Hard cider and perry industry growing across the United States

Recent conference demonstrated the interest in hard cider and perry production.

This past week, Feb. 6-9, 2013, the third annual Cider Con was held in Chicago, Ill. This year’s conference was attended by 240 cider makers and apple growers across North America – attendance was up over 60 percent from last year’s conference. The trends in the Cider Con attendance match the trajectory of this burgeoning industry: Hard cider sales are up 65 percent over last year, according to National Public Radio, and U.S. cider sales for 2011 were estimated at $90 million, according to SymphonyIRI Group.

There is much enthusiasm in the hard cider world and a feeling of rejuvenation for the American tradition of producing hard ciders. Cider is often considered America’s first homegrown beverage, and apples were initially spread through the colonies to drink, not eat. Cider was consumed with all meals, including breakfast. By late 1600s, New England apple growers were producing 300,000 gallons per year, and in the 19th century, consumption of hard cider was 32 gallons per person per year.

Unfortunately, ciders heyday started to wane at the turn of the 20th century. The demise was likely due to a combination of factors. First, there were an increasing numbers of German immigrants that brought the tradition of drinking beer, and this cheaper and easier beer production appealed to commercial manufacturing. More people were moving and living in urban areas, and there was less land for apple production. Finally, the National Prohibition Enforcement Act was passed in 1919, and prohibition was really the final straw for the U.S. cider industry.

Despite these past challenges, there is renewed interest in producing hard cider and perry. First, hard cider fills a niche in the U.S alcohol market because it is new, and different drinks often appeal to the emerging market and the millenial consumers. Hard cider also dovetails with local food movement, such as farm-to-table and “know your farmer” – and your cidermaker! Recent cider sales have shown this drink appeals to both sexes, as it drinks more like a beer, but made more like a wine. Cider is also gluten-free, and there is a growing number of Americans that have allergies to wheat and wheat products. Lastly, producing hard cider fits in with craft brewery movement and model, which is well established in many states in the United States.

The upward trends in cider production and consumption have led cidermakers and growers, many of which attended the recent conference, to think ahead as how to support this new industry, and at Cider Con, the group formed a United States Association of Cidermakers (USACM). The USACM was formed with the broad input of industry producers, stakeholders and constituents from around the country. The group's mission is to gather and share information about cider and perry production, regulations concerning the production of hard cider and perry, and pear and apple growing and associated research and outreach programming that will support this industry. This group will also help members improve their operations, raise the public's awareness of the hard cider and perry products produced by its members, and promote the interests of the cider and perry producers in the United States.

USACM is pleased to announce its inaugural Board of Directors which reflects the industry's diversity of regional distribution, production volume, and growth:

  1. Steve Wood, Farnum Hill Ciders, New Hampshire
  2. Brad Page, Colorado Cider Company, Colorado
  3. Mike Beck, Uncle John's Cider Mill, Michigan
  4. Dan Rowell, Vermont Hard Cider, Vermont
  5. Robert Vail, Angry Orchard, Massachusetts
  6. James Kohn, Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, Oregon
  7. Charlotte Shelton, Albemarle Cider Works, Virginia

A research sub-group was also present at this meeting in Chicago, and these researchers organized the educational session that included apple variety evaluation, assessment of juice and fermented products made from hard cider apple varieties, enterprise budgets for starting up a hard cider production facility, and current and future offerings of educational programs. Researchers from Michigan State University, Cornell University, Virginia Technical University and Washington State University also collaborated to develop a survey that was given at the start of the conference and will be used as a baseline to develop grant proposals that will support this new industry.

Michigan State University Extension looks forward to seeing a new agricultural, value-added industry grow across Michigan and the rest of the country.

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