There are only so many packaging options available to cidermakers—mostly bottles and cans of varying sizes and styles (similar to those used by beer and wine companies) so cider companies often work to create unique and eye-catching labels they believe will, at a glance, give a potential customer a nudge to try their product. In such an emerging category, however, compelling art will only get you so far.
Unconstrained by hide-bound cider tradition, many contemporary American cidermakers have embraced a spirit of experimentation with both production techniques and materials. The often-novel (sometimes exciting) results are a factor in cider’s continued robust growth. But with little previous cider experience to tap into, the sheer number of possibilities has the potential to both confuse and alienate consumers who, while generally understanding cider has some connection to apples, aren’t always clear about how diverse ciders can be. Well-written and informative label notes are, then, an essential component of any cidermaker’s packaging choice.
Enter the U.S. Association of Cider Makers’ lexicon project and the Cider Style Guide, first released in December 2017. The lexicon and style guide are meant to suggest a common language that cidermakers can use to clearly communicate just what consumers can expect when they open that bottle or can.
The style guide breaks cider into two major categories, modern and heritage, based largely on the types of apples used (which, in turn, impacts the cider’s overall flavor). A modern-style cider is made primarily from common culinary or table apples, the kinds typically found at your local supermarket. These ciders are generally lower in tannins and higher in acidity, and their flavor is bright and refreshing.
Heritage-style ciders, in contrast, are made primarily from heirloom apple varieties or cider-specific bittersweet/bittersharp apples. They’re likely to be higher in tannins than modern-style ciders and commonly exhibit more complex flavors and aromatics. Similar style categories (modern and heritage) exist for perries, beverages fermented from 100 percent pear juice.
From here, the guidelines break down into subsets of specialty styles, which mostly center on ways in which a cider can be amended to add another facet to its flavor profile. Wood-aged ciders will have notable wood and/or barrel character and can include flavors from the barrel’s previous contents. Fruit ciders have other fruits/fruit juices added, either before or after fermentation, whose essence will be noticeable in the cider’s overall flavor and aroma. Other subcategories include hopped, spiced, and sour ciders, as well as ice cider, which is similar to ice wine.
The USACM’s Cider Style Guide is designed to evolve with the industry, so it is expected that periodic additions or changes will appear. “Consumer education efforts need to break cider knowledge down into manageable chunks,” says USACM Executive Director Michelle McGrath. “That’s what we’re trying to do with our lexicon project, starting with styles. Just breaking it down to modern and heritage cider is a huge start.”
The complete current Cider Style Guide can be found at ciderassociation.org/resources.