Reputedly, hard cider is America’s historic beverage, once considered safer to drink than water and easy to produce since apples grow readily. In 1726, according to one source, average per-capita consumption of hard cider was 35 gallons per year, and it was considered mild enough for children to drink.
But the Temperance Movement in the late 1800s targeted hard cider as the evil drink that drained otherwise good husbands of ambition. Orchards were chopped down. Prohibition became the law of the land in 1920, and did lots of damage to breweries, wineries, and cideries, while apparently encouraging illegal distilleries and makers of bathtub gin. After Prohibition’s repeal in 1933, breweries recovered first, and the wine industry followed slowly. The cider industry wants to be next in line.
There is a long way to go. A lot has been forgotten. Tandem Ciders is a member of the Great Lakes Cider and Perry Association, which has 60 members in the Great Lakes states. They put together educational events, invite speakers from England and France, and hold competitions to test the skills of the cider makers.
There are several pockets of hard cider revival in the United States, including the Pacific Northwest, the Northeast, and the Great Lakes area.
In France and England, cider orchards are not the same as dessert apple orchards. Trees producing cider apples are large, Rothwell said. They need not be grown on dwarfing rootstocks. The apples need not be thinned nor the trees heavily pruned, since size and color don’t much matter. Pest control is less strenuous.
In Europe, specialized equipment is used to shake the apples onto the ground, sweep them into windrows, and pick them up by machine.
Rothwell was amazed at the leaves, grass, and trash that find their way with the apples into European cider presses. But fermentation destroys bacteria and also patulin, the mycotoxin produced by certain species of fruit rots and molds that makes bad apples in sweet cider a health issue.
“We sell some sweet cider,” Nikki said, “so we are not using dropped apples or harvesting off the ground.” But, in Washington State, experiments are under way to develop machines that knock cider apples off and sweep them up, just as they do in Europe.