This adage is particularly relevant to the world of Hard Cider. Sweet hard cider represents well over 50% of all hard cider consumed in the United States. And when I say “sweet”, I’m not talking about a little bit of natural residual sugar wrapped around a core of natural acidity and tannin. I’m talking about significant amounts of sugar that require the drink to be very cold when consumed in order to avoid the sticky, cloying sensation on the palate.
I don’t want to suggest that the Angry Orchards, Woodchucks, Johnny Appleseeds and Smith & Forges of the hard cider world ought to stop making their sugary concoctions. Quite clearly they know their business better than I and quite clearly they understand there is a market for this kind of drink. All that is fine.
What I am here to suggest is that hard ciders that are most certainly sweet should not be labeled as “Dry”. And they are…all too often.
One of the secrets long understood in the wine world was that American wine drinkers will SAY they like their wine dry, but more often than not reach for that wine that actually contains residual sugar. Some of America’s most popular wines are in fact very far from dry. These wines are not marketed as having any sugar at all. But they do because the producers know that’s what most Americans wine drinkers want.
Recently at The Cider Journal we reviewed two ciders from Wyder’s Cidery in Vermont. Wyder’s is owned by Woodchuck, a long-time source of sweeter, commercial hard cider. Both the Wyder’s Pear (1.5 STARS) and the Wyder Apple Cider (1.5 STARS) we reviewed carried the word “Dry” on the label. What was clear upon sampling both these ciders is that there is no effective regulation of the term “dry”. Both possessed considerable amounts of sugar. Both, but particularly the apple cider, were perfect examples of the “Jolly-Rancher-Green-Apple” school of cidermaking.
One of the problems with releasing a hard cider that is labeled “dry”, but is in fact not dry is that it taints the use of this word for other cidermakers who actually do produce a dry cider. As consumers become accustomed to drinking a “dry” cider that has sugar in it, they will likely recoil when they taste a dry-labeled cider that is in fact dry. It’s akin to labeling a movie G then opening the film with a scene in which a person’s head is blown clean off with a shotgun. False advertising. And jolting.
In the end, the reason that entirely “un-dry” hard ciders are incorrectly labeled “dry” is because producers understand that product quality in the alcoholic beverage world is almost always associated with truly dry drinks. Yes, some great products are in fact sweet but these products also happen to possess substantial character and balance, something that isn’t generally a component of your average commercial cider or canned margarita drink. Still, the greatest wines in the world are generally dry. The greatest hard ciders in the world are usually dry or possess just the slightest amount of real residual sugar. Producers of the Jolly-Rancher-Green-Apple type of cider know this and attempt to appropriate the quality associated with dry drinks by putting the “Dry” label on their decidedly not-dry ciders.