Craft vs. Commercial Cider – What Are The Differences?

Do you know the difference between craft and commercial cider?  The subject is open to interpretation, but here is what I think.

Commercial Cider:

  • Made in large batches
  • May use apple juice concentrate (which needs to be watered down to be re-constituted), which is often imported
  • May add additional sweeteners to aid in fermentation
    • As it is assumed that any added sugars will be fully fermented, companies need only call the finished product “hard cider” on the ingredient list, without mention of what they use, which could even include HFCS
    • It has been confirmed that Angry Orchard uses HFCS, but it is unclear whether many other large cideries use it
      • Statement from Angry Orchard, 11/12/2015, correcting the info from 2012:  “There is no HFCS in Angry Orchard ciders. The main ingredients in our ciders are bittersweet and culinary apple juices, and we choose which apple varieties based on the specific flavor profile we’re looking for. Sometimes that means that we need to add a little sweetness back into the cider to achieve the balanced taste we’re looking for. We do that by adding things like non-fermented apple juice, cane sugar and honey.”
      • Additional information from Angry Orchard, 11/16/2015: “To answer your question, we started changing our recipes in 2014 to use cane sugar instead, as we’ve found it does a better job of achieving the flavor profile and balanced sweetness we’re looking for. All our cider recipes were transitioned earlier this year.”
  • May add artificial colors & flavors
  • Will have more consistency batch-to-batch
  • Often shipped long distances to consumers
  • Often made by big beer companies which have a large advertising budget

Craft Cider:

  • Made in smaller batches
  • Uses fresh-pressed apple juice
  • Minimizes the use of sugar as a fermentation aid, and if used, it is table sugar
  • Does not use any additives (besides yeast, sorbates, any spices/hops/juice, etc)
  • May be inconsistent batch-to-batch
  • Often only available locally/regionally
  • Typically does not have a significant advertising budget

Some cider folks believe that craft cider may have another sub-category, Artisan, which could be defined by cideries using apples they grow in their own orchards.  Many craft cider companies don’t have their own orchards, and either buy apples to press themselves or buy the juice.

On this note, I thought I would point out that there are some “ciders” on the market which aren’t actually cider at all…in that they aren’t even made from fermented apple juice!  They instead rely on water, juice, sugar, and flavoring, and should be considered “Alcopop”, not cider.  For example, Rekorderlig and Kopparberg.

Although I am quite pro-craft cider, I’m not particularly anti-commercial cider.  I think commercial cider is a gateway to craft cider, and is definitely more widely available for a lot of folks in areas without craft cider.  I will drink commercial cider; sometimes I just want something sweeter, easy drinking, and affordable (I haven’t found too many entry level craft ciders I like)  Woodchuck for example will always hold a special place in my heart as it was the first cider I tried, and I was one of the winners of their 2014 contest to attend Ciderbration, celebrating the opening of their new cidery.  That said, I try to support craft cider as I believe in its ideals.  I wish there were better commercial cider options out there that didn’t add all the artificial stuff.

I think the main point I’m trying to make with this writeup is that its important for consumers to know what goes into what they are drinking.  I hope better labeling is required sometime soon, as currently it is difficult to know what really went into what we are drinking.

Compass Cider – What Exactly is Craft Cider
Cider Journal – American Hard Cider and the Meaning of “CRAFT”
ATLAS – Hard Cider History
Ciderplex – Rekorderlig and Kopparberg Are NOT Cider
Pete Brown’s Blog – Alcopop: The Drink That Dare Not Speak Its Name

6 thoughts on “Craft vs. Commercial Cider – What Are The Differences?

  1. Hi, I live in Somerset in the UK so I am rather spoilt for choice with cider. For me, the most traditional approach to making is the preferable and most interesting style. This is done by fermenting pure some juice using only natural yeast. The final sweetness is controlled by the choice of apples with each variety having different mixes of fermentable and less fermentable sugars. Beyond this, there are a number of further compromises that are followed further and further as the cider becomes more commercial.
    Using sulphites and adding specific yeasts makes commercial sense and the sugar content is then often controlled using potassium sorbate and sugar or sweeteners. Use of concentrates, flavouring, or fermentation sugars tends to follow.
    As a home brewer I tend to ferment naturally to a dry finish and sweeten in a bottle conditioned form using sweeteners if a medium or sweet is needed.
    All in all its about compromise!

    Liked by 1 person

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