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History of Cider




In common American usage, raw apple juice that has not been filtered to remove pulp or sediment is referred to as “fresh cider” or “sweet cider.” The term “apple juice” indicates the juice has been filtered to remove solids. Fermented apple juice is called “hard cider.” In Europe, all non-fermented apple juice is referred to as “juice”, and fermented apple juice is referred to as “cider.” Worldwide, cider varies in alcohol content from less than 3% alcohol by volume (ABV) as found in French cidre doux, to 8.5% ABV or above in traditional English ciders. New tax legislation passed by Congress in December 2015 brought U.S cider definitions into alignment with international standards, raising the allowable levels of carbonation and alcohol content and including pears as well as apples in the definition of (hard) cider.

The first recorded references to cider date back to Roman times; in 55 BCE Julius Caesar found the Celtic Britons fermenting cider from native crabapples. The people of northern Spain were making sidra before the birth of Christ. The Norman Conquest of England in 1066 resulted in the introduction of many apple varieties from France and cider soon became the most popular drink after ale. Cider began to be used to pay tithes and rents – a custom that continued later in America. Cider is still very popular in England, which has the highest per capita consumption as well as the largest cider producing companies in the world. Cider is also traditional in western Europe, including Brittany and Normandy in France.

Cider in America

Only 9 years after first landing at Plymouth in 1620, European colonists planted apple trees in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In Colonial America, cider was the most common beverage, and even children drank it in a diluted form. In many places, the water was not safe to drink and most homesteads had an apple orchard. Pressing and fermenting fresh apple juice was the easiest way to preserve the large fruit harvest. In rural communities, taxes, wages and tithes were often paid in cider. It was also the basis for other products, such as vinegar, which was used to preserve fresh foods and for other purposes around the farm.

Historic farm cider press, Jersey, UK (Photo by Man vyi, Wikimedia Commons)

Historic farm cider press, Jersey, UK
(Photo by Man vyi, Wikimedia Commons)

However, by the late 1800s, cider began its decline from the most popular beverage in the nation. Several unrelated forces combined to essentially wipe cider from the collective memory of America. A major factor was the Industrial Revolution, bringing people from the farm to the city to live and work. Many orchards were abandoned, resulting in reduced production. Unfiltered and unpasteurized cider did not travel well from farms to the new centers of population. An additional element was the increased consumption of beer, especially in cities. Immigrants arriving from Germany and Ireland, and cheap grain available in the Midwest, led beer to replace cider in the popular market.

The most damaging factor for cider was the rise of the Temperance movement. By the time Prohibition was enacted in 1919, the production of cider in the U.S. had slipped to only 13 million gallons, down from 55 million gallons in 1899. Over the next several decades, the once proud American tradition of cider making was kept alive by only a few local farmers and enthusiasts. In recent years there has been a resurgent interest in cider making and today cider is one of the fastest-growing segments of the liquor industry.

Further Reading

Stewart, A., 2013. “The History of Cider Making” from The Drunken Botanist, Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, NC.

Stewart, Amy, “The History of Cider Making,” Utne Reader, June 2013

Williams, D.R. 1990. Hard Cider’s Mysterious Demise, George Mason University

Blackburn-Maze, P. 1986. The Apple Book. Collingridge Books, Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd., Middlesex, England.

Blades, F. 2007-2014. Website: Old Scrump’s Cider House.

Copas, L. 2001 A Somerset Pomona: The Cider Apples of Somerset. The Dovecote Press Ltd., Dorset, England.

Copas, L. 2013. Cider Apples, the New Pomona. Short Run Press Ltd, Exeter, England.

Jolicoeur, C. 2013. The New Cider Maker’s Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for Craft Producers. Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT.

Jolicoeur, C. 2017. Website: Of Apples and Cider/Des Pommes et du Cidre.

Lea, A. 2008. Craft Cider Making. The Good Life Press, Preston, England.

Lea, A. 2015. Website: The Wittenham Hill Cider Portal.

Morgan, J. and A. Richards. 1993. The Book of Apples. Ebury Press Ltd., London, England.

Proulx, A. and L. Nichols. 1997. Cider: Making, Using and Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider, 2nd edition. Storey Publishing, Pownal, VT.

Watson, B. 1999. Cider Hard and Sweet: History, Traditions, and Making Your Own. The Countryman Press, Woodstock, Vermont.