Many industries would envy the hard cider industry’s double digit sales increases for the last three years and
counting. Meeting consumer demand for this popular beverage requires a reliable supply of high-quality apple juice or other fruit juices
with the appropriate attributes for cider brewing. Therein lies the problem — market growth has outpaced traditional supply. Tree Top, Inc.
has developed its Heritage juice blend specifically for mid-sized cideries looking for a consistent, year-round source of pure quality apple
juice, with the tannin content destined to help create a perfect cider.
Twenty, ten or even five years ago a request for hard
cider at a local bar or tavern would draw a puzzled
response — an odd scenario for what was once the
beverage of choice for colonial Americans. At that
time people avoided other beverages due to safety
concerns and drank cider at mealtime instead. The
water supply for instance, wasn’t treated and could
be the source of virulent diseases. Yet, in the 1840s,
hard cider consumption in America all but dried up.
Experts might disagree on the single overriding factor
that derailed the American hard cider industry; whether
beer displaced it or if temperance delivered the final
blow. If beer was the culprit then, today it’s the hero.
Cider owes its resurgence, in part,
to the proliferation of microbreweries.
Their numbers more than doubled from 2008 to
2014, according to the Brewers Association, and
craft beers have taken hard cider along for the ride.
Few industries can boast of double-digit sales
increases for not just one year, but three consecutive
years and counting. Nielsen reports that hard cider
retail sales grew 71 percent in 2014 with the industry recording production of 52 million gallons.
followed an 89 percent increase in sales in 2013
and a 90 percent leap in 2012.
See fig. 1 "When you
compare 52 million gallons to the amount brewed
in 2011 and 2012, which averaged around seven to
eight million gallons per year, that’s monumental,"
said John Baranowski, Process Research Manager,
Operations for Tree Top Inc.
Cider varieties mimic the market for craft beer with
consumers able to select and choose the type they
like best. Brewers have created all different styles
with varying top notes, flavors and mouthfeel. “There
are flavors available from ciders that range from
something comparable to a Coors Light to a stout
or porter equivalent,” says Baranowski.
As sales gain momentum, continued market growth
is hampered in part by the lack of proper apples or
juice concentrate. Apples in both fresh and processed
forms are the second most consumed fruit in the U.S.
after oranges. However, out of 2,500 varieties grown
in the U.S., just 15 accounted for more than 90 percent
of production in 2006. Orchards historically devoted
acreage to dessert apples rather than the cider variety,
which translates into a shortage when it comes to
cider stock given its current demand.
And as one person commented in an online forum
about brewing, “the worse apples are for eating,
the better for making cider.” New tree stock for cider
varieties can’t be planted fast enough, with nurseries
reporting orders backlogged to 2018.
What is Cider?
What we call “hard cider” in the
U.S. is simply cider, a fermented
form of apple juice. Anything
not fermented isn’t cider, but juice
— even when packaged in rustic
jugs sold at a local farm stand —
it might simply contain extra solids
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
Firearms and Explosives (ATF)
Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade
Bureau (TTB) regulate the cider industry and the legal definition of “cider.” In order
to be called cider, the fermented apple juice must
supply the sole source of alcohol in the finished
beverage and the finished product must contain
at least 50 percent juice equivalent. Perry, a similar
beverage, must contain a minimum of at least 35
percent pear juice that can be mixed with apple.
The remainder of the cider, or the other 50 percent,
can be composed of other liquids or ingredients
decided upon by the cidery.
These can include:
- Sugars (juices, concentrates, sugar, HFCS,
honey, maple syrup, brown sugar)
- Non-nutritive sweeteners
- Carbon dioxide
In addition, the finished product must contain alcohol
by volume (ABV) of 7.0 percent or less, with carbonation
not to exceed 0.392 grams per 100 ml. The FDA governs
cider’s labeling requirements, and the finished product
must include ingredient and nutritional information.
Alcohol content higher than 7.0 percent bumps the
beverage into the wine category, which is taxed at
a different rate than cider. Also, cideries should note
that all of the alcohol content in the finished product
must be supplied by the fermented apple juice; none
can be added from another source and still have the
final product retain the definition of cider.
It’s All About Apple Variety
According to the Cider Advisory Committee decision
from the 1950s, cider apples are comprised of four
different types: bittersweet — high in tannin and
low in acid; bittersharp — high in tannin and high
in acid; sharp — low in tannin and high in acid; and
sweet — low in tannin and low in acid.
See fig. 2
The Washington State University Extension site lists
bittersweet and bittersharp varieties as a good basis
for high-quality, full-bodied ciders. Heirloom and
heritage varieties have better characteristics for cider than dessert varieties. Demand for specialty cider
apples and the root stock or trees for cider orchards
is at a premium, with one grower estimating the wait
for new stock to replenish old cider apple trees or
establish a new orchard is two to four years.
As Baranowski calculates, if cider needs to contain
a minimum 50 percent apple juice, 52 million gallons
of cider would require at least 26 million gallons
of juice. In the best case scenario, the yield from
a ton of apples is 175 gallons of juice, with one acre
producing 10 tons of apples on average. This would
require 15,000 acres of cider apples and as recently
as 2011 there were only 250 acres dedicated to cider
apples within the state of Washington. “There are
never going to be enough cider apples to keep
up with market demand,” says Baranowski.
Tannin is Key
Cider apples or hard cider production relies on the
tannin content of the apples or juice concentrates
used to start the beverage production. The tannin
helps create a cider with layers of flavor and provides
its structure. Some small craft cideries will age their
product in oak barrels, to further layer the flavor by
enhancing tannin content. Crabapples are full of malic acid and tannins and often are cultivated by
orchards interested in cider production.
The typical finished cider in the United Kingdom, for
example, posts 1200 to 1500 ppm tannin. The natural
apple/pear tannins give a desirable drying effect in
the mouth and on the tongue, while added tannins
are not as desirable and don’t lend the same effect.
The Tree Top Solution
As cider expands from a rural, seasonal tipple to one
in demand year-round, traditional cider apples and
their subsequent juice will be in increasingly tight
supply. In answer to this shortage Tree Top offers
its new Heritage-Style Fermenting Juice, a product
specifically targeting mid-sized cideries looking
for a consistent supply of pure quality apple juice.
Baranowski said, "Our goal was to
tailor our process to emphasize the
cider notes, the tannins, that a brewer
might want for this particular
juice stream. This Heritage-Style
Fermenting Apple Juice Concentrate
emphasizes the right notes to create
a hardy cider."
The key to crafting this successful cider juice base is the
depth of apple experience and breadth of knowledge
of the Tree Top staff. Together Baranowski and his
colleague Sue Graf represent the combined experience
of 63 years working with apples at Tree Top.
Baranowski and Graf created a blend that starts with
dessert apples as the base, but which emphasizes
the tannins required for true cider character.
The typical range of traditional apple juice concentrate
has a gallic acid equivalent (GAE) of 200 to 450 ppm. The Heritage-Style Fermenting Juice from Tree Top
ranges between 730 to 1000 ppm GAE at single
Average cider juice, says Baranowski, starts
somewhere between 12 and 19 Brix, typically closer
to 12, although ranging as high as 19 or 20 if the
brewer wants to emphasize flavor notes from certain
types of apples. The minimum Brix allowed with
reconstituted apple juice concentrate is 11.5 Brix. The
cider process can begin with either a concentrated
juice base or a single strength base. In either case,
the Brix level, or the amount of sugar within the juice,
ultimately relates to the alcohol level in the finished
product. In simplified terms this can be calculated as
ABV=Brix/2. Brewers can raise the Brix level by adding
different types of sugar, honey, maple syrup or juice
concentrates if necessary. However, the higher the
Brix the higher the alcohol content and an ABV above
seven percent means the product can no longer be
classified as cider.
See fig. 3
In addition, it means supply is available year round.
While some cideries own their own orchards, others
are at the mercy of the industry’s supply and demand,
in addition to the seasonal nature of the crops.
The higher the demand for traditional cider apple varieties, the more the price fluctuates. “With Tree Top
the mid-sized cidery can rely on a consistent source
of supply for a fair price, instead of paying a premium
for cider apples. We can offer economies of scale that
make the apple juice or concentrate a viable option
for the mid-sized producer,” says Baranowski.
In addition, Tree Top sources its apples domestically,
from states located in the Northwest region of the
country. This means greater quality control over the
finished product. "Our clients know they are buying
pure juice or concentrate, unadulterated with other
substances," says Baranowski, "and with a flood of
imported commodity concentrate, this is important
for a consistent, quality product."
With Tree Top regulating the
tannins, the Brix, pH, microbial
count and other key parameters
mid-sized cideries can eliminate
some of the risk in the supply chain.
A complete analysis of the juice product, including
pH, acid, plate counts and microbial specifications
is available. “Cideries will add their own strain of
yeast for the fermenting process and won’t want
any competing bacteria,” says Baranowski.
If a company requires assistance with its product or
processes, Tree Top offers technical support. And for
the specialty customer, the company can help with
juice characteristics for custom applications.
"The internal qualities of the apple make a huge
difference, but it is what a company does to produce
the juice, the base for any good cider, that is the
determining factor," said Baranowski. "Before the
craftsmanship of the individual brewer comes into
play and the artistry involved in creating a fine cider,
there is the business of finding a consistent supply of the right juice base. We can provide the business
end so the cideries can work their magic."
Heritage-Style Apple Juice from Tree Top is available
in 52-gallon sanitized steel drums, packed in a
275-gallon bag-in-bin or an approved, sanitized food
grade tanker. Heritage-Style Apple Juice Concentrate
can be refrigerated below 45 F for a shelf life of up to
18 months or two years frozen.
accessed April 8, 2015.
accessed April 8, 2015.
Our R&D departments welcome any customization challenge and
we love working with our clients to create something brand new.
We’re ready to provide innovative ideas, prototypes, packaging
alternatives, and the world’s juiciest, tastiest and most delicious
fruit products — naturally. Contact Tree Top at (800) 367-6571
Click here to download our instructional guide on using our juice in your hard cider.
Download our hard cider brochure here. Download White Paper here.