History of Cider

America’s love for cider began with the first English settlers. But before cider’s popularity spread across the Atlantic, it was cultivated in England over hundreds of years.

It’s not known for certain when cider was first introduced, but it’s likely that the wandering peoples, who traveled through what we know as Spain and Northern France, offered their ‘shekar’ (a word of Hebrew origin for strong drink) to the early Britons.

It is widely accepted, however, that the Normans and their 1066 conquest had a big effect on the history of cider making.  Northern France is world-renowned for their vineyards, but they were also famous for their orchards. When climate changes caused Northern France, along with Southern England, to became less suitable for the growing of grapes, cider gradually began to replace wine throughout the region.

Cider’s popularity in England grew quickly and steadily. New varieties of apples were introduced, production picked up, and it quickly became the drink of the people. Eventually, every farm would have a few cider apple trees, and it even became customary in the 18th Century to pay farm laborers in cider.

But back to America.

After finding only inedible crabapples upon arrival to the New World, the colonists promptly requested apple seeds from England. Soon after, the cultivation of orchards began and American cider production was well under way.

The apple trees took to the rich New England soil easily, and since the barley and other grains required for beer production were trickier to grow, cider became America’s beverage of choice early on. Even children drank ciderkin, a weaker version of cider made from apple pomace soaked in water.

By the dawn of the 18th century, New England was producing over 300,000 gallons of cider a year. By midcentury, the average Massachusetts resident was consuming 35 gallons of cider a year. Even John Adams hopped aboard the cider bandwagon supposedly drinking a tankard of cider every morning.

Soon, settlers began moving west, and they brought their love for cider along for the ride. You’ve probably heard of John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, who was actually a missionary. Chapman traveled ahead of westbound settlers constructing small, fenced-in nurseries of cider apple trees. By the end of the nineteenth century, it wasn’t uncommon to find a small cider orchard on most homesteads.

But as we reach the 20th century, cider’s story gets less sweet. In the early 1900s, huge numbers of German and Eastern European immigrants brought with them an affinity for beer over cider. Their influence, along with barley-friendly soil in the Midwest and the improved quality of beer after the invention of mechanical refrigeration, caused cider’s popularity to wane.

However, Prohibition and the Volstead Act served the devastating blows to cider’s stronghold in America’s heart. Some breweries survived by selling a range of non-alcoholic goods, but orchards lacked that kind of flexibility. Prohibitionists burned countless fields of trees to the ground and surviving orchards began cultivating sweeter, non-cider apples out of necessity.

After the repeal of Prohibition, the love for cider was slow to return. While breweries could go back to production almost immediately with imported grains and barley fields’ quick turnaround for harvests, it would take decades to convert the orchards from snacking and cooking apples back to cider making ones.

But almost a hundred years later, penchants for American cider is on the rise and cider makers like Urban Tree Cidery hope to rejuvenate America’s love for the beverage with complex refinery, handcrafted quality and a delicious legacy.