The History of Hard Apple Cider
History Of Cider
Apple trees were grown in England well before the Romans arrived in 43AD and brought organized cultivation. As apples grew better than grapes in the cool northern climate cider became the drink of choice rather than wine. The U.K. remains the country with the most production of cider, as well as the highest consumption per capita in the world, but America is gaining.
America’s love affair with hard cider stretches back to the first English settlers. Upon finding only inedible crabapples upon arrival, the colonists quickly requested apple seeds from England and began cultivating orchards. Grafting apple trees to produce proper cider apples arrived soon after and American cider production was well underway. While apple trees had little trouble taking to the Appalachian soil, it was trickier to cultivate the barley and other grains required to produce beer. So cider became the beverage of choice on the early American dinner table. By the turn of the eighteenth century, the Eastern United States was producing over 300,000 gallons of cider a year, and by midcentury, the average Massachusetts resident was consuming 35 gallons of cider a year. John Adams supposedly drank a tankard of cider every morning to settle his stomach.
Then came the devastating blow of Prohibition and the Volstead Act, which quickly quashed the growing cider industry. In addition to outlawing alcoholic cider, the Volstead Act limited production of sweet cider to 200 gallons a year per orchard. Prohibitionists burned countless fields of trees to the ground and surviving orchards began cultivating sweeter (non-cider) apples out of necessity. After prohibition ended breweries went back into production almost immediately with imported grains, but it took decades to convert the orchards back from sweet snacking and cooking apples to crisp cider apples and American’s love for cider never fully returned — until recently.
Making A Comeback
Almost a hundred years later, American cider is once again on the rise. As globalization brings cheap apples to grocery stores from half way around the world, many American orchardists have turned to cider to keep their farms profitable. More and more cider makers are showing up every year, honing their craft, and helping us rediscover this delicious lost American beverage.