Inside the History and Renaissance of Cider in the Hudson Valley

Hard cider, one of the oldest drinks in American history, is experiencing a revival, with the cider market being at the best it's ever been.

Hard cider dates back to 55 B.C. in Ancient Rome, when Julius Caesar witnessed Celtic Britons fermenting crabapples. Spaniards have made their own version, called sidra, for over 2,000 years. And after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, it quickly became a favorite drink.

When the English settled the New World, they brought along their apple seeds. By the 1700s, average annual cider consumption in Massachusetts was 35 gallons per person, according to a 2022 Northeastern University report. Ten percent of New England farms had their own cider press.

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But hard cider ultimately met its demise in the 1840s, when American society was experiencing a cultural, political, and economical shift, according to Craig Cavallo, co-author of American Cider: A Modern Guide to a Historic Beverage and owner of Golden Russet Café & Grocery in Rhinebeck. Cider was seen as an old-world beverage and was left behind at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. And if there was any hope that it could make a comeback, Prohibition and the Temperance Movement squashed it.

Cider didn’t go completely extinct, but it wasn’t a drink you’d typically see on a bar menu—until quite recently. Within the last 10 years or so, cider made a lot of sense for customers who wanted to avoid gluten, support local, and indulge in farm to table. And cidermakers were happy to oblige. Other draws? It’s a regionally historic drink that’s affordable and pairs well with food.

Another reason for cider’s current popularity is that more consumers are interested in drinks that are fruity and fermented, explains American Cider Association CEO Michelle McGrath. “Cider has been slowly and sustainably growing overall for more than a decade. It’s not a fad,” she adds. Most cider drinkers are open to exploring varieties, too. Depending on the season, cidermakers will experiment and incorporate ingredients like guava, cranberry, cinnamon, pumpkin, and salted caramel.

Cider drinkers also appreciate the wide ABV range. Most Hudson Valley cideries offer drinks that are between 3 and 10 percent. “The range depends on apple variety, terroir, and style,” says McGrath.

Cavallo says the cider market is the best it’s ever been. “If you drink cider now versus five years ago, it’s exponentially better. Cidermakers are continuing to hone their craft,” he says. “They’re pushing boundaries and learning how to maximize flavors.”

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Related: Try Top Vino at These Boutique Wine Shops in the Hudson Valley

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