Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Are you opposed to sediment at the bottom of your wine, beer or cider bottle? Do you like it clear? That's because if you are old enough to drink, you were born in the 20th century, a 100-year stretch which, coincidentally, nearly destroyed sustainable farming in the name of profit, efficiency and ease. Staying to the point: Cider, wine and beer are living beverages, the yeasts and natural sugars would still be evident in the final drink if this were the 19th century or beyond, and the flavors would be stronger as we would have no need for sterile-filtering and sulfiting. Will we continue being germaphobes, microbe-fearing USDA lemmings willing to sacrifice quality for consistency? Or will we reverse the tide and regain our connection to land, farming, and community- living systems analogous to the living cultures in foods such as yogurt, cheese, and rightfully: cider, wine and beer. You know my vote.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Mergers and Acquisitions

Recently a largish U.S. hard cider producer sold-out to a huge beer company which wanted in on cider's impressive numbers and booming charts. I've heard several voices from within the cider community expressing displeasure, yet for me, I don't think the news is even relevant for us "farm cider" producers. That product the beer company inherited is just one of many unappealing artificially-carbonated, sugar-sweetened, and sterile-filtered concoctions that have long since given "hard cider" its reputation. We, on the other hand, are "farm cider", and as farmers our preference is to keep things simple and real. We are not prone to conceptual speculation and we are not driven by the need for money, acclaim, or trend participation. Hard cider is a distant third because it thrives in our folksy world, and few other places. I suspect that that big beer company is going to take a bath on their miscalculation.

In the end, taste-driven and moral-oriented customers (it's them driving cider back into the spotlight, not savvy farmers!) want face-to-face contact and accountability. More importantly, they want location. They do not want some company in a warehouse using billions apples from everywhere mixed like beef in a McDonalds hamburger. They want a single, real farm. Predictably, the big producers will play-up the farm image like Cracker Barrel, and of course, they will do what Sam Adams does and sell us an imaginary character, the artisan toiling away at his hand-crafted product, but 21st century consumers are not that easily fooled. They have taste. Just as with wine, the high-end consumers will seek-out farms, while the big companies will be left the dregs in the cheap market.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Cider, the word (part 2)

I too am annoyed by wine snobbishness, the “notes of cherry”, the “fruit-forward”, but there is something accurate about wine lingo and the thoughtful word choices shouldn't be dismissed. If we in the cider industry could wade through lesser rhetoric we’d see that our own carelessness and lack of organization has lead to the devaluing of our own goals, our product, and our life style.
Take for instance, the word “hard”, commonly and legally used in conjunction with “cider” to denote fermentation and subsequent alcohol content. Maybe it’s just me, but the word “hard” conjures unsavory likening to “hard times”, “hard luck”, “hard lemonade”, and unpleasant human characteristics, “i.e. hard ass.” (Note to business strategists: “Hard Boiled Cider” isn’t taken yet! A whole marketing campaign awaits the exploitation of our gutter image… picture: film-noir stills or a black-and-white cartoon, men in rimmed hats, street lamps, sidewalks and high-heeled shoes. Come on.)
Anyway, what I’m saying is the word “cider” is an ancient word spanning many cultures. It has served to tie people of all walks to farms, to nature, and to the lightness of being. Our failure to promote that image is a failure in unity because what we are up against is a formidable challenger.
Cider was intentionally sabotaged in the mid 20th century by a post-Prohibition government intent on total oversight of alcohol sales by way of favoring bigger and more visible producers. Yes, Democratic-leaning as I am, this is a case where “big central government”, corrupted or not, succeeded in squashing the viability of millions of small farms and homestead production. And the result was bad for consumers too. Lack of compitition meant no need for quality. So that’s what we 21st century craft (or artisanal) cider makers inherited. But just as beer was a wretch until the micro-brew revolution, that upheaval has shown the triumph of taste. And it starts with the elimination of the word “hard” .
Cider is as bucolic as the orchard it comes from. Phonetically it even kicks wine’s ass, “SY-der.” So get out there and explain to people what cider means. The customer is not always right.