Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How Do You Like Them Apples? The Explosion of the Cider Market

During this year’s Taste Washington festivities, I had the pleasure of attending one of the seminars for the first time along with my (normally beer drinking) boyfriend. My friend Erin James (of Sip NW and CIDERCRAFT magazines) was on the panel and I was dying to learn all there is to know about the cider movement and also see her do her thing in front of an audience. It was such a great opportunity to learn about cider, where it came from, where it’s headed and to hear from the actual producers themselves as well. Oh and the tasting.. you can’t forget the tasting portion! Deee-lish.

From 2012-2014 the cider industry saw a 65-85% growth, which is absolutely insane if you ask me. Retail sales of cider are now around $2 billion and doesn’t appear to be slowing any time soon. What’s blown everyone’s minds is the rate of growth; it’s growing faster than all other alcoholic beverage categories. They are capturing a HUGE market share of beer drinkers, and I can say that with absolute fact. My craft beer loving, non-wine drinking boyfriend has made a dramatic shift toward cider as of late, and now would prefer cider over beer most days.  It was interesting to see that the “Big 5” brand owners that control much of the beer market also dominate the cider market share as well. AB-InBev owns Stella’s Cidre brand, Heineken owns Strongbow, Miller Coors owns Crispin/Fox Barrel and Smith & Forge, C&C Group owns Blackthorn and others, and Boston Beer Company owns Angry Orchard and its whopping 56 share of the total cider volume. I knew the parent companies and I knew the ciders, but until the seminar had no idea about the connections between them. With big beer comes big cider! Washington, however, has enjoyed a craft cider movement with cideries making quite a name for themselves in the Northwest.

Some fun cider facts for you:
  • The history of the apple dates back to its birthplace in an area between China and Kazakhstan.
  • By the late 1700s, cider was the most popular drink (I bet you didn’t know that?). An estimated 35 gallons/person/year was consumed at that time.
  • Cider fell during prohibition as you can’t very easily hide apple orchards like you could backroom distilleries. It’s seen its reemergence over the last several years.
  • There are 16,000 named apple varieties in North America (WOW).
  • There are four categories of cider apples: Sweets, Sharps, Bittersweets and Bittersharps.
  • The NW is known for innovation in cider making compared with other places in the U.S. Consumers around here also are known as being quite willing to try new things, hence the “outside the box” creations from cider makers.
  • More than ½ of all apples grown in the U.S. are grown right here in Washington
  • There are 168,000 acres of apples growing in Washington, 300 acres of which are dedicated cider apples.
  • Seattle is the #2 consumption market for cider in the U.S. (behind Los Angeles, Portland is #3!).
  • According to one producer in attendance, it takes them 15 lbs of apples to make 1 gallon of cider (they use apples from smaller trees, this could vary by producer).

During the seminar, we were able to taste ciders from around the world as well as a variety of ciders from Washington producers. It was fun to taste the differences between them and see how the styles differ by region, much like they do with wine. For our cider enjoyment, we were able to try (in the order of tasting):

Sarasola Sidra (Basque Region of Spain)
Cidre de Rhuys Brut (France)
Aspall English Dry (England) - Fun Fact: Aspall is the oldest existing cidery on record.

Seattle Cider Co. Dry (Seattle) – Seattle Cider has always been a local favorite, visit the tasting room to try some of their awesome cider infusions (I had a basil mint cider when I was in last time). 
Finnriver Dry-Hopped (Chimacum) – Fun Fact: Hopped ciders are now a specific category at cider competitions. 
Snowdrift Seckel Perry (East Wenatchee) – This cider is made from 100% seckel pears, and is their first 100% varietal made this way. 
Whitewood South Sounder (Olympia) – This one was almost like a barn yard on the nose (which the producer was the first to admit!), but the taste was completely different and enjoyable. A very interesting cider! 
Dragon’s Head Pippin (Vashon) – I really liked this one since I got a lot of Riesling on the nose, and we all know how I feel about wine… 
Alpenfire Calypso (Port Townsend) – This one is fermented with blackberries and is put in rum barrels for additional flavor.  
Tieton Frost (Yakima) – They can’t call it an “ice cider” since the production method for cider would be different from that of an “ice wine”, but they treat it much the same so they named it to reflect that.

Our Cider Tasting Line-Up!

Overall, I much preferred the Washington ciders we tried to the international ones. We did try many more local ciders than international, but the flavor profiles that Washington cider producers are putting out are just amazing. My boyfriend already tracked down some of the ones we tried very shortly after the seminar so he could enjoy them at home! Looking forward to seeing what’s to come for this booming industry in Washington state!

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