The Craft Cider Trend Takes Flight: Ingredients & Styles

Originally published September 7, 2016 – Saltshaker Marketing & Media

After exploring the state of the mass-market hard cider trend in my previous cider piece, we turn our attention to the burgeoning craft side of the business that is proliferating across the U.S. In fact, there are close to 400 craft cideries in operation across America, with large numbers in the Pacific Northwest, California and New York. With this kind of scope, it’s easy to delve into this traditional American beverage that is being revived to delicious results and which joins a global community of cider that aficionados have long appreciated. 

Shacksbury Cider from Vermont at Summer Fancy Food Show, New York

Shacksbury Cider from Vermont at Summer Fancy Food Show, New York

Like craft beer brewers, new American craft cider makers pride themselves on small batch production and often locally sourced, well selected ingredients. Most craft ciders are made with 100% apple juice, unlike mass ciders made from apple juice concentrate. This juice comes from cider apples, not dessert apples, that have a different flavor profile than those eaten fresh or in baked goods. Cider apples can be more bitter than sweet, have low or high acidity, and have impressive levels of tannins. These characteristics give fermented cider structure and flavor complexity. Producers blend apples with an eye to finished styles that have varying levels of alcohol and sweetness. Most of today’s craft ciders are dry and can taste wildly different from one another.

Cider can also have more ingredients than just apples. Perry, cider made with pears, is a traditional cider style with English roots. Noted Northern California winery Bonny Doon produces a pear-quince cider called appropriately enough ¿Querry?. Ash & Elm Cider Co. in Indianapolis uses local fruit for its semi-sweet Cherry Cider. This is just the beginning of creative formulations found in today’s exciting cider marketplace.

Across the world, traditional styles of cider exist in England, France and Spain, and many domestic producers try to imitate these classics. Yet, in America we have license to depart from tradition, so cider makers get creative with their recipes. There are hopped ciders that taste like beer; others are flavored with fruit juice, citrus peel, herbs and spices. The cider offerings at Artifact Cider Project in Cambridge, Massachusetts show a typical artisan scope. Along with three “Annual” styles (New World, Wild Thing with wild fermentation and Buzzworthy made with honey), the micro-cidery makes a Heritage Series reflecting the terroir of the small Massachusetts town of Colrain with heirloom apples and maple syrup from local trees, and a Friendship Series, collaborations with artisans beer brewers. 

The ideal way to explore craft ciders is to head to one of the growing number of cider bars. New York’s Wassail  has over 80 types of cider on tap and in bottles plus a menu of cider-friendly dishes. Upcider in San Francisco is one of America’s first dedicated cider gastropubs and offers ciders from around the world. It’s also getting easier to find craft ciders on restaurant bar menus and in liquor stores and supermarkets, including many Whole Foods Markets. Because there are such diverse styles, sampling several side by side is an ideal way to find favorites.