If there is one alcoholic drink that represents the U.K., it is almost certainly cider. Britain produces more cider than any other nation on the planet, using 57 percent of all apples grown in the U.K.
Whether sitting down to quaff a pint of the old Strongbow, the decidedly less-alcoholic Woodpecker, or one of the countless brands offered up throughout the West Country, the British people certainly do love their cider.
So what happens when Brits such as myself give up their orchard-rich homeland for that unchartered brave new world known as the United States? Is British cider still easy to come by? Do the Americans make palatable cider? Is cider even called “cider” over here?
The answer to that last question is technically “no.” What the British call cider, the Americans usually call hard cider, reserving the word cider (and apple cider) for non-alcoholic varieties of the drink. And while you might think that non-alcoholic cider is just another way of saying apple juice, the former is typically an unfiltered version of the latter.
And so once these terminological barriers have been conquered and the Brit has become acclimated to the U.S. lingo, the question becomes, “Where can I get a refreshing pint of Blackthorn around here?” Sadly, it is true that British cider brands aren’t exactly the first thing lining the shelves at most major liquor stores (off-licences in the U.K.). Nor are they readily available on tap—a point underscored by the fact that even the world famous original Strongbow was discontinued across the U.S. in 2014.
Perhaps this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. After all, until very recently, America’s interest in cider had all but disappeared since the prohibition era of the 1920s, when prohibitionists burned many orchards to the ground. Prior to the 20th century, however, cider had been the drink of choice among early English settlers of America, who cultivated orchards using apple seeds sent from England. In stark contrast, beer was not nearly as popular as its apple-based counterpart owing to the fact that settlers had a difficult time cultivating barley and others grains in the New England Soil.
More than 70 years since prohibition was repealed, cider is once again popular in the U.S. And while Strongbow’s flagship drink may be absent from the nation’s alcohol scene, you can still find sweeter versions of Strongbow this side of the pond, including the recently rolled-out Strongbow Gold Apple Hard Cider and Strongbow Honey & Apple Hard Cider. Indeed, these very drinks seem right at home in the U.S., where cider is not typically as dry as it is in England, owing to America’s appreciation for all things sweet.
Moreover, despite the relative lack of West Country scrumpy and mass-produced U.K. ciders in the U.S., expats can still enjoy American hard ciders, which have seen something of a boom in recent years. This resurgence is an offshoot of America’s growing fascination with craft beers and the waning popularity of Miller Lite and Budweiser. With an increasing number of Americans choosing to brew products at home, the Internet has become a much-needed resource for those wishing to make cider. And just as beer festivals are highly popular across the U.S., so too are cider festivals, including Pour the Core, the Northwest Cider Association, and Woodchuck’s craft beer festivals.
Actually on the subject of Woodchuck, the company’s hard cider brand was to the United States–at least in terms of sales–what Strongbow is to the U.K. In 2011, this Vermont-based drink was the biggest-selling hard cider in the United States and–as with the similarly named U.K. cider Woodpecker–it is branded using the very animal its name describes.
In recent years, however, Woodchuck’s popularity has been tested by the newly nationalized Angry Orchard, a brand of cider owned by the Boston Beer Company that took a staggering 40 percent of the hard cider market share within its first year. The drink–originally fermented in Ohio–represents one of the defining images across the national cider landscape, with its distinctive Wizard of Oz-esque animated tree appearing suitably angry on the bottle’s facade.
As the great hard cider boom of the 2010s continues in the United States, it will be interesting to see whether some of the aforementioned U.K. ciders will finally strike a chord with U.S. consumers. More than that, America appears to have much to offer the cider lover with its own domestic brands, which also include the wonderful Ace Pumpkin Cider, Bantam Cider, and Ciderboys Cider. Either way, if you’re a cider lover with thoughts of moving to the U.S., you couldn’t have picked a better time.Read More