The favored beverage during Colonial times is once again winning fans in the United States — hard cider sales are on the rise, even as traditional beer sales are slipping. Whether the growth is owed to the gluten-free composition of cider, its wide variety of flavors or its gender neutral appeal, it is clear the industry has taken notice, prompting large brewers to get in on this growing, competitive market.
Heineken makes Strongbow, available in four flavors: gold apple, honey, red berries and ginger. Gold apple and honey both come in at 5 percent alcohol by volume, while the berry and ginger are both 4.5 percent. The ginger also boasts being 100 percent kosher.
MillerCoors introduced Smith & Forge Hard Cider in 2014 to complement its already successful craft cider, Crispin. Crispin comes in seven flavors, ranging in alcohol content from 4.5 percent (Pacific Pear) to a potent 6.9 percent (The Saint). With marketing descriptions of each flavor's aroma and finish, it's clear this brand hopes to lure away wine enthusiasts. Smith & Forge, on the other hand, keeps it simple: one flavor, 6 percent alcohol, the only choice is a 12 or 16 ounce can.
Anheuser-Busch also added a simple cider in 2014: Johnny Appleseed, available in a single flavor with 5.5 percent alcohol. This complements its Stella Artois Cidre, which it describes as "dry, balanced and very Belgian" with 4.5 percent alcohol.
The Ireland-based C&C Group, which has been making Magners Irish Cider since 1935, bought the California-made Hornsby Cider in 2011 (available in crisp and amber), then purchased Vermont Hard Cider the following year. At the time, Vermont's Woodchuck brand was the bestselling cider in the United States with distribution in all 50 states. The company currently offers eight "core styles" (Amber, Gumption, Granny Smith, Hopsation, Local Nectar, Pear, Raspberry and 802 — a nod to its origin: 802 is Vermont's only area code). In addition, three seasonal flavors are also available (Summer Time, Fall Harvest and Winter Chill). In 2010, the company began marketing "Private Reserve" flavors, small batches of specific flavors available for a limited period of time. In an effort to offer even more variety, Woodchuck introduced "Out on a Limb" six-packs in October 2014. The "ever changing rotation of flavors" currently includes: Chocolate Raspberry, Cheeky Cherry, Lazy Hazy Lemon Crazy, Campfire Pancakes, Spitter Splinter, Oopsy Daisy and Hot Cha Cha Cha. Both the Private Reserve and Out on a Limb series have limited distribution areas. The various flavors average 5 percent alcohol.
Boston Beer Company (manufacturer of Samuel Adams) introduced Angry Orchard in 2011 and within a few years quickly became America's favorite cider, accounting for 56 percent of the market. The brand began with four flavors, Crisp, Apple, Ginger and Traditional Dry, and has since added "Hop'N Mad Apple" as well as three seasonal flavors (Cinnful Apple, Summer Honey and Elderflower.) Rather than focusing on developing different seasonal recipes, in February 2016 Angry Orchard introduced two special blends they refer to as "Orchard's Edge" (Knotty Pear and Old Fashioned). Both have a 6.5 percent alcohol content and both are available year round. For those looking for a little more, the company's Ciderhouse Collection offers three additional flavors (Strawman, Iceman and Muse) in 750ml corked bottles with alcohol contents ranging from 7.7 to 10 percent, once again available year round, but with limited availability.
Don't expect the hard cider competition to soften any time soon. Angry Orchard recently opened a large facility in Walden, New York, designed specifically for making cider. Woodchuck's new Cider House opened in 2014 and the company recently partnered with Pabst, the largest American-owned brewer, on a distribution agreement to make their cider available in even more U.S. cities.