Apple growers and cider producers across the state are increasingly tempted to tap into the growing market for hard cider.
“It’s been on our minds for a long time,” said Mimi Fehlner, an owner of the Clinton Cider Mill, which is making an experimental batch this year.
George Joseph, owner of North Star Orchards in Westmoreland, thinks about going into hard cider “every single day,” he said. He also has been approached about growing a variety of apples just for hard cider, he said.
Critz Farms in Cazenovia took the plunge in 2011. “We had about 1,000 gallons of hard cider, which is equivalent to about 5,000 bottles, and we sold out in six weeks,” owner Matthew Critz said. “We decided that maybe we were on the right track.”
This year they’re producing 15,000 gallons in 10 varieties that are distributed in several areas of the state.
In the 1800s, hard cider was one of the most popular drinks in America. That ended when Prohibition began. In recent years though, the market has picked up again, with the top national brands seeing 62 percent growth in 2012 alone, according to one report.
The number of cideries in New York similarly grew from five in 2011 to 29 in August, according to the governor’s office. Seven of those hold farm cidery licenses, a new type of license that has made it easier for smaller producers to get into the business if they use state-grown apples.
“We think the potential is unlimited,” said Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association. “I would compare it exactly to the wine industry and the growing craft beer industry. Both of them are really just growing and expanding by leaps and bounds. And I fully expect that cider will follow that pattern.”
It’s too soon for solid data on hard cider’s economic impact, however, Allen said. And taxes have kept some would-be producers out of the business.