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Cider Needs Its Own Identity. Single-Varietal Bottles Can Help.

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American cider is having an identity crisis.

Though once one of the most widely consumed beverages in America, cider fell by the wayside after Prohibition. America transitioned from a primarily agricultural economy to an industrial one, creating more distance between Americans and cider, a farmhouse staple. Recently, though, cider is making a name for itself and finding its way back to consumers.

Today there are approximately 1,000 commercial cideries in America. Between 2011 and 2019 alone, an estimated 600 cideries opened in the U.S., according to Michelle McGrath, CEO of the American Cider Association. And according to Nielsen Media Research, a data and analytics company, in 2022 direct sales of local and regional hard cider increased by 5.7% compared to 2021.

“I have definitely seen beer drinkers, in particular, take more interest in the cider category over the past year or so,” says Andrew Bronstein, owner of Nemo’s Beer Shop in Queens, New York, which stocks 12 to 15 ciders at a given time. “I believe some of that has to do with flavor curiosity.”

Despite its rise in popularity, cider still suffers from a perception problem. Though distinct from wine and beer, cider is often viewed through the lens of one or the other. The result is a lack of understanding about what cider actually is, which some argue limits potential consumer interest in it.

Could single-varietal bottlings—ciders made with one type of apple—help better define cider in the minds of drinkers, potentially securing the category’s future? Here’s what some cider pros had to say.

But First, What Is Cider Exactly?

Apples at South Hill Cider / Image Courtesy of Allison Usavage / South Hill Cider

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) classifies cider as a fruit wine. This means it’s subject to the same rules as grape-based wine. Because of this, cideries are listed in government databases as wineries, making it difficult to get an accurate read on exactly how many commercial cideries are operating in the U.S. beyond rough estimates.

This classification can muddle the language used to talk about cider. For instance, cidermakers accurately use the words like “variety” and “varietal” to describe their products, terms often reserved for wine. Yet despite its adjacency to wine, if you go to a liquor or grocery store, you will most often find hard ciders stacked among cans of beer. Not to mention, terms like “brewed” are sometimes erroneously used to describe the cidermaking process–as cider is fermented.

Codifying the terms used to describe cider may be key to the category’s longevity. Think about it: If you ask wine drinkers what they enjoy, they’ll likely name a few grape varieties. Ask beer drinkers the same question, and they might name a few styles—heck, maybe even certain hops. Wine and beer have an identity, with a common language people can latch onto and use. Cider doesn’t quite have that yet.

How Single-Varietal Bottles Can Demystify Cider

Stories behind the bottles can also help bring cider to life, a tactic that wineries and breweries have long employed. Advertising apple varieties might give consumers an opportunity to ask questions and “engage in the story of the apples and orchards,” says Dan Pucci, author of American Cider.

“Single-varietal ciders are a good opportunity for consumers to become familiar with varietal names and get a sense of what they bring to the character of a cider, even when they are found in a blend,” says Darlene Hayes, author of Cider Cocktails–Another Bite of the Apple. “It helps to make them a little more relatable, less anonymous.”