By Dan Young
---- — Cider was America's first home-grown beverage. Massive quantities of apples were pressed, fermented and consumed in a drinkable form during the late eighteenth century through the early 1900s.
Because cider was made from locally grown apples, it was less expensive than imported grain-based beer. When American pioneers moved west and established a homestead, the subsistence farm often included an apple orchard. This readily accessible fruit was easily converted to an alcoholic brew or "hard" cider.
During colonial times, there were frequent accounts of cider's status as Americans' favored drink on and off the farm. Many colonists distrusted water in their new country because water sources in England were considered unfit to drink. As a result, cider was often consumed with all meals, even breakfast.
By the late 1600s, New England apple growers were producing up to 300,000 gallons of cider yearly. Even though cider had roots in the eastern United States, the apple-based alcoholic beverage trend continued as people pushed west.
Apple trees were among the first fruits planted in New England colonies. John Chapman, known as "Johnny Appleseed," was credited for planting the seeds for many apple orchards west of the first North American colonies. As the Great Lakes and Ohio River regions opened for settlement, Chapman forged ahead of settlers to sow the seeds of future apple orchards.
When pioneers moved west and settled into the Northwest Territory, they discovered Chapman's young apple nurseries, varying in size and apple variety.
The storybooks often tell a different tale of Johnny Appleseed, but hard cider was his mission in order to fulfill pioneering farmers' desires for small-scale hard cider production.
Possibly the pinnacle of cider's status in America was evident during the presidential campaign of 1840 when candidate William Henry Harrison persuaded the majority of blue-collar Americans that he was "just like them" by handing out hard cider in bottles shaped like log cabins at election rallies.
Estimated hard cider consumption during the 19th century was 32 gallons per person per year.
Hard cider's heyday ended with a combination of events: 1) increasing numbers of German immigrants, 2) cheaper and easier beer production that was more appealing to commercial manufacturing, and 3) the Volstead Act — the National Prohibition Enforcement Act — passed on Oct. 28, 1919.
This act provided for enforcement of the newly ratified Eighteenth Amendment, which prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages within the U.S.
Although the temperance movement had been active in the U.S. for most of the 19th century, the early 20th century witnessed increasing emphasis on lawful prohibition rather than individual abstinence.
The ensuing years brought about a campaign to malign fermented fruit, such as the apple, as well as to demonize hard cider. During Prohibition, apple orchards throughout the country were regularly destroyed to prevent the production and consumption of hard cider.
The post-Prohibition years also saw the demise of diverse subsistence farming and backyard cider production. These family operations gave rise to the industrial farm and mega-brewery. The art of cider-making on a small scale was lost because it could not compete with large beer manufacturers.
Beer sales exploded following Prohibition, and beer grew to dominate the beverage market in the United States.
Eventually, beer production followed in the steps of cider production, as competition drove small breweries out of business.
Currently, five major breweries produce 89.4 percent of the domestic beer product in the United States.
In very recent years, cider has started to regain respect in the beverage world. Hard cider is no longer considered the sweet, opaque, brown liquid of "autumn days." Cider has become a complex, high-quality alcoholic drink.
Cider makers throughout the U.S. and England are creating a diverse mixture of products ranging from the lightly fermented fruity varietals to dry, barrel-aged ciders.
The renewed interest in cider production has prompted increased sales of cider apple varieties. Michigan State University and Cornell University have embraced research that focuses on the production and marketing of hard ciders. These institutions have given cider a credibility boost.
Since its recent revival, hard cider fills a niche in America's alcohol market, and it brings the country back to its roots — American ingenuity creating high-quality, community-based products founded on locally grown agricultural crops.
Dan Young is the owner and cider maker at Tandem Ciders in Suttons Bay.