Sue Goold Miller of Goold Orchard shows the hard cider making process on Wednesday March 13, 2013 in Castleton-on-Hudson, N.Y. (Michael P. Farrell/Times Union)
Tapping into hard cider market
Schumer pushes legislation to expand opportunities for New York apple growers
By Kristen V. Brown
Published 8:41 pm, Wednesday, March 13, 2013
ALBANY — U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer announced legislation on Wednesday aimed at positioning New York to capture a bigger pour of the hard cider market, by many accounts the fastest growing sector of the alcoholic beverage industry.
Schumer's plan, the CIDER Act, seeks to modify the definition of what, exactly, qualifies as a hard cider, a move that would decrease taxes on the product and, Schumer said, boost business for New York state apple growers and cider producers.
"Apples that might otherwise be sold at a loss are ripe for the cider press," said Schumer. "It seems like a no-brainer. You'd expect New York to already be at the core of cider production."
New York state is the second largest apple producer in the nation, but boasts just over 20 hard apple cider producers. Meanwhile, sales of domestically produced hard cider tripled between 2007 and 2012.
Current federal regulations provide some discouragement to would-be hard cider makers. Under current federal law, hard cider is taxed at 23 cents per gallon, but if its alcohol content exceeds 7 percent the tax jumps to $1.07 per gallon, the same rate as wine. And ciders with carbon dioxide levels exceeding 39 percent are taxed at $3.30 per gallon, the same rate as champagne.
Schumer's proposal would expand the Internal Revenue Code's definition of hard apple cider to include those with alcohol content up to 8.5 percent, while removing carbonation limits, and tax them at the lower 23 cents per gallon rate. It would also maintain the discounted 17 cents per gallon rate for the smallest producers.
Such changes had long been called for by cider producers across the state and national organizations like the National Board of Cider Makers.
Goold Orchards in Castleton first started making hard cider this past fall, citing the growing demand from customers as well as the revenue-adding potential of the product. Last year, when 98 percent of the orchard's apple crop failed, it was the orchard's non-alcoholic cider and apple wine — made with apples bought elsewhere — that kept the farm afloat.
With a faster fermentation process than apple wine and higher price tag than non-alcoholic cider, the orchard anticipates that hard cider could be a real boon for business. Hard cider also gives orchards a use for apples not quite pretty enough to sell in markets.
Schumer's proposed changes, said owner Sue Goold Miller, makes hard apple cider production "even more attractive."
Steve Ammerman, spokesman for the New York Farm Bureau, said the proposed plan would give New York apple growers more opportunity to diversify and take advantage of an under-exploited market for hard cider in the state.
"We're seeing a larger consumer interest in hard ciders, and with the number of fruit farmers in New York state we're fertile ground for this business to take hold," he said.
The number of hard cider producers in the state has already increased in recent years as the interest in hard cider has expanded. In 2011, the state held its first annual "Cider Week," heralding the craft "cider comeback."
"I think we've just started to touch the tip of the iceberg," said Goold Miller of the cider boom. "There's a huge market demand. There's going to be a huge push."
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