Pique the Palate
Raising a toast to the new CIDER Act
BY TALIA SHPIRO
PHOTOS BY CHARITY DURGGRAAF
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.
SEATTLE CIDER COMPANY
Seattle Cider’s head cider maker, Brent Miles, began working at Two Beers Brewing Co., helping out with everything from delivery to packaging — he even served beer in the tasting room — before a gluten intolerance led him to take a critical look at the future of alcoholic craft beverages. What he discovered was a large gap in the gluten-free beverage market. Specifically, large cider companies were misjudging the market and making ciders that were too sweet for most consumers. He joined forces with Two Beers founder and head brewer Joel VandenBrink, and together they applied their brewing expertise toward this newly identified opportunity. Hence, Seattle Cider was born.
After three years of operation and growth, Seattle Cider is pushing boundaries in terms of ingredients, packaging, and ingenuity. And, true to their initial vision, Seattle Cider produces dry and semi-dry ciders that are not too sweet.
They deliver single-serving cider in 16-oz. cans, a departure from the larger-sized, wine- bottle-like packaging of some cideries.
Overall, they treat cider more like beer than wine and agree that the new CIDER Act regulations are a step in the right direction toward granting cider the recognition it deserves. Brent is particularly excited to add more carbonation to Seattle Cider’s beverage line, enough to enhance each cider’s flavors without overpowering the palate.
Schilling Cider takes pride in its commitment to the environment — a “leave no trace” dedication that affects every facet of the operation. Sourcing locally is a cornerstone of this cidery; an impressive 90 percent of Schilling’s apples come from Yakima and Wenatchee. Only 12 hours stand between the time that the dessert apples are pressed in eastern Washington and when Schilling’s fermentation process begins. Like Seattle Cider, Schilling was one of the
first cideries to offer cider in cans rather than bottles. Cans are a sustainable choice of packaging, with a high recycle rate and minimal 60-day lifecycle. Cans also cut down on weight and transport fuel.
So, what does Colin Schilling, head cider maker and founder of Schilling Cider, think about the CIDER Act? He shares Brent’s excitement about the complex flavor profiles that more carbonation will allow. Because the new regulations will permit a higher ABV, he can let apples ferment to their natural carbonation levels. “The change in the law allows us to carbonate cider to a much higher level to better match the types of ciders we are making,” Colin explains.
NUMBER 6 CIDER
Situated beside the railway lines in a somewhat barren neighborhood between Interbay and Queen Anne, Number 6 Cider, established in spring 2015, is a relative new-comer to the Seattle cider scene. With an overarching spirit of collaboration, Number 6 runs like a collective, alongside sister companies Sixspirits, a craft distillery, and Citizen Six, a brand-new, on-site restaurant and taproom.
Keeping aligned with the brand, Citizen Six always has six ciders on tap, alongside six guest beers, as well as innovative cocktails such as the Golden Light (Sixspirits silver rum, St. Germain, falernum, agave syrup) and The Conductor (rye, ancho liquor, lemon, angostura bitters, Number 6 Honey Ginger Cider). A long, family-style table made of chalkboard brings the tasting room together to encourage mingling and the sharing of ideas over food and drink.
Number 6 Cider is still growing, but the producers are making a concerted effort not to get ahead of themselves. With the new CIDER Act soon to take effect, cider maker Rick Hewitt admits it’s a great time to carve out a foothold in the craft cider market, but he emphasizes that, above all, the cidery is committed to sourcing correctly and creating community.
A TOAST TO CIDER!
In some ways, the Paci c Northwest’s booming craft beer market helped pave the way for cider’s road to success. Although cider makers are quick to correct anyone who claims the two beverages are too closely tied, they agree that the popularity of craft beer has helped educate consumers about the significance of small, local, independent producers, and the importance of experimentation. Additionally, craft beer and craft cider are mutually beneficial in at least one major way: Ciders are now offered on tap in tasting rooms and restaurants, alongside draft beer selections.
While wine and beer enthusiasts are unlikely to switch their full allegiance to cider — and cider a cionados may not jump unconditionally into the world of single varietals and microbrews — there’s an undeniable sense of community that runs across the food and beverage landscape of Seattle. By educating patrons about the complexities of the artisanal beverage movement, restaurants, cideries, wineries, and craft breweries allow consumers to flex their purchasing power and support small producers that focus on creativity, environmentalism, locality, and collaboration. Now, with fewer obstacles than ever before thanks to the CIDER Act, craft cideries can adapt to consumer feedback, innovate, and fully establish hard cider as a wholly distinct beverage with flavor intricacies worthy of a closer sip.
Talia Shapiro is a Seattle-based freelance writer and the producer of Simply Beeresistible, an online exploration into brewery culture. When she’s not writing, she can be found searching the Pacific Northwest for the next best craft food and beverage experience.