American Hard Cider and the Meaning of “CRAFT”

nost3What does it mean to say a cider is “craft cider”

The Cider Journal recently received the following email that compelled us to explore the above question:

“I notice you use the term “craft cider” quite a bit, yet you have not defined the term. I think I know what you mean, I have an idea of what you mean, but craft cider is not pornography…it’s not a case of knowing it when you taste it. Being a wordsmith myself, I wonder if there is not only a definition for ‘craft cider’, but perhaps a better or most distinctive phrase that can be used, particularly as the term “craft” becomes commonplace?”

The letter writer has a very good point. The term “craft cider”, while used often here at The Cider Journal as well as in many other forums, really has no specific definition. It is interesting to note that this conundrum of understanding the term craft is not unique to cider aficionados. The beer industry has struggled with this issue too.

The Brewers Association, an organization representing small brewers, has actually defined “craft appleorchard1brewer”: 1) making 6 million barrels of beer or less, 2) Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer and 3) has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation.

What you have here is not merely a definition of the maker, but also a partial definition of the product. More importantly, this definition centers on the concept of “craft” meaning limited in size and independent of larger controlling interests. It’s a very specific definition seemingly meant to allow careful qualification of the use of the term “craft brewery”.

It is also notable that the American Distilling Institute (“The Voice of Craft Distilling) has applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a certification mark for the terms “Certified Craft Distilled Spirits” and “Certified Craft Blended Spirits”, allowing them to license these terms for use. Additionally, the ADI has its own definition of  “craft spirit”: “products of an independently owned distillery with maximum annual sales of 52,000 cases where the product is PHYSICALLY distilled and bottled on-site.”

It is clear that the term “craft” is understood in the beverage industry as having very positive connotations, that it is a valuable term, that it is a marketing term and that there is widespread embrace of the term, despite (or perhaps because) its actually meaning is so nebulous. Lance Winters, Master Distiller at St. George Distillery recently put it this way: “Putting a binding definition on what craft is, would be like putting a binding legal definition on what art is.”

At The Cider Journal, we are more interested in clarifying more specifically (if possible) what we mean when we write “craft cider” or “craft cidery” and also to explore whether or not there is a better and more useful word or phrase to describe what we mean.

First, what The Cider Journal refers to when we use the term “Craft Cider” is roughly this:

1. The Cidermaker has a genuine interest in and goal of making a cider that authentically represents fruit with which they themselves are intimately familiar.

2. The Cider is produced almost exclusively from whole fruit and not concentrate.

3. The character of the cider is dependent primarily upon a specific set of apple (or fruit) varieties carefully chosen by the cidermaker as well as the place the fruit was grown and the vintage.

4. The size of the cidery’s total production allows the cidermaker to be intimately familiar with and take a hands-on approach to the creation of every batch of cider.

What these four points describe, essentially, is a cidermaker on a mission to deliver a pleasurable, intriguing and compelling drink by creating cider that applessssauthentically represents something very close to its natural origins. It is in contrast to the idea of making a drink that tastes like apples and quenches a thirst when chilled. Both are legitimate goals. Only one is interesting and potentially inspiring.

This brings us to the questions of semantics and phrasing and inspires us to ask, “Is ‘Craft’ the best way to describe the cider outlined above in our four points?

The challenge here ought to be obvious: Find a word or short phase that can represent a set of principles it took us 97 words to outline. Clearly, whatever word or phrase we might come up with can only allude to the meaning we’ve outlined. More importantly, the word or phrase to replace “craft cider” would have to work to communicate this allusion to our readers.

Mission Cider
This phase is explicit in its reference to the idea that there is a defined and personal “mission” behind the cider in question. It alludes to a quest. It alludes to something very personal and worthwhile. However, it is easily appropriated by a producer on a mission to simply quench our thirsts.

Savvy Ciders
This phrasing has the benefit of being catchy. It’s not wise to underestimate the value of a memorable phrase. Additionally, it alludes to a certain kind of expertise. However, it does little to convey the idea of the cider representing a place and time.

applesstreeMethod Cider
Here is a phrase that has an interesting connection to the term “method acting”, a techniques actors use to create in themselves the thoughts and feelings of their characters, so as to develop lifelike performances. A certain authenticity is sought by the actor involved in “method acting”, just as our own four points above suggest a quest for authenticity by the cidermaker. However, most will agree this phrase and its meaning is somewhat obscure.

Calling Cider
In this phrase we see an allusion to the idea that behind the cidermaker’s attempt to produce these unique ciders, they are responding to a personal “calling”, something higher that pushes them to give authentic representation to the fruit they use. It, like “method cider”, is somewhat obscure and, again, refers to the maker rather than what they make.

Specialty Cider
The idea propelling this phrase is that the cider categorized under it is somehow more special and more unique than those not called “specialty”. However, the problem here is that the term “specialty” is so commonly used as to have many connotations. Additionally, it might rightly be applied to ciders or drinks that are simply unusual.

Smith Cider
Here is an interesting use of the somewhat ancient suffix “smith”, denoting one that constructs or creates, as in “wordsmith” or “metalsmith” or “silversmith” or “blacksmith”. “Wright”, “maker” and “artisan” are its synonyms. A “Smith Cider”, then, would denote an artisan or craftsman of cider. The problem here is that the term is simply unique and one may as well use the more familiar “Craft Cider”. On the other hand, the term “Cidersmith” is very evocative.

Grower Cider
This term is probably too specific to properly represent the large number of cidermakers whose work matches our four points, but who do not necessarily grow their own apples, as the phrase suggests. However, it benefits from providing a direct connection from the actual cultivation of the fruit to the making of the cider. This term, it should be noted, might properly and profitably be used by those who DO grow their own fruit and make their own cider as in, “Ours are authentic grower ciders…” Though somewhat clumsy from a grammatical perspective, it could be used very effectively by a select group.

Real Cider
This is a powerful term. So powerful that it has been adopted in earnest by many in the UK who, in the face of so much of their country’s cider being produced out of concentrate, water, sugar and other ingredients, have taken to insinuating it is not “real”. Rather, they consider cider made almost exclusively from apples and not concentrate and with few or no additions to be “real cider”. Despite the power and potential of this term to replace “craft”, there is also a partisan and challenging character to this phrase, particularly when capitalized.

Rare Cider
Here is a phrase that addresses the fact that those ciders matching our four points represent a real minority of the cider consumed in America and elsewhere. There is value in emphasizing this fact. People want what is uncommon. However, that a product’s characteristics and intent is rare, says nothing about the actual product itself. This is problematic if trying to clearly communicate an idea is the goal.

Pure Cider
Here is a term that’s difficult not to like. It alludes, as does “real”, to the idea that the ciders we are focused upon are produced with simple products and represent a purity of meaning and character. It also has the benefit of setting apart other ciders meant primarily to quench thirst and that don’t possess much meaning and authenticity beyond their thirst quenching character. There is, however, a stridency to this term. However, it is no doubt a powerful phrasing.

True Cider
Here is another very interesting and evocative term. Like “Real” and “Pure” it suggests there is something authentic and something fake. However, it is a term that begs for a very specific definition insofar as if there is a “true” cider, what’s “false” cider? As with “pure” this is a powerful term that could be used with real benefit. It has significant marketing value too. However, it does not have the quality of saying anything about place, person or type.

bins1Natural Cider
I consider this to be a very controversial term, though it will appeal to some. Is most obvious meaning is that there  are “unnatural” ciders. “Natural” is term that has recently been applied to wines produced in a certain manner, but which have no specific definition. The problem with this term also is that it suggests that some cidermaking techniques that may be very useful and in no real way takes anything from the potential to  truly represent a type of apple or place of origin, actually ought to be excluded if the term “natural” is to have any real meaning.

Honest Cider
Like “real”, “pure”, “true” and, to an extent, “natural”, the term “honest cider” offers an inherent judgement of those that are not “honest”.  Though a positive word, “honest” suggests there are “dishonest” ciders. In this respect, the term “honest cider” is challenging and accusatory without having the benefit of being descriptive of the product.

Classic Cider
Here is a term that allow us to imagine a product that harkens to a time when “manufacturing” cider was not the norm and that alludes to the idea that “back then” cider was crafted by simple people with little notion of marketing or mass distribution. However, this phrasing also has the quality of alluding to a style of cider. In a sense it may be a synonym for “farmhouse” cider, a very useful term that doesn’t necessarily have a specific style attached to it, but is commonly used by some small producers.

Native Cider
Here is a term that might be quite useful since it alludes to a place as well as the cidermaker’s point of reference. There is geographic quality to this term that is useful and even suggests the term “terroir”. Additionally, the term “native” has a small or provincial character to it that is not only in contrast to the experience of the large commercial cidermakers that our “craft” cidermakers hope to split themselves from, but also suggests the Native Cidermaker is connected to a specific piece of land or place. There is very good potential here.

Rustic Cider
The term “rustic” has very similar benefits to the above “native”. The difference, however, is that it can easily communicate a particular style of cider, perhaps something unfiltered, cloudy, and otherwise unrefined. For this reason it is unlikely that this term could appropriately describe those ciders that are made with our four points in mind.

It is obviously not easy to identify a new term to communicate the idea of an interesting and inspiring cider that is pleasurable, intriguing and compelling due to it authentically representing something very close to its natural origins and in contrast to the idea of making a drink that simply tastes like apples and quenches a thirst when chilled.

Nevertheless and despite the difficulty of this task, there may come a time, perhaps sooner rather than later, when the term “craft” as applied to beverages, has become so co-opted and used up that a newer, better, more evocative term is necessary to identify those cidermakers and cideries that have something special in mind for the consumers.

The Cider Journal invites its readers to submit in the comment sections it’s their own ideas for the words that might best replace “craft”.

6 Responses to “American Hard Cider and the Meaning of “CRAFT””

  1. Patrick Huff

    Tom, this is by far one of the best and most unique cider post I have read. Thought provoking. Defining a product as craft allows the industry to categorize and measure a specific segment. Case in point, the Brewers Association for craft beer which becomes contradicting when one producer that once fit in the craft beer guidelines increases sales but produces the same beer.

    I find myself, as a way of differentiating between industrial mass produced cider, using such terms as craft, local and artisanal.

    Though I may adopt a few of yours,

    Fantastic post Tom.

  2. tomwark

    Thank you, Patrick. Adopt away…

    Definitions are interesting and useful, and your example why is a case in point. More and more, however, I wonder what “craft” means…particularly when it is clearly much more than a definition and in fact a common marketing phrase in so many quarters.


  3. Jose

    Regarding “Natural Cider”, is the term used in Spain to define the not filtered, dry and not carbonated traditional cider.

    The use of this term, “Sidra Natural” started to be used a decade ago, as the term “Cider = Sidra” was reserved to the sweet sparkling cider drinked traditionally in Christimas time.

  4. Tom Wark

    Thanks for commenting, Jose.
    Is the term “Sidra Natural” regulating in Spain?


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