Understanding the Jolly Rancher Green Apple School of Hard Cider

JollyRancherGreenAppleCandyNo one ever went broke overestimated American’s love of sugar…in all its forms.

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.

They shouldn’t.

3 Responses to “Understanding the Jolly Rancher Green Apple School of Hard Cider”

  1. Dan Daugherty

    Thanks, Tom–you make an important point re: the use of ‘dry’ as a means to associate a cider that isn’t with the cache of better products.

    A few years ago, I was a new cider drinker with a beer background but very little wine background, so I found the ‘dry’ concept very confusing when, say, drinking an Angry Orchard ‘Dry’ cider, because of course it was actually quite sweet.

    It wasn’t until I started making bone-dry, champagne-like, but not-so-great hard cider myself–and subsequently discovering some high-quality, dry import cider from the UK on a friend’s recommendation–that I started really developing a sense of what a dry cider is and started getting increasingly annoyed with the macro guys slapping ‘dry’ on a 12 oz bottle with 15+ grams of sugar in it…

    As you indicate, there isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with a sweet cider–there are some fabulous ciders that are intensely sweet, such as Eden’s Ice Cider–so I don’t see this discussion as a diatribe against sugar. Rather, it’s a call to be accurate with our descriptions.

    Keep up the good work!

    -Dan

    Reply
  2. Peter Mitchell

    I’m hoping that the US palate will eventually mature…”hoping”.
    Regarding “Jolly Rancher”:
    It may just be me, but I consider Acetyl-aldehyde production (Jolly Rancher) a “fault”. BTW – you can get Jolly Rancher / Paint Thinner off-flavors in a dry (no residual sugar) cider.

    Reply
  3. Darlene Hayes

    I’ve been thinking about this post a lot in the last couple of weeks having been snookered a couple of times by creatively labeled ciders. I even thought I’d buy myself an Angry Orchard “Dry” and measure the specific gravity, but haven’t been able to find one in my small town. Meanwhile, I think that Seattle Cider might be on to something helpful as they actually include a brix value on their labels. Think there’s any chance that others in the industry will follow their lead?

    Reply

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