Hard cider popularity continues to rise with no signs of the trend changing anytime soon.
In Pennsylvania, the industry generates $18.9 million, according to Penn State Extension.
The state currently has over 40 active cider producers, and Dr. Alison Feeney, a professor at Shippensburg University, expects that number to keep growing.
Feeney recently published a research study titled “Pennsylvania’s Emerging Cider Industry and Its Contribution to Artisan Beverages and Sustainable Agritourism.”
Hard cider is a way for farmers and orchard owners to maximize harvests.
“It can be an added-value product,” Feeney said. “It’s a great way to use apples that might not be able to sell — they might not look pretty, they might have hail damage, but they still have great value to them.”
Because it’s an emerging industry, cider designations have yet to be clearly defined.
On a national level, cider is considered a wine, but on the state level in Pennsylvania, it’s a brewed beverage, like beer.
Pennsylvania cider can be made with either a brewery license or with a limited winery license, which Feeney said is what a majority of the state’s cider makers are using.
Utilizing a clear designation for cider — both on a national and state level — would help the industry continue to grow, Feeney said.
Tourism websites vary by state, or even county. Some websites include cider under the breweries section and some include it under wineries. Some states have sections specifically for cider.
Having a clear spot for cideries would help with the agritourism aspect of the industry, Feeney said, and Pennsylvania has “huge potential” for agritourism within the cider industry.
Cider tasting rooms are becoming more common throughout the state.
Cideries that operate on the same property as the apple orchard tend to have more activities, such as apple picking and food offerings. Cideries that make cider with purchased apple juice tend to have more bar-like venues.
“The cider industry has people coming at it from a variety of different ways,” Feeney said. “There is sort of a dichotomy of different types of places out there.”
Feeney says Pennsylvania producers are often approaching the industry in one of two ways — as a main business or as an add-on to a fruit business.
And the market isn’t limited to adult beverage drinkers. In addition to selling hard cider, these businesses can offer apple juice for kids and include family activities at the orchard.
“It encourages an entire family to go and have a great outdoor activity,” she said. “Apple orchards are great. It’s wholesome family activities.”
Part of hard cider’s popularity growth can also be attributed to the product’s inclusivity, Feeney said. It’s enjoyed by both men and women, and it’s gluten free. And cideries that use heirloom apples don’t need to add any sugar, which makes cider a fairly healthy drink option.
Feeney thinks that Pennsylvania’s cider production will continue to grow. The state currently ranks fourth in apple production, but at the time Feeney’s research paper was published, it ranked only 16th in cider production. She said the cider production ranking is now up to 13th.
“Each year our cider production does keep going up,” she said, and she doesn’t think it’ll stop growing any time soon.