Hard cider: Mott’s it’s not and it’s hot

Hard cider is hot!

It doesn’t matter where you look, there’s a heck of lot of action taking place in the cider business. In fact, cider may be experiencing its biggest popularity since America’s earliest days.

We’re not talking about that murky brown stuff sold in gallon jugs in the supermarket dairy case.  No, our subject is fermented apple juice, which was the drink of the wealthy 18th Century English and which was consumed daily in early America until German lager beers displaced them.

Typically cider has about 5-6 percent alcohol by volume, a level between that of beer and wine and is offered sweet, dry, still or sparkling. Some resemble wine coolers, sweet and fizzy.  But there also are oak-aged expressions, single-apple versions and complex blends.  Hard cider can be bone-dry, like the rustic English beverage called scrumpy, or it can sweet, depending on the apples used and if any sugar or acid has been added.  Most English and European ciders use specially grown fruits, which offer high acidity and tannins that the eating apples generally used by American cider makers.

One thing is certain are the astronomical growth figures in this beverage category Cider sales last year rocketed 50 percent, according to SymphonyIRI Group, the Chicago market research firm. Another researcher, Impact Databank, puts the annual growth figure at 23 percent.

It doesn’t make a difference which number you use. Cider is attracting attention from producers big and small.

Boston Beer Co., the makers of Samuel Adams beers, has rolled out its Angry Orchard label nationwide (it previously marketed cider under the Hard Core brand) and brewing giant Anheuser-Busch released its first American cider—the low-calorie Michelob Ultra Light Cider. MillerCoors, meanwhile, bought the Crispin cider business and operates it as part of its Tenth and Black craft beer business. Crispin is growing by 300 percent monthly, according to a report by Shanken News Daily. The producer recommends imbibers pour its wares over ice.

Vermont Hard Cider, producer of the Woodchuck ciders is experiencing 30 percent-plus growth, according to Shanken, and is building a new facility. It’s also the U.S. marketer of Strongbow, a cider brand owned by Heineken, the big Dutch brewer.

Also, Late last year, C&C Group, the Irish-Anglo company that owns Magner’s Irish Cider, added Hornsby’s to its portfolio (the brand formerly was owned by E&J  Gallo.

On the artisan side, there’s Greg Hall, who sold his Goose Island Brewing Co. in Chicago to A-B and who now is making cider under the Virtue Cider label. Meanwhile, Peconic Bay Winery on Long Island’s North Fork launched twos cider, True Believer and True Companion, using apples grown on the East End.

In the New York area, alcoholic beverage promoters have taken notice.

Jimmy Carbone, of Jimmy’s 43 in the East Village and Beer Sessions Radio, has launched Cider Week in New York which kicks off on Oct. 13 with a tasting event in Williamsburg that features a selection of more than 20 ciders (including Virtue, Farnum Hill, and France’s Domaine Dupont), 20 craft brews (including Barrier Brewing of Oceanside, Rockaway Brewing, New Jersey’s Carton Brewing, and Vermont’s Shed Brewery), 10 artisanal spirits, as well as charcuterie and cheese. Two general session and two guided tasting sessions are planned for the event at 110 Kent Avenue at N. 8th Street, Williamsburg).  Tickets are $50, though there is a $40 discount option currently available through Google offers. Steve Wood, owner of New Hampshire’s Farnham Hill Ciders and Virtue’s Hall, will conduct seminars. Jimmy’s also is having a cider-paired South Indian harvest dinner on Oct. 15. Tickets for the dinner, $44 per person, are available online.

Just the other day, Long Islanders for Fermentation Enjoyment, a beer enthusiast group that I’m involved in, tasted a selection of ciders at its monthly gathering at the Black Forest Brewhaus in Farmingdale.  Many in the line up were simple, alcoholic apple juices, fruity alternatives for those who don’t drink beer. Still, the Angry Orchard cider was a favorite and a number of participants also enjoyed a maple-flavored variation from Harvest Moon Cidery Critz Farms in Westchester., as well as a sour-cherry apple cider from Crispin.

Meanwhile, out on Long Island’s North Fork, Peconic Bay Winery has joined forces with Starfish Junction Productions, the promoter of various beer events, to put on Pour The Core:  A Hard Cider Festival on Oct. 20, from 12:30-5 p.m. at the Cutchogue winery. More than 30 domestic and international ciders are to be offered. And there will be there seminars on cider-based cocktails, home cider making and cooking with cider. Tickets have sold out, however.

If things go as planned, I’ll be at the Peconic Bay fest and then post some tasting notes.

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