During the Colonial Era, hard apple cider was by far the most popular alcoholic beverage in America. There were many reasons for the immense popularity of apple cider at that time.
First of all, apple cider is relatively easy to make. In addition to that, the early English colonists in America brought a great quantity of apple seed with them to plant in the New World resulting in an abundance of apple trees. By as early as 1629 there were already many apple orchards in Virginia and the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The reason for all this growing of apple trees was not to eat apples but to drink them in the form of hard cider.
Apple cider had been popular with the people of Great Britain going back to the time of the Celts. By the time the English had settled in America, the art of cider brewing was very well known to them due to centuries of consumption of apple cider.
Unlike many other alcoholic beverages, apple cider could be consumed at any time of the day. In fact, John Adams, second president of the United States, drank it regularly at breakfast to soothe his stomach. The fermentation of apple cider killed the bacteria in that drink which made it preferable to drinking well water in that era because water was often contaminated and therefore less healthy than apple cider.
Apple cider continued in its popularity well into the 1800s due in part to the efforts of the legendary Johnny Appleseed who planted many apple trees in the Midwest. As a result, apple cider brewing spread into that area of the country. By mid century, beer was a distant second to apple cider in popularity. However, soon a series of events took place which was to diminish the consumption of apple cider and make beer the most popular alcoholic beverage in America.
As the settlers moved further west, it became more difficult to grow apple trees in those arid regions. Later, as more people moved from the country to the city, there wasn’t adequate transportation to deliver apple cider from the farms to the urban areas. Meanwhile, German beer with its faster fermentation process, was introduced into America. The German immigrants also set up large sophisticated breweries for producing beer in great quantities while apple cider production remained limited to the small farms.
What ultimately led to the demise in the popularity of apple cider consumption was the Temperance movement. Because the Temperance movement was religiously based, many of the church going farmers gave up their drinking of apple cider. Many of them even went so far as to chop down the apple trees on their farms.
When Prohibition finally became the law, this marked the death knell for apple cider. Although beer staged a quick comeback following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, apple cider brewing was effectively destroyed and remained only on a very few family farms for many years to come.
With the growing popularity of microbreweries in the 1990s, alcoholic apple cider is once again enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Although apple cider is nowhere close to the popularity it enjoyed in the Colonial Era, the consumption of apple cider did double in just one year from 1995 to 1996 with renewed public interest in this brewing process considered to be so much a part of Americana.