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As Americans, we have always cherished our alcohol. Indeed, it was once believed that the more we drank, and the wider variety of which we drank, the better our health. Today, we drink, on average, about 2.3 gallons of alcohol per year. But in 1790, Americans drank 34 gallons of beer and cider, five gallons of distilled spirits, and one gallon of wine—and you thought you had problems. It wasn’t until we started consuming coffee, the powerful stimulant, did we become a bit more “productive at work.” They even drank their chocolate.
Hard cider, though, has played a special role in the evolution of our country. And no, apples are not as American as apple pie; they weren’t planted here until they came over on the Mayflower in 1625 (they originated in Europe and Asia thousands of years ago). We should give Johnny Appleseed a big high five! Starting in the 17th century, apples were everywhere. Everyone either pressed or had their apples pressed into cider. Communities, especially those in New England, had community presses. At the height of the Civil War, there were 20,000 known varieties of apples grown in America. (Today, sadly, just 12 apple varieties represent a whopping 88% of our total production—65% of all known apple varieties have been lost. I’ll address the story of cider’s rebirth in a later post)
Then, as well as now, you couldn’t get a more local craft beverage than hard cider. It was the FIRST homebrew. We made cider before we made beer, before we made wine, before we even started distilling spirits. Everyone in the working classes drank it; it was cheaper than rum and later whiskey. Farm laborers were paid in cider. Children drank cider. Our Presidents drank cider for breakfast. Water was just plain untrustworthy. And in 1840, William Henry Harrison beat out candidate Martin Van Buren for the American Presidency by running a “log cabin and hard cider” campaign. Supposedly, there were barrels of cider outside voting centers. It’s in our blood, folks.
So if you are feeling a bit American this 4th of July, and wish to raise a glass to all those who came before us, pick CIDER, our national celebratory drink. They did. You should too. Cheers!