The ‘hugely popular’ take on cider accounted for two of the five new styles added this year.

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At this year’s Great American Beer Festival, entries were judged in 102 categories. Thirty years ago, in 1988, the competition only had 18 categories. America has seen tons of change in the beer industry in the last one year, let alone the last three decades, and as a category like beer grows, teasing brews apart by creating new style guidelines is a great way to foster further appreciation of different products.

More recently, America’s cider scene has been looking to take a page out of craft beer’s success, including a greater focus on both traditional cidermaking and innovative techniques, to help broaden the appeal of the beverage. Last year, those efforts included the release of the first-ever set of Hard Cider Style Guidelines from the U.S. Association of Cider Makers (USACM). Now, a little over a year later, the association is back, tweaking some of the language and, more importantly, adding five new styles.

Seeing as the initial list only included ten cider styles, the addition of five new styles may be even bigger news than it appears at first blush. To review, the initial guidelines included the "Standard Styles" of Modern Cider, Heritage Cider, Modern Perries, and Heritage Perries, and the "Specialty Styles" of Fruit Cider, Spiced Cider, Hopped Cider, Wood-aged Cider, Sour Cider, and Ice Cider. Despite some “minor language changes,” all those styles remain the same – and the “Standard Styles” category has gone relatively untouched.

However, the “Specialty Styles” category has been crashed. The most notable update actually resulted in two new styles. Rosé cider was one of the most talked about beverages in 2018, period, and the USACM has rewarded that excitement with two versions: Heritage Rosé, “which gets its color from red-fleshed apples,” and Modern Rosé, “which gets its color from other fruits or botanicals.” Speaking of botanicals, Botanical Ciders have been broken off from the Spiced Cider style to differentiate “ciders made with any combination of herbs, nectars and leaves (including tea)” from those “made with any combination of spices or spicy vegetables.”

As for the final two new styles: “The lesser-known but traditional New England Style Cider was added, sometimes described as apple wine with raisins,” the USACM wrote in its announcement. “Lastly, a catch all category for outliers is now included, referred to as specialty cider and perry.” The entire updated guidelines can be found on the USACM website.

“A lot of thought went into these updates—stakeholders supplied comments and some very intense conversations about the implications were held,” Executive Director Michelle McGrath stated. “But in the end, the consensus from the board was strong. We felt like these changes reflect the growing diversification of the market, and we want to arm cider makers, distributors, retailers, servers and consumers with the ability to understand and discuss that diversity.”

Meanwhile, Board President Paul Vander Heide specifically cited the chance to add the hugely popular rosé cider category as “a very exciting proposition for USACM.”

Still, as an avid cider drinker myself, I’m a bit disappointed to see the USACM focus all of their energy on adding styles to the more gimmicky “Specialty Styles” category. Sure, you can toss new ingredients into cider and make new “styles” all day, but the more interesting branch of cider – and the side that consumers are largely more oblivious to – are all the many the subtleties that separate apart the “Standard Styles.” Apparently there’s a need to tease apart “botanicals” from “spices,” but the highly acetic ciders of the Basque region in Spain are fine to be lumped in with the barnyardy ciders of Herefordshire in England? And what about creating stronger distinctions around sweetness to help raise further awareness of the massive differences between sweet, semi-dry, and dry ciders? These sorts of distinctions are certainly less obvious, but in many ways, that’s why we need them more to help consumers “understand and discuss that diversity.”

Granted, it took the Great American Beer Festival 30 years to go from 18 to 102 judging categories. But let’s hope that in Version 3.0 of the USACM Cider Style Guidelines, cider styles continue to head in a similar direction.