Point-of-View: O Cider, Where Art Thou?

A few weeks ago, I visited my local liquor store to stock up on provisions for a weekend of hosting. At times like these, I have to remind myself that most people don’t care about beer the way that I do, and will drink anything half-decent that I keep in my fridge. 

In an effort to be economical and all-pleasing, I purchased an 18-pack of Freebird (a Golden Ale from Lord Hobo Brewing), and then made a curious decision. Eschewing the normal twinge of uncertainty I feel around any beverage that isn’t craft beer, I scooped up a 12-pack of spiked seltzer and proceeded to the cashier. 

On the surface, this anecdote is not impactful. But I have since analyzed my snap decision to choose seltzer, not cider, as the alternative beverage choice for my guests. A variety of factors could have factored into the decision: 1) I have recently acquired the taste for (non-alcoholic) seltzer after years of shunning the beverage, so I can grasp the appeal of an alcoholic version; 2) The seltzer was placed on display in an easily accessible area, 3) As someone who follows trends in the market, I can’t help but notice the swell of activity in the spiked seltzer market.  

Years ago, cider emerged as a craft beer alternative during a time when more and more people were actively abstaining from gluten - whether from necessity (Celiac’s Disease, intolerance, allergies) or desire, based on the potential health benefits of a gluten-free diet. Cider hit the market at a time when awareness around Celiac’s and gluten sensitivity had increased, and provided an alternative for people who enjoyed craft beverages but weren’t exactly beer fans. It seemed poised to be the next big thing in craft alcohol, and despite the fact that cider makers saw an overall rise in YoY growth, my perception is that folks in the industry are buzzing about seltzer while cider is being quietly placed into a niche market. Why is that?

For starters, it’s officially summer, and cider intrinsically does not feel like a summer drink. Although many cider makers are finding creative ways to incorporate other fruits, the origin story of cider revolves around an apple, and that’s a fall fruit. Additionally, the novelty of an enjoyable gluten-free alcoholic beverage, one of cider’s original leading stories, is negated by seltzer, which is also gluten-free.  

One of the big opportunities for spiked seltzer isn’t just that it makes for a light, refreshing beverage during the summer months, but that it aligns more neatly with the notion of overall lifestyle balance that is starting to become such a trend. More craft breweries are producing ‘every day beers,’ like Slate from Idle Hands (a KYC client), as a way to offer lower-ABV offerings to a more health-conscious crop of young drinkers.  

One of spiked seltzer’s potential downsides is that it relies mostly on distribution. The majority of spiked seltzer lines are being produced by major beer companies like Truly from Boston Beer Company or White Claw from Mark Anthony Brands (you might remember them as the makers of Mike’s Hard Lemonade).  

In an era when craft beer drinkers are starting to gravitate to experiencial drinking (the rise of the taproom model) seltzer is at a disadvantage: there isn’t yet a taproom designed exclusively for the experience of seltzer drinking. One might also argue that spiked seltzer isn’t a ‘craft’ beverage, which winds up placing it in an entirely separate category from craft beer and cider, anyhow. 

Hypothetically, I can picture a market that sustains craft beer drinkers who balance some of their more excessive choices (high ABV stouts and DIPAs) with lighter, healthier alternatives like spiked seltzer, and in that scenario, I’m not sure where cider fits in. However, as history has proven, the three could technically co-exist as long as the market can sustain it. It’s not as if there is a shortage of drinkers out there.