The hope is that clearly delineated styles will advance the cider dialogue amongst consumers and within the industry.
Though the first innovative beers and brewers from the '70s and '80s get most of the credit for jumpstarting America's renewed love affair with craft beer—names like Anchor Steam, New Albion Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Boston Lager – one major contributor to the phenomenon often gets overlooked: a writer by the name of Michael Jackson. In the late '70s, Jackson introduced the simple but significant step of more thoroughly classifying beers by style. On the surface, style would seem secondary to a beer itself—and taste-wise, it is—but style guides are important to both consumer and professionals as a way to discuss and compare beers. A style classification instantly makes the unfamiliar more familiar, and the adoption of styles has helped drive beer drinkers' willingness to try new things ever since by giving them something to latch onto.
America's craft cider industry is at a similar crossroads now to where beer was a few decades ago—growing, but still looking to find a firm footing among casual drinkers—so unsurprisingly, the United States Association of Cider Makers (USACM) is taking a page out of the craft beer industry's playbook: For the first time ever, the group of cider and perry producers is introducing its own style guide: the USACM Cider Style Guidelines V1.0.
This isn't to say that cider doesn't have any styles or style guidelines. Quite the contrary, the Cider Association actually based its guide off the styles used at GLINTCAP—the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition which is kind of like a Great American Beer Festival for cider.
"We reviewed the most recent GLINTCAP guidelines and made a few changes to cast a slightly wider net," Michelle McGrath, USACM Executive Director, said in a statement. "We wanted to start with a broad foundational language of styles and as the cider industry matures, this living document will grow."
By beer and wine style guides, this first cider guide will feel a bit quaint: ten styles broken down into two larger categories. The "Standard Styles" are Modern Cider, Heritage Cider, Modern Perries and Heritage Perries. Meanwhile, the "Specialty Styles" are Fruit Cider, Spiced Cider, Hopped Cider, Wood-aged Cider, Sour Cider and Ice Cider. On the USACM website, you can find the five-page guide (which is actually only about three pages of text) that lays out the aroma/flavor, appearance and apple varieties for each style.
Again, it's a relatively simply document, but with a simple purpose: In a press release, the Cider Association states that it hopes the new style guide "will greatly assist in educating both trade and consumers about cider to make better sense of the wide array of ciders found on a store shelf, a menu or in a distributors' catalogue." Seeing as plenty of people probably don't know the specific differences between a "Modern Cider" and a "Heritage Cider" to begin with, ten styles is probably a good place to start.