Craft Craze

Craft beer has experienced exponential growth in the United States and throughout the world over the past decade as consumers have come to appreciate the variety of styles and phenomenal quality that result from the dedication of smaller, local beer producers.

Although beer figures declined overall in 2013, craft beer continued to experience another year of double-digit growth, including 49 percent growth in the export of American craft beer, according to the Brewers Association. Craft beer may have started the movement, but it is not the only category of artisanal beverages experiencing rapid growth in today’s marketplace. 

Rather, consumers throughout the United States are fueling another wave of craft alcoholic beverages from producers similarly dedicated to the production of high-quality alternatives to the historic mainstays of the industry. In particular, these include hard cider and mead.

Hard Cider Emerges

Anyone who is familiar with American history should not be surprised by the reemergence of hard cider.  

During the 18th century, hard cider was a staple at every family table and because of concerns regarding the sanitary conditions of water, American settlers habitually drank cider as a more trusted form of daily hydration. Until recently, however, hard cider was not being produced in any significant quantity in the United States.  

The situation has changed over the past decade with ciders popping up all over the country. Even larger, more established producers, such as Anheuser-Busch InBev, Boston Beer and MillerCoors are developing their own hard cider brands.  Since 2007, sales of hard cider have tripled and the top-10 cider brands have experienced more than 60 percent growth in the last few years.  

At the same time hard cider has experienced this rapid market growth, much confusion remains regarding the legal treatment of cider. For example, most statutes at both the state and federal level do not separately define or regulate hard cider, choosing instead to lump it in either with wine or beer.  

At the federal level, hard cider is defined and regulated as wine. However, each state regulates hard cider differently – some classify it as wine and others classify it as beer. To complicate matters further, when complying with labeling requirements, hard cider producers have to be sensitive to the level of alcohol by volume (ABV) contained in the product. Separate governmental entities control the labeling of alcohol with an ABV under or above seven percent differently.  

In short, while the marketplace has embraced the emergence of hard cider and is pushing for further growth, those producing it are confronted with an unusual and somewhat convoluted set of regulatory requirements just to get their product to eager consumers.

Understanding Mead 

Like hard cider, mead has a rich history going back to the Vikings. It has been identified as the alcoholic beverage of choice up until the 1500s. Mead production fell off sometime in the 1700s, however, only to reemerge over the past few decades on the heels of the craft beer industry. 

The number of cases of mead sold in the past few years increased by 103 percent and the average gross sales increased 130 percent, according to the American Mead Makers Association. In short, mead is emerging as the smallest, but fastest-growing segment of the artisanal beverage movement.

At the same time that mead sales are growing, meaderies remain frustrated by the lack of regulations aimed at the unique process of mead production, as opposed to wine and beer. In particular, meaderies are disappointed in the recipe formulas used by the federal government, which do not match the formula used by mead makers in the industry. 

This disconnect has led to federal regulators allowing products with high percentages of fruit concentrate to be labeled as mead, while prohibiting more historical mead production that uses natural fruit to supplement the fermentation of the honey base. As a result, many mead makers struggle to find a middle ground between the industry’s historical definition of mead and what the federal government will recognize as such.  

In the end, lawmakers and regulators must work harder to ensure that the law supports, rather than frustrates, the desires of its citizens to enjoy the growing variety of craft beverages offered by producers of hard cider and mead. 

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