TonWhen Pieteri tried Basque cider for the first time, it hit him like lightning. His experience as a wine buyer led him to think that cider was sweet, simple, and unsuitable for pairing with food. But this one is different – aromatic, dry and complex, everything he expects from a fine wine.
“I worked in the wine industry for 25 years before I realized that this was the taste I had been looking for my whole life,” he said.
For Korean-American Yi, who makes kimchi and Korean rice wine, fermentation feels natural. He became obsessed with making this style of cider in the United States, eventually founding Brooklyn Cider House with his sister Susan.
He is not alone. Artisanal cider has boomed in the United States in recent years, with new producers popping up across the country. Americans are drinking 10 times as much cider as they did a decade ago, said Michelle McGrath, executive director of the American Cider Association (ACA). Small brands are now the hottest segment of the industry; according to Nielsen’s recent cider market review, regional cider market share has grown from 29% in 2018 to 51% in early 2022.
As the industry expands, it becomes more diverse. Today’s cider drinkers are younger, they come from different backgrounds, and they want beer brewed by people who look like them. In turn, Asian, Black and Latino cider makers are experimenting with new flavors and ways to celebrate their culture while building a connection to the land and agriculture in an industry that often overlooks their contributions.
For Salem, Ore.-based real estate agent José Gonzalez Sr, his cider-making journey began five years ago when he and his wife traveled to San Diego for a cider festival. They liked what they tasted, but something was missing. “My wife said it would be nice if we had the flavors of cider we grew up with, like lime, tamarind and Jamaica [hibiscus],” Gonzalez recalled.
He asked his mother Lourdes to make batches of tamarind and hibiscus agua fresca—a traditional Mexican soft drink made with fruit, water, sugar and lime juice. They mix aguas with a bottle of hard cider and love the taste. Today, they sell La Familia brand hard cider flavored with guava, tamarind, green apple and hibiscus in Salem tasting rooms and throughout Oregon.
The brand has a large Latino following, as well as people who appreciate craft beer culture and try new things, Gonzalez said. His son, José Gonzalez Jr, known as Jay Jay, loves seeing people who look like him come in for cider and talk about a trip to Costa Rica or salsa dancing.
“People love it,” Jay said. “They told us we were different.”
The history of cider
According to the History of Cider at the University of Washington, the first recorded mention of cider dates back thousands of years, when the Romans wrote that the Celts made a drink from local crabapples in 55 BC. This ancient drink has long brought communities together for harvesting, making and drinking, and while traditionally associated with places like England, France and Spain, the United States also has a long history of cider, beginning with the 1600s American colonists.
But the cider story couldn’t have happened without people of color. “In our forest, like a barbecue, enslaved African-Americans are responsible for making and making cider,” said Tristan Wright, founder of Lost Boys Cider in Virginia.
In Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home, Jupiter Evans was a successful enslaved cider maker whose life is detailed in the Civil Eats profile. Japan and Korea have a long history of fermented food and beverages, and apples are highly prized in Japanese culture. Today, cider apples are picked by the predominantly Latino workforce that maintains the industry, said Robbie Honda, who owns Tanuki Cider.
A fourth-generation Japanese-American, Honda grew up in the 100-year-old Gravenstein apple orchard that his great-grandfather grew in Sevastopol, a small town in northern Sonoma County. Somewhere between his love of sustainability and reading Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, he persuaded his late brother to launch a cider brand in 2014.
His Santa Cruz cider relies on the same Newtown Pippin apples grown for Martinelli’s, known for its sweet, non-alcoholic sparkling cider, serving children and non-drinkers during the holidays . By paying a premium for apples, Honda’s brand is helping keep the apple-growing culture alive in Watsonville, California, where most orchards have been replaced by more profitable crops like grapes or strawberries.
“It symbolically means … saving those trees instead of tearing them down to grow berries or grapes or weeds, protecting the orchard and the historical story it tells, which is interesting to me,” he said.
In addition to reinvigorating connections to history and land, today’s cider makers and enthusiasts are introducing new consumers to the breadth of what cider has to offer.
Both cider and wine are made from fermented fruits, and the lines between them are blurring. Auckland’s Redfield Cider Bar + Bottle Shop sells a variety of local ciders, some from natural brewers. “What excites us is that the natural wine world has really embraced cider,” said Mike Reis, who runs the bar with his wife, Olivia Maki.
Malaika Tyson, half of the Chicago couple known as Cider Soms, said ciders fall into two camps: dry or sour ciders made with heirloom cider, and sweet ones made with culinary apples flavored with fruit or herbs cider. But within this, there are different options for each flavor — from rosé, sour and single-varietal flavors, to trendier options made with natural yeast.
Tyson and her husband Sean, who are black, first discovered cider in St. Louis, and say moving to Chicago expanded their options. While more black consumers are slowly discovering the drink, Tyson thinks it’s unlikely to break out to the next Moscato. “It’s not as prestigious as wine or cognac to black people,” Tyson said. “It’s not like there are black celebrities drinking it.”
Hannah Ferguson — a black cider maker and triple threat who also makes beer and wine — says she thinks more black consumers will love cider once they learn about it . At a recent black business expo, she had to let attendees know she wasn’t pouring apple juice. “I had to explain to them that it was like a mix of beer and wine … we carbonated it like beer and added flavor to it,” recalls Ferguson. “Then they’re like ‘Oh, this is cool.'”
“Community cider gave us”
Ferguson started brewing as a hobby, experimenting with homemade Riesling and Shiraz, which eventually led to a beer brewing job. Now, she’s busy preparing to open her Dope Cider House and Winery (an acronym for “living in positive energy”) in downtown Youngstown, Ohio, which will make her the first cider house in the state to open. black women.
At Dope, she’ll offer a range of dry and sweet seasonal ciders made from local apples, as well as warm spiced ciders in winter. Although the cider community is very white, Ferguson says it’s also very popular. At her first cider meeting, many people offered to share tips for getting started.
Across the industry, there is an increasing commitment to promoting more diversity. Wright said Lost Boy’s workforce is 70 percent Bipoc and LGBTQ+ because it feels good to have a diverse team. Anxo Cidery and Beer Kulture, a nonprofit dedicated to integrating into the beverage industry, provides scholarships to Bipoc producers to attend CiderCon, the annual conference of the American Cider Association, said Maki of Redfield Cider, ACA’s Anti-Racist, Fair & Inclusion Committee.
Other big brands are partnering with minority brands. Ferguson, for example, is teaming up with Angry Orchard (a brand credited with rekindling the taste for cider in the US) to provide cider for Barrel & Flow, the annual black brew convention in Pittsburgh this year. In May, Honda of Tanuki Cider and winemaker Michael Sones released a fermented blend of Newtown Pippin apples and Pinot Noir grapes called Newtown Noir.
In the case of Honda, he was uncomfortable being labelled a Bipoc or a Japanese-American cider maker – he was just someone who decided to make cider because he thought it would be fun. “Make some T-shirts and stickers, throw some parties and listen to music, and then, like, shout out, you know?” Honda said. But it turns out it doesn’t stop there.
Racial issues have never arisen during his work with the white Sones, he said. They are just two people who both love fermentation. “What I’ve given our community through cider is definitely the most valuable thing.”