Needed Now: A Better Way to Categorize Cider

PNWCAWine, beer, spirits, cider. It will be assessed. It will be assessed in reviews, such as here at The Cider Journal. It will be assessed at peer review sites like RateBeer.com. And, it will be assessed at competitions, such as the recently completed Pacific Northwest Cider Awards.

Consumers (and members of the trade) give different value in these efforts to assess the various ciders now available. But if one thing is certain, it is that for these assessments of cider quality to be valuable to the consumer and the trade, the consumer and the trade must understand WHAT is being evaluated.

I make this point to draw attention to the categories in which cider was evaluated at the recent Pacific Northwest Cider Awards. The categories into which Ciders from British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana were entered were these:

Modern Dry
Modern Sweet
New World Dry
New World Sweet
Old WorldWild Ferment
Fruit/Spiced/Herb Infused
Hopped
Specialty

I’m here to suggest that these categories probably confuse consumers more than they SeaCiderlogoenlighten or guide them. That’s a problem for the cider world that needs to be addressed if professional assessments of Cider are to be of value.

At this point in the cider revival, the most average consumers understand about the drink is that it is made from apples, is fizzy and is sweet. And yet, not all ciders, particularly the kind of craft ciders that are likely to be assessed in competitions, are simply sweet and fizzy.

It is my contention that if cider competitions and assessments are to be of real value to those seeking guidance, a comprehensible and intuitive categorization of cider that can be easily explained and communicated must be developed.

Seattle CiderI don’t have the answer to how this kind of new categorization ought to be devised. But I do know that it must be based on something intrinsic to today’s cider, on something that the average consumer can readily understand and has had previous experience with, and that addresses the needs and natures of the different cider producing regions around the world, and that will be embraced by the cidermaking trade.

Tall Order.

As for the most recently completely Pacific Northwest Cider Awards, though I was not there nor a judge, they appear to have been a great success. And hats off to Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse from British Columbia and the Seattle Cider Company, who scored 3 and 4 awards respectively at the recent competition.

You can see the results of the Pacific Northwest Cider Awards here.

4 Responses to “Needed Now: A Better Way to Categorize Cider”

  1. tomwark

    Eric:

    I’ve read the post your reference and it’s a very helpful resource, particularly for organizing one’s thoughts about the nature of quality vis a vis cider.

    That said, I think you’ll agree that practically no cider consumers think themselves, “I’m really jonesing for a ‘New World Dry’ tonight, but tomorrow I’m sure I’ll want a ‘modern sweet’ cider.”

    In fact, I don’t think 99% of retailers think of cider in these terms. That’s a problem

    What’s needed, in my view, is a nomenclature for cider that a non cider drinker can understand out of the box. Wine has it easier in this respect since most wines are single varietals. Whether a drinker knows what a Pinot Noir tastes like, when they see a wine that is a Pinot Noir they can right assume it tastes like a Pinot Noir.

    As I mentioned, I don’t know what this vocabulary and categorization ought to be. However, I do know that most types of categories used for cider today probably won’t help consumers.

    Reply
  2. Philip Atkinson

    Just go to the people who already know what they’re talking about. They’d be in England’s West Country and Normandy.

    Reply
  3. Eric West

    I agree that consumers don’t think in terms of arbitrary style categories. But consumers are very aware of price point and format. A 750ml bottle that costs $16 is in a different category than a 16oz can that costs $3. And that’s what the current thinking about cider styles reflects.

    It’s generally agreed upon in the world’s cidermaking traditions that a blend of apple varieties is preferred to a single apple variety. So categorizing by variety (like Pinot Noir) is not going to work. And it’ll likely be decades before AVA-type regions for cider are recognized. Until then, what the competitions are doing is the best we’ve got.

    Reply

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