Cider was the seventh best-selling beverage style in 2018, according to a beer report by BeerBoard, which uses data systems to help restaurants and beverage operators track draft sales. “Cider was a style that was kind of in decline in 2017,” says J.C. Whipple, BeerBoard’s director of communications. 2018 was a better year, and it’s already increasing in 2019, he says. “It’s going to crank up even more as spring and summer hit.”
Nationally, Whipple says that Angry Orchard is a leading brand that helps drive styles and cider sales, but regional brands also do their part. In New York, cider shared 3.5 percent of sales in 2018 with craft and domestic beers among BeerBoard’s operators.
“New York is such a great cider region,” says Steven Baird, co-owner of both The Owl Farm and Cardiff Giant in Brooklyn, New York. “Cider tends to get lumped in with beer but has much more in common with wine. It’s fermented juice with a regional terroir.” At The Owl Farm, Baird dedicates seven of the 28 taps to cider. “I try to give each major cider region in the world a tap,” Baird says. He also credits Angry Orchard for sourcing real cider apples from Europe rather than commercial, edible apples, but he prefers smaller cideries when building his lists. “We like places that grow their own orchards,” he says. At the Cardiff Giant, he only serves products made in New York, such as Eve’s Cidery in the Finger Lakes. Eve’s specializes in sparkling Champagne-style ciders like the Autumn’s Gold, which Baird calls “a fantastic celebration cider.”
Back at The Owl Farm, Baird often serves Eden Specialty Ciders from Vermont that blends several heirloom varieties to make the brand’s Heritage Cider. “That’s probably the best cider you can buy in a can,” Baird says.
Eden Ciders is also a favorite for Heather Mojer, beverage director and co-owner of Café du Pays in Cambridge, Massachusetts, because they fit Café du Pays’ concept of “French Canadian cuisine by way of New England.” One of her summer picks is Eden Imperial 11° Rosé Cider made with apples and red currants. “It drinks like a wine,” she says.
The Pacific Northwest is another region that is robust for sourcing ciders, says Carlton Dunlap, hospitality and beverage director for Ned Ludd American Craft Kitchen in Portland, Oregon. Dunlap consistently serves ciders from Dragon’s Head Cider in Vashon Island, Washington. The brand’s ciders like the Columbia Crabapple are pressed in autumn and farm-made. “It’s really high in acid, but balanced with residual apple sugar,” Dunlap says. “It’s bright, almost like drinking a Riesling, if Riesling was sparkling.”
According to BeerBoard, Texas is also seeing a gain in cider sales. Whipple credits regional brands like Austin Eastciders for the rise. “They’re definitely our No. 1 selling cider,” says Kaylee Kulich, general manager of Craft Pride in Austin. “That’s sort of the gateway cider.” From there, Kulich recommends trying smaller-batch, drier ciders from Austin’s Argus Cidery or Fairweather Cider Co.
Pear-flavored ciders and perry—made from fermented pears instead of apples—are gaining popularity as great summer drinks, too. Major players like Crispin Cider Co.—owned by Miller-Coors— and Woodchuck Hard Cider seem to be banking on pear this season with both companies highlighting a Pearsecco flavor.
For perry, Dunlap is a fan of Dragon’s Head Cider’s version, calling it a great food cider due to its balance of acid, bitter, fruit, and sweetness. Pear sugar is unfermentable, which makes perry a bit sweeter than apple ciders. “It leaves a barely perceptible taste on the tongue that’s a little sweet and tart and acidic and low in carbonation,” Baird of The Owl Farm says. One of his favorites is by Blackduck Cidery in New York. “I like that it’s almost Spanish-influenced, acidic and tart.”
Whipple doesn’t think ciders will ever overtake major beer styles like lagers or IPAs, but says they won’t drop off either. Cider just sells, echoes Baird.
Must-have ciders for a diverse and quenchable list.
- Year of the pear: Pear flavors are trending this year, as the cider world sees a surge in Pearsecco cider flavors from big brands like Crispin Cider Co. and Woodchuck Hard Cider and artisanal perry (pear cider) love from beverage experts.
- Cider like wine: Connoisseurs say cider is closer to wine than beer. And, since consumers went wild for rosé cider last summer, the Eden Imperial 11° Rosé Cider is a great choice for on-trend summer sipping with a bit more sophistication.
- Crush it: Canned cider—like canned beer, wine, and cocktails—is booming and some of the best are from Austin Eastciders and Eden Specialty Ciders for their artisanal tastes and approachable beer-like presentations.