Cider Week NY kicks off today (well, to be more accurate: Cider 10 Days kicks off). Throughout New York City and the Hudson Valley, hundreds of participating restaurants and bars will begin pouring with a vengeance. In my eyes, this couldn’t happen at a more crucial time. The cider revolution is in its nascency. And already its in danger of losing its soul.
Although cider is a niche market in the U.S, sales rose 23% last year. This is huge. And there is an interesting comparison here–what began 20 years ago in the craft beer world, is now happening in the cider world. There’s a ton of interest, from both consumers, and strangely enough, from the macrobreweries like Budweiser and Coors. They have zeroed their tractor beams in on cider as their next big market. Let’s look at some facts.
Over the last seven months the following things happened: MillerCoors bought out the popular craft cider house, Crispin. Boston Beer Co. rolled out a nationwide label called Angry Orchard, and Anheuser-Busch, released the low-calorie Michelob Ultra Light Cider. Frankly, this is all a little scary. Why? Because the market is becoming awash in mass-produced, characterless cider before Americans even know what “real” farmhouse cider tastes like.
This is an important distinction, to call a cider “farmhouse.” They are ones where the producers grow their own apples, press the fruit, themselves, and take the time to age them properly–which can sometimes be years. It’s a way the little guys in our state, like Eve’s Cidery, Slyboro, Bellwether, and Doc’s, can differentiate what they do from the tidal wave of plonk the macrobreweries are dumping on the market.
A few weeks ago, I was leading a seminar at the Astor Center for the trade and media, and when I was speaking about this, Loulou Spencer from Farnum Hill shouted: “Good! Let them hook all the college kids that cider even exists, and then they’ll find their way to us!” But, let’s step back for a second. Is this infusion of money, marketing muscle, and ciders often made from frozen concentrate a good thing for artisan cider makers? It’s a heated dilemna. Can Michelob Ultra Light Cider open people’s eyes, and eventually lead them to the craft well-spring to drink its elixirs? Or are they squashing the little guys?
It’s an interesting quandary, and I can guarantee you every small-production cider maker is asking themselves the same question. Do we align with the Death Star, ride their coat tails, and be there for when the American public is finally ready to make the leap to the good stuff?
I believe the urgency has increased to get the word out. It’s our job in the industry to put a spotlight on the little guys doing things the authentic way. And, what’s really exciting is they’re doing it right here in our own backyards. If we’re going to eat local, then we need to be drinking local. If we’re concerned about how our food is grown, our animals are treated, then we need to spread the same thinking to our beverages. So, find a participating restaurant or bar near you in the next ten days and taste for yourself. Learn what the real stuff tastes like, before the impending tidal wave drowns us all. The resistance lives on.