a hotel room with a handful of folks sampling Spanish ciders imported by Ciders of Spain. I tasted some ciders from several west coast cider makers that were made using fruit flavour additives that were a little too strong for my taste, but were interesting experiments in a diversifying marketplace.

Cider Summit Chicago
Cider Summit Chicago

And the giant Cider Summit Chicago on Saturday was an exercise in stamina as the crowds and noise assaulted your other senses.  Since I was pouring at the event rather than tasting, I found many customers weren’t sure what they wanted, or what kind of tastes were available.  They were floundering from vendor to vendor, trying to identify what tastes were available, and what appealed to them. It made me realize that among the many factors in trying to create an identity for cider in the United States, is the need to create a vocabulary of taste that consumers can understand and relate to.  I doubt this will be a vocabulary of fermentation chemistry.  Nor have I heard a vocabulary of apple varieties bubbling to the surface.  It is, in a way, a golden opportunity for marketing directors to work some creative magic in a relative void of terminology.  The time is right to ask, how will Americans talk about the tastes of cider?

Finally, on the way home, I stopped in to see an old friend who had asked if I could give my opinion on his first batch of cider.  A home-brewer, he had decided to try a batch of cider, and purchased the juice from Great Fermentations in Indianapolis.  I, in turn, brought a bottle of Ross on Wye cider for him to taste.  For a first try, his ciders were really nice – clean, fruity, light, bottle fermented. Just a hint of yeasty aroma on the nose was a little overpowering.  Tasting Ross on Wye next to it, with its complex tannins, was a really great comparison between the results of a quick fermentation of eating apples and a long slow fermentation of cider apples.  Both are great in their own way, and sitting at his kitchen table talking about taste at the end of my week at Cider Con brought into focus the variety and nuance of flavours, texture, and aromas we have to work with in cider, and the dynamic ways we can imagine to talk about taste.

Here are my notes from the Sensory Analysis Workshop.  The sample is given, followed by the sensory reactions of the audience.  Bulleted underneath are the chemical additives and explanations of the effects they have on the cider. 

Sensory Analysis with Charles McGonegal and Gary Awdey from the Great Lakes Cider and Perry Association

Reference Cider  – ‘New World Cider’ by Gary Awdey, dessert and culinary blend.

  • 5.5% ABV ph 3.64, 330 mg / L gallic acid equivalents.  Back-sweetened to 2% RS with AJC

Taste – what you have tastebuds for: sweet sour bitter  + Mouthfeel: body, viscosity

Sample 1 – reference cider

Sample 2 – more sweet, more acid, thin, less complex, less mouthfeel, drier

  • increased acidity by 1gram per litre – with malic acid -Tastes thinner because malic acid cuts the body or viscosity of alcohol

Sample 3 –sweeter, smoother, thinner, less body

  • brought down the CO2 levels – lower CO2 levels

Sample 4 – sweeter, hotter, bitter

  • added alcohol: 1% ABV increase

Sample 5 – more acid, more mouthfeel

  • ½% spike in sugar (sucrose) – sugar contributes viscosity and body.

Sample 6 – lower carbonation, citrusy, bitter

  • bitter addition 10% quinine

Sample 7 – thinner, smoother, tannic, astringent, lower alcohol

  • polyphenols (chlonrogenic acid, pholidzen Epicatechinp, procyanidin)– bitterness and astringency (makes it taste less acid)

Aroma and Flavor

Sample A1 – nail polish

  • ethyl acetate – < 50ppm indistinctly fruity, may be a positive attribute; 50-150ppm slightly sour, solventy; >150 ppm harsh sour, reminiscent of nail polish remover.
    • A component of vinegar.  Usual in small amounts.  Especially in young cider or Spanish cider. Often seen in wild fermentations.

Sample A2 – fresh, appley

  • Acetaldehyde – sensed as grassy taste, raw apple skins, bruised apples, green apples.  At higher levels it may be a sign of cider sickness (framboise)  Reminiscent of banana peel or rotten lemon.  Produced from zymomonas infection.  Resistant to sulfite treatment.  Stopped by ph less than 3.7 and lack of fructose.  French ciders particularly susceptible

Sample A3 – bandaid, blue cheese

  • Fruity esters, acetates (isoamly acetate – banana flavouring) Amly acetate
  • Fruity acetates produced by yeasts during fermentation.  May affect your choice of yeasts.  Several yeasts are offered by various suppliers to enhance this character.  Acetates added as ‘natural flavor’ blur the lines between cider as a craft product and a food production

SampleA4 – smells like butter and popcorn

  • Diacetyl
  • Sensed as buttery, artificial butter flavour, butterscotch
  • .2-.4 ppm may round out flavour in some ciders but no consensus on desirability
  • greater than that (especially above 1ppm) it becomes a clear detractor

Sample A5 – smoke, band-aid, burnt tires, peaty, scotch

  • phenolics –the 4 E combo: 4 ethyl phenol (plastic bandaints, mothballs), 4 ethyl catechol (barnyard horsey), 4 ethyl guiaicol (smoky ham, clove, spicy)
  • produced by lactobacillus, legal caveat: it is starting to be more apparent which bacilli produce more desirable results.  However the only bacteria currently approved by the TTb for MLF in wine is oenecoccus oeni
  • present in eating and cooking acid as well as the bitters.  But the bitters – phenols are suppressed – not the same qualities. tannins suppress the brett

(Mouse sample not used this year  but discussed – is PH dependent.  So it can wait in your mouth for a change of ph to express itself.    You may find that it expresses with certain foods)

Sample A6 – Metallic, high sulphur

  • sulphur

SampleA7 – body odour, cat urine, socks

  • cocktail of two sulfides: diethyl di sulfide – rotting garlic and rubber
  • also cat urine, or blackcurrant

Cider Con 2014 – Michigan Cider Bus Tour

Cider Con 2014 left the gate this year in the form of a bus tour to Virtue Cider and Vander Mill Cider in Michigan.  Two coaches full of Cider Con attendees set off, rounding the snowy southern tip of Lake Michigan, one heading for Virtue, one heading for Vander Mill.  I wish I could say we studied the landscape along the way, but most of my bus seemed buzzing with the conversations of eager cider colleagues new and old.  I was delighted to find myself in the gregarious and entertaining company of Neil Worley of Worley’s Cider, Somerset, who brought me back to the folk roots of English craft cider making.   And I had a lovely chat with Kristen Jordan from Sea Cider, about organic methods and the ways we communicate values of many kinds to our customers.  In the midst of lots of folks embarking on a frenzy of entrepreneurial American spirit facilitated by well-considered business plans, it was also really encouraging to chat with Neil and Kristen about approaches to cider making that are experimental, seasonal, and local to their particular apples, soils, climates, materials, and communities.

I’d never thought about how slow the learning curve on cider making is, until Neil described the limitations of seasonal production, where you only get the chance to practice your craft once a year. It makes you realize that the road to becoming a really good cider maker is a long one, characterized by the slow patience of seasons that spread out across the other changing arcs of one’s personal and social life.

The need to consider cider as a business first rather than as a craft, a hobby, or an art form, sometimes necessitates a cautiousness in production that can leave little room for intimate experimentation with materials and ideas and processes that lead to the distinctiveness and uniqueness of a truly craft cider.  It’s a balance – a trade off between art and business.  How much do you want to try and control processes and materials to achieve an imaginary desired, saleable product?  Or do you let the unique properties of your apples and environment direct how you respond and innovate your production?

But enough of such philosophical musings when there are tanks to envy and admire.  Upon our arrival at Virtue Cider’s headquarters in Michigan, we all strolled into the timber framed barns and stared wide-eyed at the beautiful facilities while sampling Virtue’s ciders.  My personal favorite was the Percheron, a French-style ‘cidre fermier’ which was innoculated with brett in the mysterious quarantined brett barn on the other side of the property.  I also liked the fresh, fruity character of the Cidre Nouveau, a young cider made in homage to the tradition of young Beaujolais nouveau wine.  But the farmyard full bodied character of the Percheron reminded me of what I liked best about some English farmhouse ciders – full of robust flavors, even a little bit of funk.

But let’s not forget about the tank envy folks.  Walking into the tank barn was a bit like passing over into another realm, descending below ground where these stainless steel beauties bathe in the cool even temperatures of the earth in which this bathtub of concrete rests.  Even I, someone who is not heavily into the production side of the business, was impressed by the elegance of this facility.

So we boarded the bus and went on our way to Vander Mill. It was a very warm and homey welcome we found there, complete with delicious donuts to accompany an impressive range of ciders with added flavours such as blueberry, pecan, and hibiscus.  My favorite was the cider called the Loving Cup, the peppercorn and hibiscus flavoured cider on draft. The pecan flavoured cider was actually really interesting – almost like eating a pecan pie.

I wish I could be more descriptive, but at this point in our journey the Virtue ciders had been filtering through our brain cells, and the keg at the front of the bus had been tapped.  It was a long trip through Michigan in a bus full of cider in a snowstorm.  But it was a damn good time.

Final Cider Con Catch-Up

Apologies for my week-late final post on Cider Con – I was laid low with a cold and moving into a new house, so I neglected my follow-up.

However, here is another summary / partial-transcript depicting Friday morning’s panel of Cider Makers.  Again, not an exact transcript, but my best attempt

Cider Market Review 2012-2013 Outlook – A Panel Hosted by Ben Watson

  • Tilted Shed Cider: California-based company, We started 2010.  We fell into cider because we loved to grow our own food, grow our own drink.  Scott is a fermentation mad scientist, and if he can make alcohol with something he will.  We had been doing some market farming at that time and something about cider captured us.  We couldn’t believe it could be good.  Took Peter Mitchell’s courses, read the cider books.  Moved to California.
  • Tieton Cider Works.  Washington. Started in 2009.  30,000cases this year, distributing to 7 states.  &th generation orchardists,  Wine background.  In 2008, Campbells decided to start propagating 40 varieties of trees to see how they would do.  Seattle or Portland area, not uncommon to see 4 taps out of 12 of cider.  A really good region.  Nation’s first cider bar in Portland.  We’ve been developing a brand that people enjoy, producing high end drinkable ciders that go well with the market trends that are pushing it.
  • Bantam Cider, Boston.  Very new cider company – two women.  Started a few years ago, launched product last January.  Family background in winemaking for one of us.  Being in Massachustettes, apples are really part of the culture.  There was awareness of cider, but in the past couple of years, cider has become more known.  We started making a little as a hobby, and it has evolved.  Mass is a pretty fantastic market – an interest in local, artisanal products, an entrepreneurial spirit. A thriving community focused on innovation, which has allowed us a great opportunity for collaborations with other local producers, as well as a thriving craft beer market.
  • Virtue Cider, Chicago.  First cider on the market in Chicago last April.  Started Goose Island many years ago in Chicago – long experience in the craft beer business.  I see a lot of similarities.  We chose to do our cider in Michigan, as it has a great history of apples.  Lot of great cider makers and craft beer scene there.  We look at craft cider very similar to the way the craft beer scene has grown.  I think this whole craft beer thing has gone so local, and I think the same thing will happen with cider.  There will always be room for the big national brands.  Beer guys and wholesalers and retailers are really excited about cider, because they see that is where the growth is.  In Chicago, we don’t have producers in the city, though there are outside and in the suburbs, but we think there is room.  We had Woodchuck on tap at Goose Island in the early years, because that was all we could get. I learned more about beer talking to other brewers, rather than at the institute.  I learned lot more about cider talking to other cider makers, rather than taking the Peter Mitchell class.

Ben Watson: What are the demographics of Cider?  Who are your customers?  At the Cider Salon, the crowd that waits in a long line outside of the church community center is getting younger and hipper every year.  What do you see?  Who are the new cider drinkers?

  • Virtue Cider: in the cateogry or 24-27 year olds, drink preference for cider has skyrocketed.  In Chicago, the bars who order our cider every week – At Hopleaf, we are always in the top 3 of the drinks they sell.  Going young and very very crafty with beer drinkers is where we will continue to go

Ben: Cider has always been the red-headed stepchild of beer or wine, and it is a fools errand to compare it to beer or wine.  What is everyone else’s perception

  • Bantam Cider: Our top selling accounts are the craft beer package stores and craft beer bars.  Not excluding wine drinkers, and we see all the time that the younger people are open to it.  The older side of the demographic is more cautious.
  • Tilted Shed: We make cider in wine country, so the culture there is heavily steeped in wine.  Our primary market is the Bay area.  I find there isn’t such a huge age split.  We get equal interest from the beer geeks as the the wine appreciators.  We are getting dedicated cider drinkers from both beer and wine drinkers, from both young and older drinkers, from people who are really into exploring.  We do get recognition of the food friendliness of our cider.  Alice Waters is our patron said of food and wine.  We have real appreciation for the localization of products.  People want to know the story of food.  It’s less about category and more about the connection to the land.  Our market is a bit younger – the majority of craft ciders in our market are in 750 mls – a lot of our drinkers are coming from the wine market.  For us, the wine drinkers are more apt to pick it up, which could be from the bottle format. We’ve decided to put it on tap to get hold of the craft beer drinkers.  I think as the bottle format changes, younger drinkers will come on.  The older crowd doesn’t know about it, whereas the younger crowd does have a preconceived notion of it.

What preconceived notions do people come to your cider with?

  • Tieton: people think of a fresh pressed cloudy juice, who think hard cider is going to be the same.  And when they taste dry cider, it is difficult.  It was a matter of getting people to understand that ciders aren’t alcho-pops, or Mike’s Hard Lemonade .
  • Tilted Shed: To help people understand that we are not a sweet fizzy pop – though there is a room for every style – we don’t do that.  Because we are in a wine region, and we are geeks about the cider apples, we compare to the way grape varietals make good wines.  By geeking out about it, people start thinking about it the way they do about craft beer or wine.

Audience Question: Are there solid numbers to tell our bankers where the cider market is going?

  • Virtue: I think that is something we can look forward to asking the conference and the association in the future.  Cider has grown 20% in a year according to someone in the craft brewing industry.  The preference data is even more exciting, because that is where it is going.  Supermarket and scan data from big chains doesn’t quite capture the on-premise numbers – it lags behind.

Audience Question: Where do you see the consolidation of the market and how does it compare to the craft brewing industry?

  • Virtue – With brewers, the vast majority don’t know where their product comes from.  I think part of the story of cider is that 40% are growing their own fruit and most know where their apples are coming from and are local.  I think that is really cool, and that makes us different and unique.  I like to call wine, “cider made from grapes.” But I think that is where the staying power of cider is going to be.  There is always room for the big guys, who can’t use local fruit, because they need to keep their supply chains.  And I think everyone in this room needs to respect that.  They’ve been at it much longer than any of us, with a few exceptions.  The big guys are the ones with the money who can help us get the legislative stuff going.  I saw this in craft beer, where the little guys thought the big guys were bad.  I think we all want to be successful.  We’ve got to act like a family.  We can have our disagreements in this room, but when we leave we need to say all cider is good.  I think all cider is good, and I’m really proud of being part of this new cider association.


Apple Market Panel, with Greg Peck – Virginia Tech; Panel: David Watkins – Fruitsmart, Steve Wood – Farnum Hill Cider, Kevin Zielinsky –
E.Z. Orchards, Mike Beck – Uncle John’s

This spirited panel brought together professional commercial orchardists who are also cider makers to discuss the pressing issues of apple supply for the growing cider market.  With an overview of last year’s weather and apple crop, these folks launched into the uncharted territory concerning the development of an orcharding industry catering to the cider market’s desire for cider varieties.  The core issues remain ones of risk – who is going to take on the risk of trialing apple varieties in different US regions?  Who is going to take the risk of financing the propagation and planting of cider varieties as commercial ventures?  While all of these orchardists have taken on growing cider varieties in a small way through their own interest, they largely insist that the cider makers will need to take the step of ensuring a market for cider apples if growers are going to commit to the large investments necessary for planting and maintaining orchards over long periods of time.  Long term contracts seem to the buzz word on orchardists’ lips, though they also recognize that cider could be an alluring new market with far more dependability than the current pack-apple market.  Here’s some highlight points of discussion:

  • EZ Orchards, Oregon – Not a large producers of apples, more pears.  Those that are are Fresh.  Small acreages of cider varieties and older varieties such as Newton Pippin which are being used for cider
  • Uncle John’s Cider, Michigan – 2012 was tough.  US Apple data is different than MI apple data.  We estimate a 90% crop loss.  We bring 12 varieties to the market: Winesap, Northern Spies, Jonathan, Reds, Yellows, Galas, Breaburn, Fuji.  We are a processing state: 65% of total crop.  Lots of Manufacturing: Gerber, Sarah Lee, etc…  For a cider maker you aren’t going to find more varieties anywhere else.  2013 is looking great.  Processors have very low inventories.  As a grower, we are looking forward to good prices.
  • Steve Wood, Farnum Hill Cider,  New Hampshire –  2012 horrific early spring.  A lot of the cider fruit we grow is fairly late budding, so frost damage can be less for those.  Good Cider crop, despite erratic apple crop.  Market was as strange for processing fruit as for everything else, due to low availability.  We sold cider crop for 50 cents a pound.  Rest of the crop at 15-18 cents a pound. We could have sold much more for cider than we did sell.  Next year, hoping for a huge crop nation wide of cider fruit, so I can find out how much of the enthusiastic market that existed last year will be as interested this year.  What is encouraging to me, is that the cider fruit market had been calling me before the crop shortage – I am encouraged to think that the value of proper cider apples is high and supportable.  We may cut back on our high end specialty market for heirloom apples.  But I don’t think we would have been able to charge more for our premium apples the cider makers are interested in if they had been organic.


On investing in varietal specific production for the cider market

  • One of our big decisions is the long-term 20-year investment in the orchard.  We are looking at where cider will peak?  We want to do a long term contract.  I don’t want to speculate on putting in cider apples if there won’t be demand in a few years.  We are doing 1200 trees per acre.  It takes a lot of commitment for someone to grow them.  If you want commercial guys to grow you a lot of cider apples, I think you are looking at a contract.  It is a specialty type of growing.
  • There are a lot of question marks about these varieties as well.  We need a lot of investment from the universities as well, or a contract.
  • There are more commercial growers budding more bittersweets than ever.  But cider makers have to pay the growers.  For my money as a grower, I see this as a stable investment, because I see it going up for long time, compared to a pack apple.
  • The universities are not spending any money on cider or organics research.  They are sponsored by the Ag companies for high-end apples.
  • Fruit used for cider apples does not have a second use in the fresh market, so there is no other market stream for them, making it is a real risk for the grower
  • Growing cider apples is also still not very well understood and best practices not online for orchardists, especially the English and French varieties
  • Mass market ciders are not using bittersweet, because it isn’t available
  • How far along does the cider industry need to be before you will sign on to a 20 year contract?  Looking ahead?
  • A lot of the English cider varieties don’t do well in our area (Oregon).  We are looking at what will grow well and what we will use, but not to the extent that we will gamble on planting 500 acres.
  • To find what we could grow in New Hampshire, we trialed a few hundred varieties, and ended up with a handful.  This was private research.

On being a maker or a grower – pros and cons of growing your own apples, contracting, and sharing innovation risk

  • If you are a cider maker thinking of buying an orchard, think twice, because growing apples is a demanding business.  The growing of fruit to that standard will demand you be a good accomplished  grower who knows their soil and their climate.
  • (Audience member response) I know I will never be a commercial grower, but I want to plant an orchard to be a database for the growers in my area.  There is risk out there that people will need to take to put these trees in the ground.
  • The need for investment in targeted research in quality cider-apple growing
    • Do higher quality apples make higher quality cider?  One of the most important parts of fruit production is the level of production you can expect year to year.  Since Long Ashton, there hasn’t been any research about how micro-managment of growing can affect the qualities of apples.
    • If you are out-sourcing apples, you need to know about the situation of those apples – as a grower of our own apples, we watch all of those levels – sugar, nitrogen, ex – and we treat cider apple trees differently than we treat the fresh market apples to get optimum sugar in those apples for fermentation.

Cider Con Day 2 – Beer Market or Wine Market?

Day two of Cider Con has been perhaps even more energetic than day one, with general positive enthusiasm leading into some intense discussion of issues, problem solving, and networking.  One of the major themes I’ve encountered today has been the Beer vrs Wine issue.  While in the UK, cider has a culturally recognized place as a distinctive and individual drink (relatively speaking here – I know the same issues do still apply), here in America, people are dealing the issue that hard cider is essentially a non-entity, and many discussions today have revolved around how to fit your product into the appropriate beer and wine markets, how to communicate with distributors in those markets, and how to speak to them in a language they understand while educating them about the character of the drink you want to create.  Britons, you’ve probably dealt with all this too, but the thing that I can’t help but notice here is that AMERICANS LOVE TO SELL STUFF.  That’s right, I’ve come back home to the land of the aggressive, enthusiastic, and self-assured entrepreneur.  Americans love to sell stuff, and they know how to do it well.  The challenge I see people tackling here is not just developing product identity and creating markets to fit – which I am sure will happen in the long term – but rather harnessing the strengths of the wine and beer markets that already exist and channeling cider through those markets in the ways most beneficial to individual businesses and their products.  The strength of the distinction between the wine and beer markets, and the approaches to these markets in the United States was very striking, perhaps the more so because of the muscular approach these American cider makers have towards using and manipulating the markets to their best advantage, something I had not experienced in England.  This is possibly attributable to both the difference in cider culture itself between the countries, but also to the cultural differences in the approach to business practice and marketing.

Below, I include a rough transcript following an exchange during one of the workshops led by representatives from Virtue Cider, based in Chicago and run by folks with a successful history in the craft beer industry, and Farnum Hill Cider of New Hampshire, with a background in orcharding and a more wine market approach.  This is not an exact transcript – but an approximation of some interesting exchanges on these topics, with me typing as fast as possible while listening and trying to get as much of the words and the gist of it as possible:

What to say when you don’t know how to sell cider?

  • Farnum Hill Ciders: We are more wine-like in our behavior than beer like – we don’t want a sales associate to think if we run out of something that there will be more soon.  We want to create the sense that scarcity is good.  Beer reps find this difficult to understand
  • Virtue Ciders: We looked at cider within the craft beer market of Chicago.  We were able to use the momentum of craft beer here and in other regions, also with the craft beer expertise of me and Greg from Goose Island. We needed to educate our audience when we started with craft beer.  How to do this with cider?  With Virtue, we use a lot of beer yeasts and barrel age our ciders in wine, raw oak, and bourbon barrels.  For me, with the products that we have, we have been able to penetrate the craft beer business with cider.  I’m still learning the production side, so that we can put it out in the market. I have to let accounts know what is coming up next in production, and explain it to the consumers.  I do tastings in Chicago, not just as a rep for Virtue Cider, but to educate the public in general about styles of cider. 

Audience Question: What are the styles of cider?  Dick Dunn has created styles for use in the Great Lakes competition. 

  • Farnum Hill Ciders: I think that is a pile of horsefeathers, as there aren’t any defined styles now.  I don’t think we want to predefine styles by region too early – it took a long time to do in Europe, and it will take a long time to do here.  Same with single variety cider.  I think what is happening now happened in the American Wine market in the 50s 60s an 70s.
  • Audience Question: Dick Dunn is trying to satisfy the beer geek crowd –
  • Farnum: But you shouldn’t have to do that to satisfy people who don’t know anything about your product
  • Audience comment: let the consumers choose – tell them what is in the product and let them decide what they want out of it.
  • Virtue: If we are educating people about the variety of ciders in general, than we should have things to satisfy different parts of the market.
  • Farnum Hill: You have to get rid of the preconceptions the consumers might have about cider before they get the product in their mouths
  • Farnum Hill: The challenge of dealing with the beer market – they always expect something new ie Christmas beer etc?  And we don’t do that.  We make the same thing every year.  Like wine, our strength is terroir.
  • Virtue: with my experience in beer, we still have the flagship products, like the Redstreak.  Also we have accounts who are more interested in local than in new.  We are relaunching, in a sense, the 2012 harvest of the Redstreak to get a bit of hype about this year’s product.
  • Farnum: Wine people aren’t about what is new, but what is continuous. The culture of the beer world is hard on cider makers, and you have to decide what you want to take from the beer world and what you want to stamp out of your representatives. 
  • Farnum: As to styles: I’m against regional styles that tie styles to cultures that no longer exist and need to regenerate (idea of a New England style based on historical cider making to which there is little continuity).  As we become better cider makers, and establish orcharding traditions for cider, these styles will emerge.  In the meantime let’s talk about sensory style, so that people know what kind of taste experience we are going to take them through.

Stay tuned – I’ll post some more on other issues from today later on.

Summary of Day One Cider Con 2013

WHOA!  Cider friends!  It is the end of the first day of Cider Con 2013 in Chicago, and my mind is positively spinning.  Having just come back from England, the opportunity to contrast and compare the English and American cider worlds is particularly fresh.  The conference is buzzing with excitement and activity – with between 200 and 300 participants from all around North America, including one from Mexico City, and representatives from NACM over from England.

One of my first impressions from the day is that cider makers here are really excited and interested in the chemistry of fermentation.  There were a lot of technical terms being thrown around that were frankly beyond my knowledge and left me out of my depth.  This seems to stem in part from the fact the many cider folks are crossing over from the beer or wine industries and are bringing that brewing and fermenting expertise with them.  One of the big events of the day was a sensory analysis session, where we were presented with a series of ciders which had been doctored with chemical additives to simulate what kinds of faults or variations could happen with fermentation processes, including detailed chemical diagrams and names which I barely recognized, followed by adjectives that were far more familiar to my tasting experience: farmyard, buttery, grassy, etc…..  But the level of detail was far beyond anything I had previously experienced.  The name of Peter Mitchell loomed large everywhere, and seems to definitely be the authoritative expert to whom most in the industry are turning for information.  Indeed, his partnerships with the academic research institutions detailed below seem to be very key to the information network.

There is a lively little group of academic researchers who are keen to work with the emerging cider industry to find best practices for orchard production and fermentation.  They helped kick off the conference this morning with a live survey of all the participating cider businesses, asking questions about their business profiles, expectations, and research needs for the emerging industry.  They hope this information will prove useful not only to the newly formed American Cider Association, but also as primary data for developing research proposals and funding applications to conduct substantive research. These people included:

Olga Padilla-Zakour from Cornell University Department of Food Science, who is a specialist in fermentations, presented on “Developing Educational Programs for Hard Cider Producers.”  Cornell has a history of research in wine fermentation due to the nearby finger lakes wine region, and they are excited about the resurgence of interest in apple juice fermentation.

Greg Peck from Virginia Tech Department of Horticulture presented about research into the economics of setting up a cider orchard, taking a survey of the cider industry in Virginia, here. He notes interest amongst commercial growers in converting to cider fruit but lack of knowledge about appropriate varieties for climate and soil conditions, in addition to the needs of the cider makers, currently precludes substantive investment. Cider makers will need to convince fruit producers that there is a market.

Carol Miles from Washington State University Department of Horticulture (see extension website on cider fruit here), in association with David Bauermeister of the Northwest Agricultural Business Center and Northwest Cider Association, have been looking at a host of agricultural and horticultural issues of fruit production and are keen to start trials of cider varieties in North America to assess the quality and commercial viability of cider varieties, which are currently almost non-existent in North America on a commercial scale. In addition, they have also looked into re-purposing blueberry and raspberry harvesters, which currently lay dormant during the apple harvest season, for use as mechanical harvesters for high density trellis system cider fruit harvesting.  Most apple harvesting for the cider industry currently occurs through hand-picking, due to the fact the most orchard systems in use are high density dessert fruit plantations.  Trials for repurposing soft fruit mechanical harvesters to apples are ongoing.

Nikki Rothwell from the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station.  She presented on Cider Varieties suitable for northern climates, based on trials of a few specimens of cider fruit existing in the research station’s collection.  Her report can be found on the Station’s website here. Under the title “Hard Cider Varieties 2012”

Aside from the fermentation chemistry and the horticultural research, I also had a really fascinating conversation with a woman who works as a sales rep for a Washington based cider company, who had also lived and worked in England for several years.  I asked her what she thought the emerging American cider culture was?  What was cider ABOUT in America, as compared to England.  She seemed to think that it was still really in flux, with a lot of enthusiasm from converts from the wine and beer industries, a healthy interest in fermentation, and distinctly different from the very locally-oriented traditions of farmhouse cider we are used to England.  She saw the market as very much a 30-something urban educated consumer.  One of my own thoughts had to do with the relationship of the orchards and landscape to the cider industry.  While England has come to expect regional differences in craft cider due to traditional local varieties, soil types, and economic histories (desert fruit in East Anglia for example), these distinctions have yet to emerge as known entities in America – at least that I am yet aware of.  The relationship of craft cider to its fruit remains one of the components of cider culture in America to be further developed, both in terms of agricultural social and economic systems and in terms of cider styles and tastes.

While chatting with the NACM folks from England, I also made the acquaintance of representatives from Gilder Gagnon Howe and Co., an investment firm from New York who have decided to invest in the emerging cider market.  They knew little about cider but had identified it as a growing market and were keen to learn more about the industry.  Many other vendors at the conference, including bottle and container vendors, equipment producers, etc, expressed a keen interest to learn about the cider industry and its commercial needs.  So it seems the learning curve is high for a lot of people, but the business world is ready to take it on.

All in all, I found this experience very different and very surprising, compared to my sojourn in the small-scale craft cider world of the UK.  This is definitely a new and different cider world. Stay tuned for more updates and revisions of information!  Let me know if you have any questions .  This summary represents who and what I saw at the conference, there was of course a lot more going on.  Look for the schedule of events here.

And Broome Farm Folks, Canadian Kate says a big Hello!!!