Fermented apple juice, known as hard cider, is making a resurgence in Missouri. Several breweries and wineries in the state have ramped up their production to satisfy the demand for hard cider. Missouri apple producers also view the increase in hard cider sales as an opportunity to bolster the sale of their conventional apple cultivars they currently grow and are planting high-tannin cider cultivars.
Most cider currently produced in the U.S. is composed of a base juice, using common fresh dessert type apples. Because the base juice alone does not have a desirable flavor profile, additional juice from classic, high-tannin cultivars or other additions are often used to improve the aroma, taste, and mouthfeel. Traditionally, high tannin cider apples are known as "spitters" due to their high astringency and bitterness.
Classic cider apples are categorized classified as bittersweets, sweets, bittersharps, and sharps, according to their amount of tannin and acid content. Bittersweet and bittersharp apples contain more than 0.2% tannin, while sweet and sharp apples have less tannin. Bittersweet and sweet cultivars contain less than 0.45% acid, whereas bittersharps and sharps contain higher acid. A few of the bittersweet cultivars currently grown are Brown Snout, Dabinett, Michelin, Harrison (Figure 1), and Yarlington Mill. In contrast, Hewe's Crab, Kingston Black, Porter's Perfection and Wickson Crab are examples of bittersharp cider cultivars.
Many of the hard cider cultivars grown in North America were imported from Europe but are not as well adapted to environmental conditions in Missouri. In research trials at the University of Missouri, Binet Rouge, Kingston Black, Reine des Pommes, and Hewe's Crab demonstrated susceptibility to fire blight disease, resulting in tree loss even when two applications of streptomycin bactericide were made. However, fire blight survival of Harrison, Dabinett, and Porter's Perfection was higher when streptomycin was applied. Harrison and Dabinett also have resistance to apple scab disease. Meanwhile, apple researchers are hard at work to rediscover classic cider apple cultivars, as well as breed new ones well-suited for local growing conditions with desirable hard cider attributes.
Although cider consumption today is considered trendy, it was the most common beverage in colonial America during the early 1600's. Not long after colonists arrived, they began planting apple orchards and preserving their harvest by fermenting the juice. Apple vinegar was also used to preserve vegetables through long, harsh winters by pickling. When hard cider was plentiful, colonists also used it to barter for goods and pay bills in the absence of hard currency. Taxes and wages were also paid in cider.
Our Founding Fathers were prominent hard cider enthusiasts. Before George Washington's successful 1758 election to Virginia's House of Burgesses, he served 144 gallons of hard cider and other enticing beverages to persuade voters to cast a favorable ballot for him. John Adams was known to imbibe an invigorating tankard of hard cider each morning. Also, Thomas Jefferson drank cider at every meal made from Hewe's Crab or Taliaferro apples harvested from his south orchard at Monticello. Later, William Henry Harrison also generously dispensed hard cider in his raucous campaign rallies in his successful bid for presidency in 1840.
From 1800 to 1830, most Americans drank 15 gallons of hard cider annually. By the late the 1800's cider consumption began to decline as many rural Americans abandoned their farms with orchards to move to cities for more prosperous employment. In the cities, cider was usurped by beer consumption. By 1899, annual cider production in the United States declined to a mere 55 million gallons. However, the most devasting blow to the hard cider industry was Prohibition enacted in 1919. Since Prohibition was repealed in 1933, hard cider popularity has gained momentum. From 2001 to 2016, hard cider production in the U.S. increased annually by 27.3%. In 2020, there were 910 cider producers in the U.S., resulting in an estimated $1.5 billion industry. Meanwhile, interest in heritage fruit-based beverages has contributed to the increased consumption of hard cider annually.
REVISED: October 4, 2021