hard cider history






Imported by settlers from Europe, hard cider has a long but mostly forgotten tradition in the U.S. During colonial times, hard cider was the beverage of choice for both adults and children because the water wasn’t safe to drink. The earliest known provision for cider making is believed to have been carried on the Mayflower itself in 1620. Halfway through the journey, the ship was caught in a storm and one of its beams cracked badly enough to warrant the consideration of turning back to England. "The great iron screw", taken from a cider press, helped brace the beam to keep the ship from breaking up and did it long enough to make it to the New World. Nine days after the Puritans landed (and perhaps in great thanks for having survived the journey at all) a man by the name of William Blackstone planted the first apple trees in the New England colonies

Colonists planted heirloom apple trees for cider-making, and even America’s patron saint of the apple orchard had an ulterior motive. As Michael Pollan writes in Botany of Desire, “Johnny Appleseed was bringing the gift of alcohol to the frontier.

By the 18th century apple cider was a staple at every family table; at harvest many apples were pressed into cider and the remainder was placed carefully into barrels to store through winter for eating or replenishing supply. Pehr Kalm, a Swedish naturalist, noted in his travels in 1749 that nearly every home on Staten Island (now a part of modern New York City) had a small orchard attached and in the colonial capital, Albany, apples were being pressed for cider to be exported south to New York City. By 1775, one in ten New England families, most of them farmers, had a cider mill on the property. In one of his letters to his wife Abigail, John Adams complained explicitly about the quality of Philadelphia alcohols and being homesick for her cider. They grew several varieties of apple at his home in Virginia and there are records of his wife Martha Jefferson overseeing their harvest and brewing while she was mistress of the plantation. Ciderkin, a slightly alcoholic beverage made from cider pomace, could also be found on colonial tables, and was often served for breakfast. Applejack, made in the North, was made in a very similar manner to Canadian ice cider every winter and likely would have been familiar to Mrs. Adams as an alternate means to concentrate alcohol when it was far too cold outside to bring out the cider press. The taste for hard cider continued into the 19th century in pockets of the East Coast, but with the double blow of immigration from Central and Eastern Europe, where lager beer is the traditional staple, and the later advent of Prohibition hard cider manufacturing collapsed and did not recover after the ban on alcohol was lifted. Temperance fanatics burned or uprooted the orchards and wrought havoc on farms to the point that only dessert or cooking apples escaped the axe or torch; only a small number of cider apple trees survived on farmland abandoned before the 1920s and in the present day are only now being found by pomologists. Reference Wikipedia/ Hard Cider in U.S.


It is only in recent years that interest has been revived in hard cider. Surviving heirloom varieties that would have had a role in the old orchards have been carefully catalogued and others have been put up for sale at city farmer's markets, as well as sold by the bushel to businesses wanting to make their own labels. On the East Coast, many have been taking cuttings of trees planted a hundred years ago and blending them experimentally into new brews. There is great diversity of taste in the types of hard cider, made by small local producers. Business is currently booming, even outselling the craft beer movement and though it is currently only one percent of the alcoholic beverage market it has skyrocketed and is projected to keep growing.