Just What Does “Dry” Really Mean in the Cider World?

StoneDryAngry Orchard (Boston Beer), the number one producer of alcoholic, apple-based products in the U.S., has announced the release of a new cider: Angry Orchard Stone Dry. The new cider is described as an “American interpretation” of “Traditional English Dry Ciders”. The new cider is apparently different from Angry Orchard’s “Traditional Dry” that they have had in the market for some time. The release begs an interesting question: When it comes to cider, what should and what does “Dry” mean?

It’s interesting to note how both these Angry Orchard ciders are described by the company.

“Traditional Dry”: A “traditional English-style cider that is bittersweet and slightly spicy with a bright apple aroma and a dryness that makes you pucker.”

“Stone Dry”: “This cider balances the acidity of culinary apples with the tannins of traditional cider making apples, for a cider that is clean, refreshing, and slightly puckering on the finish.”

It’s important to note that the “Traditional Dry” by Angry Orchard that has been in the market for some time is in fact not dry at all—that is, if “dry” is to mean without any significant residual sugar, which is what dry, ironically, has “traditionally” meant. Though we look forward to tasting and reviewing the new “Stone Dry” cider from Angry Orchard, we are assuming that it too will defy what has traditionally been the definition of “dry”.

The cider world is not the only place where “dry” has been quietly re-defined by some as something less than really sweet. In the wine world, a number of wines presented as “dry” are in fact laden with residual sugar. These wines, like the Angry Orchard “Traditional Dry”, are extremely popular with casual drinkers in the United States who want to say they “drink dry”, but really are satisfying a palate trained to like sweet.

All of this presents a problem for cidermakers who actually do make truly “dry” cider in which the measurable sugar in the final product is negligible at best and the apple aromas and flavors are allowed to be put on display without the helping hand of gobs of sugar. Consumers coming to these producers from the likes of Angry Orchard or any of the other mass-produced cider-like drinks and who have been trained to think that “dry” means sweet, will be in for a rude and unexpected awakening when they experience what dry really means.

In 2014, cider sales in the U.S. grew by 71% over 2013. The increase in cider sales in 2015 is expected to be well below that—probably in the neighborhood of 30%-40%. However, these sales increases year over year are based primarily on examining sales of Angry Orchard and other mass-produced, grocery and drug store brands. What we don’t know is what kind of increase in sales are occurring on the “craft” or real cider segment of the market.

What we might surmise from the release of Angry Orchard’s “Stone Dry” bottling is that there is some thought in Boston that the craft segment (often with far drier offerings than the mass-produced brands) of the cider industry is growing at a faster rate and this new entry into the Angry Orchard portfolio is an attempt to address that phenomenon.

9 Responses to “Just What Does “Dry” Really Mean in the Cider World?”

  1. Darlene Hayes

    Thanks for writing about this issue, Tom. It will be interesting to see if AO’s “Stone Dry” is drier that the “Traditional Dry”, but the truth is that the average American palette does tend to go to the sweeter side of things, at least in some circles. One cider company executive I spoke with recently believes that the slowing of the cider category’s growth is directly related to the introduction of “adult” root beer and the desire in some demographics to reconnect with the flavors of their childhood. Never was a fan of sugary soft drinks myself.

  2. Eric West

    MyFitnessPal lists 7 grams of sugar per 12 ounce bottle of Stone Dry. That works out to just under 2% residual sugar. I consider that medium to medium-sweet.

    Online sources vary on the Traditional Dry. Whether it’s really 15 grams or 19 grams of sugar, that’s clearly in sweet territory!

  3. Kate

    Thanks for sharing! Its been great to see so many articles from Cider Journal this week. Hopefully there will be some cider labeling requirements in the future which define what can be called dry (ie. how to rate sweetness). There is of course the more scientific definitions of dry, but it is all a matter of perception, varies on cider style, region, etc.

    I think it depends the most however on a cidery’s lineup…they will call dry their driest offering, etc, even if it isn’t really dry. And other ciders are called dry and are very very dry. I’m game to try this cider and see what I think, even though at 7 grams of sugar per 12 oz it isn’t dry at all (although much drier than their other offerings and most commercial offerings).

  4. Sarah Silverman

    I’ve never been a fan of anything Angry Orchard. Their driest cider I recall was their “Strawman*” which was just throat parching dry without any complexity. Knowing me. I’ll try this one for science, as I do.

  5. Tom wark

    Artisan root beer? Really? Mmmm. I suspect that it’s merely a matter of an unsustainably huge growth curve slowing.

    Yep…both would fall into the sweetish category.

    Thanks for noticing. Your point about a brand’s line up is well taken and I suspect there a lot to that.

    Sarah….yes, for science. Always for science.

  6. Hugh

    It would be interesting to define sweet medium dry with standard gravity. I’ve also heard poeple confusing the effects of mouth puckering tannins as dryness

  7. Emily Greene

    I’m not a fan of AO; I refer to it as the “PBR of cider”. I see this attempt at making (maybe) a less sugary version as competing against true craft cider. One which will most likely fail. Of course, I’m from the Pacific Northwest, where I have multiple choices of great cider!

  8. David

    This is a great question! A while ago I got interested in looking at the use of terms like “dry” or “sweet” and how the cider actually tastes (as part of the bigger problem of figuring out what ciders I should drink without having to try them all — or at least suggest an order!). Clearly residual sugars are important, but there are other things that influence the perception of sweetness of a cider besides RS.

    I am building a website to crowd source people’s perceptions of tastes of different ciders. Based on the data collected so far, one conclusion is that the terms “dry” and “sweet” in the name don’t, in general, help much in describing how people are going to taste the cider. Half of the ciders with “dry” in the name have an aggregate sweetness rating as dry or semi-dry, and half as semi-sweet (with Spire Mountain’s Dark & Dry bordering on sweet).

    In addition, ciders with “sweet” or “semi-sweet” in the name have aggregate sweetness ratings ranging from semi-dry to fully sweet, so that doesn’t help much either, other than to avoid true dry ciders.

  9. M Glenn

    Must admit, while I find this article interesting, I do come at this issue from the other side. I do understand what “dry” is supposed to mean, and I really don’t like dry ciders. I’m actually rather annoyed that most of the craft/crafty brewers seem to be battling each other for the title of driest cider ever, and it is often getting difficult to find a good sweet hard cider, when every tag on BevMo’s or Total Wine’s shelves keeps talking about dry, dry, dry (although in contrast, I think, to much of your audience, I like Angry Orchard Crisp Apple – which, after all, is absolutely NOT a dry cider – for me, that’s part of the point, but there used to be much better, well-crafted, sweet ciders available and it seems like they’re getting blown out of the market).

    To each their own, I suppose – I accept that there’s a large and growing larger audience for dry ciders, but sweet cider exists because there ARE people who prefer their cider that way. I’d like to see my local outlets not working so hard to eliminate all the genuine craft, well-made sweet ciders and leaving the likes of Angry Orchard as the only tolerable sweet cider left!


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