Monday, June 2, 2014

Cider: It's Not Beer

Now, I have nothing against hard cider (i.e. cider with alcohol).  It can be delicious and comes in many variations. Cider (apple, pear, pineapple…) can be refreshing and paired nicely with food.As a sub-market of the adult beverage industry, it is booming. And that is good to see.   I hold no ill will towards cider millers. More power to them, and I hope they enjoy success.  But, cider is not beer. Not even close.

Hard Cider is riding the coattails of craft beer and its incredible boom. I see ciders at beer fests, beer magazines and just about everywhere one finds beer. Why? Cider is not beer.  It is not brewed and more closely (very closely) resembles wine: Fruit is crushed into juice, which is fermented then blended and packaged. Beer has many more steps that (should) adhere to precise scientific measurements.  The only commonalities they have are alcohol, liquid and packaging.

Big deal, right? Wrong…well, somewhat wrong.  In the grand scheme of things it is no big deal. But the constant integration of cider with craft beer blurs the line separating craft beer and cider. Too many times customers ask me for cider-beer.  Never heard of it, guy, sorry. It also minimizes the efforts, techniques, skill and art of brewing beer, which are widely misunderstood (or unknown) anyway. Brewers are the most underappreciated artisans of the adult beverage industry, mostly due to the complicated and specific production cycle of their craft and the depth of knowledge of chemistry it requires.  Plus, the massive effect a minor miscalculation or error can have on the product. In other words, it takes precision, patience, vigilance and integrity.

(Recently, I was at a beer festival that had several cider companies showcasing their products. I boycotted them at first, but decided that was kind of dumb.  Strange thing, though, when I asked about the pear cider as to what kind of pear juice did it contain--Bosc, Bartlett, D'Anjou…. The reply from the owner of the company did not know!!  Say….what??)

It's also a personal matter to me.  As the beer buyer at Grapes and Grains in Denver, I have worked with the owner to expand the craft beer choices for our customers. Ten years ago, it seemed each color had its own door; silver for Coors Light, gold for Coors Banquet, blue for Bud Light, red for Budweiser, white for Miller Lite, gold/black for MGD. Then separate doors for these companies' respective "premium brands" (Michelob, Blue Moon, Natural Light…).  The bottom line was that 3 brewers commanded 7+ doors, and there was little difference in flavor among them.

Today, we can see our progress in expanding beer choices from, say 6, to well over 100 brews. This wasn't easy. Bud, Miller and Coors (BMC) surely did not want to give up their spaces, nor their color coded displays.  They bullied, manipulated, lied and tried to strong-arm us into ordering for their benefit. But we persisted and now boast a very nice array of Colorado breweries, who themselves worked hard to arrive on our shelves…only to see shelf space dwindle a bit to make room for cider.

While sometimes delicious (and often too sweet), cider can be a great beverage. But it's not beer or cider-beer or beer-cider.  If cider producers want consumers (and others) to appreciate their product, then perhaps they should develop their own identity. It can only help them.