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Brewers embrace hard cider

STEVENS POINT, Wis. — Brewers large and small are embracing hard cider, an alternative to beer and wine with a long history.

Hard cider, which is made by fermenting fresh apple juice, has seen a tremendous increase in shipments since 2005, most notably between 2011 and 2012.

It’s a small but fast-growing segment in the U.S. right now, said Eric Shepard, vice president and executive editor of trade publication Beer Marketers Insights.

Many brewers pair apple juice with other fruit flavors, often varied by season. The distinct, crisp apple flavor appeals to a wide variety of customers.

According to the Beer Institute, an industry group, the U.S. domestic and imported cider market was about 690,000 barrels in 2012, Shepard said. One barrel is equivalent to 31 gallons, or about 330 12-ounce bottles. Shepard also noted that cider shipments grew another 88 percent during the first quarter of 2013.

Consumers see hard cider as an alternative to beer, but the beverage is treated more like wine by regulators, Shepard said. Sales are often included with beer statistics, however, and the beverage is sold alongside beer in many outlets.

Some major breweries have grown their cider production through acquisitions. Others have created their own products.

In 2012 MillerCoors acquired Minneapolis-based Crispin Cider, Samuel Adams producer Boston Beer Co. launched Angry Orchard, and Anheuser-Busch launched Michelob Ultra Light Cider. Heineken also took over U.S. distribution of Strongbow cider, which is based in the U.K.

Other indications that hard cider is increasing in popularity come with the formation of the United States Association of Cider Makers at the third annual CiderCon in Chicago. And Hard Cider News, an online monthly newsletter, was founded in October 2012 to cover the hard cider industry’s products, events, data and recipes.

Hard cider is even creeping its way into beer festivals. Carlsberg Group-owned Somersby Cider was available for sampling at the Milwaukee Firkin Fest, a popular craft beer festival held in July.

A festival dedicated to hard cider, known as Pour the Core, has planned events this fall in Pennsylvania and New York.

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