Hard Cider is Booming

The drinking habits of Americans are always shifting, leaving restaurateurs and bar owners working to predict and cash in on the next big thing. Craft beer has received a lot of the focus recently as it booms in popularity, but those who have been paying attention to grocery store shelves might have noticed a new trend before it began creeping into their local bars: hard cider.

Beer or Wine?

While generally packaged like and sold with bottled beer, hard cider is actually closer to wine in how it is made, as it is fermented from the juice of apples or, sometimes, pears. The legal definition muddies the waters even further: according to the U.S. government, a drink made from fermented apples with less than 7 percent alcohol is a cider, while those with 7 to 14 percent alcohol are wines. However – and here’s the confusing part – the government does allow apple wine to be marketed as apple cider, regardless of the drink’s legal classification. Though the drink is hardly new, its resurgence is recent enough that there are no widely-recognized categories, leaving cideries free to experiment with apple varieties, fermenting methods, and flavor additives without feeling bound by convention.

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

Industry professionals have a lot of opinions on whether hard cider should be considered a beer, but when it comes to marketing, that’s the niche cideries are aiming for. While you might find some hard ciders packaged in large bottles sold alongside wine, most mass-produced ciders will be in bottles and cans on the beer aisle, appealing to those who prefer slightly sweeter flavors to the hoppy beers. This trend is holding true as hard cider begins to make its way into bars and restaurants, with most of those offering it keeping a variety or two on tap.

Cider’s Rise

Hard cider has a long history in America, as it was the preferred drink of many European settlers throughout most of the 19th century. By the early 1900s, German and Eastern European beers were beginning to take over, and Prohibition wiped out what remained of the cider industry in 1920. Because grains grew much faster than orchards, the beer industry recovered from Prohibition much faster than cider could, and the drink had a hard time regaining its pre-ban popularity for more than 80 years. CiderCon 2016, the country’s largest gathering of cider makers, included some speakers who presented impressive numbers regarding hard cider’s growth in recent years.

  • 30 million cases of hard cider were produced in 2015, compared to 4.2 million cases in 2009.
  • • The number of cider drinkers in the U.S. has grown from 5 million to 18 million in just 5 years.
  • • If hard cider is considered a beer category, it’s the second most successful category behind IPAs.

This trend isn’t restricted to drinking at home, either. A recent market research report found that hard cider sales in restaurants have spiked nearly 318 percent in the last five years. As a further testament to the drink’s rise in popularity, new hard cider festivals have cropped up across the country in the last few years.

Creative Juices

Hard cider is certainly being spotted in more bars and restaurants now, and is even inspiring some niche businesses in the form of craft hard cider bars, mostly in large cities. However, there are more ways to enjoy hard cider than just on tap or from a bottle. If your bar is home to a creative mixologist, hard cider can become the base for a number of delicious fall-themed cocktails you can use to boost your business. Here’s an example of one to get you started.

cranberry spice cocktail: red drink in tall glass garnished with berries

Adapted from Food and Wine.


  • 1 orange wedge
  • 13 cranberries
  • 3 1-inch pieces of crystallized ginger
  • 2 oz. Aperol
  • 1 oz. white whine (aim for slightly dry and sweet)
  • Ice
  • 4 oz. hard cider
  • 4 dashes cranberry-anise bitters


  1. Mince 2 pieces of garlic, then muddle with the orange wedge and 10 of the cranberries.
  2. Add Aperol, white whine, and bitters.
  3. Add ice and shake well.
  4. Fill a Collins glass with ice, then double-strain the drink into it.
  5. Top off with hard cider.
  6. Place 3 remaining cranberries and piece of ginger on a toothpick for garnish.
Courtney Barkley
Courtney Barkley

Courtney Barkley has lived in nearly as many southeastern states as most Americans have probably visited, settling in East Tennessee in early 2013. She and her husband Thomas were married during ShadoCon 2012 – an anime, gaming, and comics convention – in a ceremony that featured a reading about dinosaurs in love from a friend dressed as Doctor Who. She spends her free time chasing her brilliant and imaginative son Nathan, hanging out with friends, binge-watching shows, playing video games, and keeping up with the characters of the Marvel Universe. And, any chance she gets, she sneaks off to Florida to visit friends and the happiest place on earth – Disney World.