Plenty of short histories have been written about American cider: its origin, decline, and resurgence. This post focuses more on the recent history of cider in America since 2000 or so, particularly the growth of larger scale commercial producers (as opposed to smaller-scale traditional producers).
In the recent history of craft beer, there was a rather large gap between the founding of the first craft breweries in the 80s and the more recent explosion in the 2000s (craft breweries numbered eight in 1980, 537 in 1994, 2,800 by 2013, and over 5,000 in 2016).
Cider, on the other hand, started extremely slow, and then blew up in a relatively short time frame. The first commercial craft cidery in the US was Woodchuck (VT), founded in 1991, followed thereafter in 1993 by Ace (CA) and 1996 by Original Sin (NY). The early 2000s saw Fox Barrel (CA) and Crispin (CA), both founded in 2004, and Vandermill (MI) in 2006. Despite the presence of these cideries, growth remained tepid.
The early 2010s were the tipping point, where we see an enormous growth in cider producers, launching brands that grew rapidly to become regional powerhouses. In 2010 we saw Bold Rock (NC/VA), Two Towns (OR),and Tieton Ciderworks (WA). In 2011, Citizen (VT) and Downeast (MA) along with the launch of Sam Adams’ cider brand, Angry Orchard. In 2013 Seattle Cider (WA), Nine Pin (NY), and Sonoma Cider (CA) were founded. By 2017 there were 658 total cider producers in the US.
Brands and sales grew in line with the customer base. The craft beverage movement as a whole played a role, with customers looking for the next cool thing, as did the rise in gluten-free diets, as cider provides a better straight alternative to beer than wine or mixed drinks: it’s carbonated, cold, and served in pints. Angry Orchard’s success also played a role in the success of cider as a whole. With the logistical and financial backing of Sam Adams, they brought cider to places it hadn’t really penetrated before. Suburban Applebees, for example, were for the first time pouring cider on tap. Before this time bars would typically have packaged product of either Crispin, Woodchuck, or a European import like Strongbow, but cider on draft was a rare sight. Angry Orchard changed this, to everyone’s benefit, and allowed smaller producers to reach into less “craft specialty” locations, taking cider out of the outer echelons of the craft world and into the mainstream.
The early 2010s also saw a lot of acquisitions, which can be read as large companies betting on the rising tide of cider that we saw in this time period. Woodchuck was purchased by the C+C group for $305 million, Crispin acquired Fox Barrel in 2010 and then was itself acquired by MillerCoors two years later.
While these larger brands have seen declining sales in recent years, it doesn’t mean every part of the cider category is declining--just the brands at the top. Angry Orchard dropped 14% in 2014, Woodchuck dropped 14.5% in 2015, and the full cider category dropped in off-premise sales by 10% from 2015-2016. But in that same time period off-premise sales for craft cider, excluding larger “macro” brands like Woodchuck, Angry Orchard, Crispin, grew 39%! So if you happen to read anything in the news about the “decline” in cider, it typically means the decline of the larger brands and obscures the continued growth of the smaller regional cideries.
Sly Clyde is happy to be in Virginia, one of only five states where cider sales at bars and restaurants surpass 3% of beer sales (the others are Washington, Oregon, Vermont, and Maine). We’d like to get that number higher, so next time you’re at a bar ask for the local craft cider--soon it will be ours!