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Booming cider market creates tough choices

Fri., Nov. 1, 2013

The hard cider boom is on.

Virtually nonexistent in the U.S. 20 years ago, sales of the fermented apple juice are on a marked climb, rising from about $35 million in 2009 to $172 million this year, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI.

For cider old-timers, which usually means 10 or so years in the business, it’s both validation and profit.

“It’s fantastic,” said Michael Beck, owner of Uncle John’s Cider Mill in St. Johns, Mich. “I’m glad I started 13 years ago. It bodes well for apple growers, which we are.”

But for consumers, the rapid growth has led to a few too many choices on store shelves. Ciders come with a wide array of character, from sickly sweet to bone dry, and with a wide array of backgrounds. Yet most bottles simply say “cider,” with little to distinguish the products.

Some companies are overtly trying to cash in on the craze (the recently released Cidre is clearly labeled as a Stella Artois product), while others are more coy about their affiliations (nothing on Angry Orchard’s bottle says it is a product of Boston Beer Co., maker of Sam Adams beer).

As with craft beer, the best cider is made by smaller companies and in smaller batches. The difference comes down to fresh ingredients and a patient process. Availability of craft ciders varies by region, but do your homework and you won’t be sorry.

Larger cider-makers are “making this a truly legitimate category in the industry, but when people find a craft cider, they’ll know the difference,” said cider-maker Marcus Robert of Washington-based Tieton Cider Works. “We aim for something more complex and more interesting rather than just being sweet.”

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