5 Things You Might Not Know About the Legality of Hard Cider

If you’re a reader of Cider Culture (hello! thank you!), you probably know a bunch of stuff about cider. Maybe you know about the special red-fleshed apples used to make some rosé ciders, or about how different types of wooden barrels affect the flavor, color and texture of the cider aged in them. Perhaps you’ve joined us for Cider School to dig deeper about pét-nat ciders or to learn how to up your at-home cidermaking game. Like anything worth exploring, the world of cider is deep and wide, and there is always something to discover and learn.
But how much do you know about the legality of hard cider (besides the fact that you have to be 21 or older to enjoy it)? Here are five basic facts to help you develop a firmer grasp on how cider is regulated in the US:
  • Cider is federally regulated as wine. On the one hand, this is good news for consumers wanting to buy direct from cideries around the country, or buy cider through websites like ShopCiders.com and Pressthenpress.com. The wine industry has fought hard for the right to sell direct-to-consumer, and as part of the regulated umbrella of “wine,” cider benefits from those rights.

But — and you knew there would be a “but,” right? — there are some quirks from being federally regulated as wine, too.

  • Ciders under 7% ABV are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and face less labeling and packaging restrictions than ciders over 7% ABV, which are regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
    • For example, ciders over 7% ABV can’t be packaged in a 16-oz. (“tallboys”) or 19.2-oz. (“stovepipe”) cans. The American Cider Association advocated for 12-oz. packaging for wine and cider and was successful in getting that changed in December of 2020.
  • Ciders made with any non-apple/non-pear fruits are regulated as fruit wine. Fruit wine faces steep carbonation taxes at a much lower carbonation level than only-apple cider, perry, mead and grape wine under 8.5% ABV. Maybe that’s part of the reason why you don’t see as much only-plum (like jerkum), only-berry, etc. beverages out there?
  • Cider over 7% ABV can’t use vintage dating to delineate the impact of the season on an apple’s harvest and resulting cider. This is a bummer for anyone who is interested in watching their favorite cideries develop year over year, or who want to cellar ciders and drink them at a later date. You can always go DIY with a Sharpie, but it definitely isn’t the same as a printed vintage date, in terms of prestige or convenience.
  • Cider over 7% ABV can’t apply to use American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) on their labels, because those are for grape-only wines. AVAs are the government’s way of granting appellation status to grape-growing regions with specific, distinguishing geographic or climatic features that affect how the fruit is grown. For famous apple-growing regions producing exceptional cider, like the Finger Lakes in New York State, this can create a promotional challenge for cidermakers. The ACA and the New York Cider Association are currently working together to explore options that will grant cider parity with wine when it comes to geographic indicators while still supporting the robustness of the AVA system.

A lot of these rules are put in place for guidance and regulation, but are not necessarily doing the cider industry, at large, many favors. The ACA is constantly working to advocate for the growth and improvement of the industry, and the issues discussed above are a top priority for the Association! For more info on this work, or to read comments from the Association on a recent Executive Order by President Biden related to competition in the American markets for alcohol production, check out the American Cider Association’s Cider Blog.