What is apple cider?
In common American usage, raw apple juice that has not been filtered to remove pulp or sediment is referred to as “fresh cider” or “sweet cider.” The term “apple juice” indicates the juice has been filtered to remove solids. Fermented apple juice is called “hard cider.” In Europe, all non-fermented apple juice is referred to as “juice”, and fermented apple juice is referred to as “cider.” Worldwide, cider varies in alcohol content from less than 3% alcohol by volume (ABV) as found in French cidre doux, to 8.5% ABV or above in traditional English ciders. In the U.S., cider has 7% or lower ABV; anything above 7% ABV is considered an apple wine and falls under a different tax system.
History of cider
The first recorded references to cider date back to Roman times; in 55 BCE Julius Caesar found the Celtic Britons fermenting cider from native crabapples. The people of northern Spain were making sidra before the birth of Christ. The Norman Conquest of England in 1066 resulted in the introduction of many apple varieties from France and cider soon became the most popular drink after ale. Cider began to be used to pay tithes and rents – a custom that continued later in America. Cider is still very popular in England, which has the highest per capita consumption as well as the largest cider producing companies in the world. Cider is also traditional in western Europe, including Brittany and Normandy in France.
Cider in America
Only 9 years after first landing at Plymouth in 1620, European colonists planted apple trees in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In Colonial America, cider was the most common beverage, and even children drank it in a diluted form. In many places, the water was not safe to drink and most homesteads had an apple orchard. Pressing and fermenting fresh apple juice was the easiest way to preserve the large fruit harvest. In rural communities, taxes, wages and tithes were often paid in cider. It was also the basis for other products, such as vinegar, which was used to preserve fresh foods and for other purposes around the farm.
However, by the late 1800s, cider began its decline from the most popular beverage in the nation. Several unrelated forces combined to essentially wipe cider from the collective memory of America. A major factor was the Industrial Revolution, bringing people from the farm to the city to live and work. Many orchards were abandoned, resulting in reduced production. Unfiltered and unpasteurized cider did not travel well from farms to the new centers of population. An additional element was the increased consumption of beer, especially in cities. Immigrants arriving from Germany and Ireland, and cheap grain available in the Midwest, led beer to replace cider in the popular market.
The most damaging factor for cider was the rise of the Temperance movement. By the time Prohibition was enacted in 1919, the production of cider in the U.S. had slipped to only 13 million gallons, down from 55 million gallons in 1899. Over the next several decades, the once proud American tradition of cider making was kept alive by only a few local farmers and enthusiasts. In recent years there has been a resurgent interest in cider making and today cider is one of the fastest-growing segments of the liquor industry.
Cider Research at WSU NWREC
A small collection of 12 different English and French cider apple varieties was planted in a preliminary trial from 1977 to 1998, evaluating only the trees’ potential productivity and disease resistance. In 1994 a larger, replicated planting was established, and expanded in 1999. New varieties from France and England were added in 2001–2002, and 2004–2006, including some old American cider varieties. Evaluation of these varieties includes:
- Juice analysis (°Brix, pH, malic acid, specific gravity, % tannin) of all varieties on trial with sufficient fruit for sampling
- Production and evaluation of ciders from 3–8 selected varieties per year.
Beginning In 2002, varietal ciders have been produced on-station using fruit from the trial, with the advice of an expert cider maker. The ciders are then sampled and evaluated for quality and marketability. The trial has included some 80 varieties in replicated plots and screening test plots. Result of the trial are included in annual Reports and in PNW 621 Hard Cider Production and Orchard Management in the Pacific Northwest
Cider apple varieties planted at Mount Vernon 1977–present
Cider apple varieties currently planted at Mount Vernon (2012)
After a preliminary trial in 2007, replicated trials of mechanical harvest were conducted in 2011 and 2012 using a raspberry picker to harvest trees specially trained on a low trellis, grafted to strongly dwarfing rootstock.
Cider Apple Bloom Data 2000–2012
Cider Apple Bloom Data 1993–1999
Hard Cider Nurseries: Tree Sources 2013.
Cider Projects 2012
PNW621 Hard Cider Production and Orchard Management in the Pacific Northwest – new basic manual for hard cider making, based on variety evaluations and cider trials at WSU Mount Vernon NWREC.
Assessing apple cultivar characteristics for hard cider production (ASHS abstract 2009)
Far From the Tree: Cider Tasting at WSU Mount Vernon (Skagit Valley Herald, November 2012)
Harvester Studied for Cider Apple (Goodfruit Grower, October 2012)
Cider is Cool, (Goodfruit Grower, October 2012)
Growing a Cider Culture (Goodfruit Grower, October 2012)
From Bin to Bottle (Goodfruit Grower, October 2012)
Federal Grants Reach Specialty Crops (Capital Press, January 2012)
Cider Research in the U.S.
Greg Peck is working on economic feasibility studies of hard cider orchards and cideries in Virginia, including surveys of existing hard cideries, with a goal of increasing the availability of hard cider apples and helping new and expanding cideries develop successful business plans for increased production of hard cider.
Assistant Professor of Horticulture
Alson H. Smith, Jr. Agricultural Research & Extension Center
595 Laurel Grove Road
Winchester, VA 22602
540-869-2500 ext 19
Feasibility Study for a Small Farm Cidery in Nelson County, VA.
Ian Merwin is a specialist in tree fruit production, orchard management, agroecology, and antique apple varieties. Among his current research interests is the evaluation of traditional American and European apple varieties for cider fermentation.
Professor of Horticulture
Plant Science Building
4675 Seneca Rd.
Trumansburg, NY 14886-9215
Olga Padilla-Zakour is a specialist in fermentations. Cornell has a history of research in wine fermentation and she is a participant in the resurgence of interest in apple juice fermentation.
Associate Professor, Food Science & Technology
Kennedy Hall, Room Box 15
630 W. North Street
Geneva, NY 14456
Michigan State University
Nikki Rothwell is researching cider Varieties suitable for northern climates, based on trials of a few specimens of cider fruit existing in the research station’s collection.
Michigan State Horticultural Research Center
6686 S. Center Highway
Traverse City, MI 49684
Cider Associations & Groups
The Northwest Cider Association is a group of cider makers and orchardists from western Washington, Oregon and British Columbia who have organized to promote the production and appreciation of hard (fermented) cider.
The Northwest Agriculture Business Center continues to sponsor Cider School Classes, offered since 2003 in collaboration with Peter Mitchell, an internationally known expert in hard cider and perry production from Worcester, England.
United States Association of Cider Makers was organized February 2013 to gather and share information about cider production, and to promote wider interest in cider and perry in the United States
8th Annual Great Lakes International Cider & Perry Comepetition, March 24, 2013 – Results
Rocky Mountain Cider Association is an organization of commercial producers of cider and perry in the Rocky Mountain region: Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.
Great Lakes Cider & Perry Association members include both commercial and non-commercial cider producers, as well as affiliate members located outside the region.
Vermont Ice Cider Association is a group of artisanal producers committed to making Ice Cider in the Quebecois tradition suited to northern climates.
Beer Judge Certification Program lists style guidelines for judging cider and perry.
Dave’s Old Time Cider (David White)
Serious Eats: Drinks – Cider
IAmCider (Bill Bradshaw)
Sources for information
Grafton, G. and P. Gunningham. 1990–2005. The New Real Cider and Perry Page. A very useful website with much detailed information on both cider and perry.
Cider apple varieties
Cider Making Guide
Blackburn-Maze, P. 1986. The Apple Book. Collingridge Books, Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd., Middlesex, England.
Copas, L. 2001 A Somerset Pomona: The Cider Apples of Somerset. The Dovecote Press Ltd., Dorset, England.
Lea, A. 2008. Craft Cider Making. The Good Life Press, Preston, England.
Morgan, J. and A. Richards. 1993. The Book of Apples. Ebury Press Ltd., London, England.
Proulx, A. and L. Nichols. 1997. Cider: Making, Using and Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider, 2nd edition. Storey Publishing, Pownal, VT.
Watson, B. 1999. Cider Hard and Sweet: History, Traditions, and Making Your Own. The Countryman Press, Woodstock, Vermont.
Our pages provide links to external sites for the convenience of users. WSU Extension does not manage these external sites, nor does Extension review, control, or take responsibility for the content of these sites. These external sites do not implicitly or explicitly represent official positions and policies of WSU Extension.