Cider has been a go-to choice over beer for centuries, stretching back to the first English settlers who found apples near our shores. Although interest waned a bit when German and Eastern European immigrants landed with a fierce love for brews, time has put hard cider on the rise and in our bars and restaurants once again. In fact, it’s becoming a phenomenon across America.

Another quick history lesson: We’ve seen the fast rise of big cider brands with ownership in the craft beer industry, followed by the growth of smaller, local-centric cideries. According to a recap of CiderCon 2017 in DRAFT, “dollar sales of craft cider were up 39 percent from 2015 to 2016 at off-premise retailers,” meaning grocery and convenience stores. What’s really exciting is “craft” represents “local, regional and smaller cider brands.” At Kildare’s of West Chester, we see proof every day that local brands are coming on strong.

Just as people like to shop for local cheese, produce, meats, wine and beer, so, too, are more craft beverage-savvy drinkers seeking local ciders. In Pennsylvania, we see a welcome shift toward local production thanks to established names such as Stone & Key and Jack’s Hard Cider. According to a study conducted by Carla Snyder, agricultural and marketing educator at Penn State, 18 percent of consumers tried cider for the first time because it was produced locally. At Kildare’s, we hear you, and we pride ourselves on a rotating list of hard ciders that includes several of Pennsylvania’s own.

Here are the top four reasons cider is booming—and why, if you’re not already a fan, you should grab a sip soon.

1. New Ingredients Shake Things Up

Cider has been around for centuries, since the Greeks and Romans perfected its production. Originally created by fermenting all the fruit from the orchard that was not sweet enough to eat, cider has since evolved into a craftier industry. Since the beverage evolved in Europe and was subsequently brought to America, there has been more experimentation with the types of apples and other ingredients used. Using crisp apples, especially those grown in the Mid-Atlantic region, alongside spices such as cinnamon or wild yeasts can yield tasty new beverages. Substituting apples for another fruit, such as pear or peach, can also put a new spin on classic cider. Try Stone & Key’s Untamed Cider, fermented with wild yeasts, or Jack's Hard Cider’s Peach Cider, made with Adams County apples and peaches.

2. An Emerging Alternative to Beer (For the Beer Lover and Beer Skeptic, too!)

Cider is gaining most of its traction within the craft beer market. Drinkers are analyzing their options, examining the health benefits between different alcoholic drinks and realizing that most ciders are easier to drink and lighter than beer, in addition to being gluten-free. Offering a healthier option along with a new array of flavors gives American beer drinkers more reasons to explore craft cider. Nowadays, it’s especially exciting to see cideries work to create beverages in tune with the American palate by adding hops and spices, such as Jack’s Hard Cider's Dry Hopped Cider.

3. A Growing Amount of Curious Drinkers

DRAFT indicates that the American cider industry is supported by “18 million cider drinkers, who spent $1 billion in 2015.” It also notes that “if all hard cider sales were grouped together and compared to beer, they would be the second-most successful beer category behind IPAs and ahead of seasonals.” This shows that people are willing to give cider a try, especially as an alternative to their normal beer.

4. All-Natural and Sourced Locally

While some of the big brands have grown astronomically over the past decade, most craft cider brands are growing slowly and naturally within their communities. With strong ties to local farms and purveyors—sometimes more so than local craft brewers—cider producers are very conscientious about their business’s resources and the effect they have on their surroundings. All in all, American drinkers also seem to enjoy the idea of their drink being produced in a sustainable manner in their local community. Try Kurant’s Bees, made with locally sourced and responsibly harvested honey.

Looking forward to future growth, DRAFT points out, “Jon London, head of marketing for Boston Beer Co.’s cider division (Angry Orchard), says he assumes a 15 percent growth rate for cider over the next five years, which would put cider at 2 percent of beer sales by 2020.” Those quickly growing numbers, paired with the fact that DRAFT is now consistently writing cider articles, should draw your attention to this crisp beverage. 

While the big brands are well and good, be sure to explore the growing number of local and regional cideries (and ask about less-sweet, but satisfying, options, too). The Mid-Atlantic is a beautiful area and great for growing apples, especially the kind needed for quality cider. On our shelves, we happily rotate ciders from Kurant, Stone & Key and Jack’s. We also carry classics such as Strongbow and Magners, along with American ciders from out west.

Kildare’s in West Chester is a destination: an authentic Irish pub that has something for everyone. We’re a place to bring the family for weekend brunch; cheer your favorite soccer (or American football) team; enjoy next-level fare at a business lunch, dinner with friends or special event; spend happy hour (questionable dance moves and all); and, of course, imbibe great beer, whiskey and other adult libations. Join us and find out why we’re not your average Irish pub.  

Jay Breslin

Photos, top to bottom: Ed Williams, Michele Kornegay, Lauren Turton