Cider vs. Hard Cider vs. Sweet Cider

At some point during the 20th century, the word cider was reclaimed by apple juice companies to mean fresh-pressed juice, but cider, by its original definition, implies that it’s fermented, and therefore alcoholic.

Why you should stop calling cider ‘hard’

Okay, history has made this topic confusing for Americans. In colonial America, cider was the alcoholic beverage made from fermented apples. Everybody had an orchard (or at least, a huge tree), and cider was the preferred/default drink for most Americans. The 20th century brought both Industrialization and Prohibition, those two forces, on one hand, favored apples for eating over those for drinking and, on the other, started to transform the use of the word “cider.” Many started to use cider to refer to unprocessed apple juice, aka “sweet cider.” This is apple juice, which has not been processed, stabilized, or filtered, and given time can ferment. It is often cloudy and brownish. With the reintroduction of alcoholic ciders to the market in the USA, the phrase “hard cider” became popular and many producers use it to denote that their product contains alcohol because there is no standard definition in the USA for either hard or sweet cider. The terms “hard cider” and “sweet cider” are not used outside of the USA.

In the rest of the world, cider (sidra, cidre, apfelwein) is still the alcoholic beverage. Entire regions of Europe have centuries-old traditions based around apples, whose adaptability and diversity have helped to spread them from their birthplace in the mountains of Kazakhstan millions of years ago to every continent on Earth. Today, we can get a great array of ciders from both traditional makers and from the renaissance of American craft producers who are using the cornucopia of heirloom, tannic, bitter, foraged, and nearly lost apple varieties. The use these apples to create ciders that are dry, still, sweet, sparkling, and everywhere in-between.

In Virginia, we are incredibly lucky because we have a great local cider scene that includes some national recognized names, such as Foggy Ridge, and a very active Virginia Cider Week every year that highlights the developments of local producers. At the Shop, we are love to support our local producers and regularly carry a number of Virginia Cideries! If you don’t see your favorite, let us know.

Here at the Shop, we generally just use the term “cider” to refer to all of the alcoholic beverages which are made from fermented apple juice. Cider does not require the silly use of the word “hard” to denote that it is fermented for grown ups and not destined for my toddler’s lunchbox.

To learn more, check out our monthly cider tastings on our calendar!