An outlier of the elite wine industry and a black sheep of the craft beer scene, artisanal hard cider may finally be granted the long-overdue recognition it deserves, thanks to the new CIDER Act.
[This article was originally published in Edible Seattle. Read the full article at EdibleSeattle.com.]
Washington is the largest producer of apples in the nation, so it’s no wonder that the Evergreen State is a bustling hub for hard cider. The beverage is produced in more than 50 Washington cideries, and the market shows no signs of slowing.
The thriving foodie scene in Seattle offers a platform to further expose residents and travelers to the nuances of craft cider, with offerings alongside local microbrews and small-batch wines. Despite cider’s popularity, producers have faced various obstacles through the years — high taxes, low alcohol-by-volume (ABV) limits, and carbonation regulations, to name a few — and these parameters have shaped the American cider-drinking culture.
Until now. With the recent passage of the CIDER Act, cider makers are allowed more creative freedom to produce cider that satisfies consumer expectations, without all the prohibitive tax rates.
From the beginning, federal authorities didn’t quite know how to categorize hard cider. The light, refreshing, effervescent drink was initially treated as a sub-category of the wine industry, complete with a set of conservative regulations. And while craft breweries and craft wineries have their own distinguishing standards, craft cideries have entirely unique criteria, based predominantly on ingredients. Often described as “small producers” or “artisan producers,” craft cideries use 100% fresh-pressed juice, rather than concentrate. This creates a fresher product and marks a dedication to carefully sourced ingredients. Additionally, craft cideries don’t add sugar, artificial flavors, or colors.
The CIDER Act, which goes into effect at the beginning of 2017, makes progress toward regulating cider according to the beverage’s own distinct specifications. This means several important changes in how cider can be produced, and, for consumers, it also means more variety. The new ABV limit will allow cideries to produce ciders with up to 8.5 percent ABV, an increase from the previous ceiling of 7 percent. This is most notable because, during fermentation, many varieties of apples naturally produce over 7 percent ABV, and cider makers have been forced to limit the types of apples they can use to comply with the strict tax requirements.
The second CIDER Act adjustment removes the “bubble tax” on cider. Currently, restrictions on cider’s carbonation levels mean that cideries face a very high tax on ciders with more carbonation because these beverages are taxed as if they were champagne or sparkling wine. Without adequate carbonation, a cider’s aromas are not properly conveyed, which affects the overall flavor. Finally, the CIDER Act allows cideries to add pear ciders to their collection of classic and infused beverages, without an increase in taxes.
The CIDER Act provides incentives for small producers to make more creative ciders, experiment with new flavor profiles, and generally expand the craft. To learn more about how local, artisanal cideries are responding to the upcoming changes, I spoke with representatives from three Seattle-based cideries: Seattle Cider Company, Schilling Cider, and Number 6 Cider. Each reported that they are pleased that hard cider is finally being recognized as a uniquely produced — and therefore uniquely categorized — beverage.