STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Now that we've made it through the election, might be time for a drink. Hard cider used to be the drink of choice for thirsty Americans - a couple hundred years ago. But as people moved into cities and beer became more popular, hard cider fell out of fashion. Now it's back.
As Vermont Public Radio's Nina Keck reports, American hard cider sales are up 65 percent this year alone.
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NINA KECK, BYLINE: It's happy hour at Two Brothers Tavern in Middlebury, Vermont - a bar that boasts an impressive assortment of beer taps. But one is bright green and shaped like an apple.
AMANDA GEIGER: I think pretty much everywhere you go you see at least one cider on tap now.
KECK: Amanda Geiger of Binghamton, New York began drinking hard cider a few years ago.
GEIGER: It's not all like sweet apple juice with a kick - it's more variety. You know, you've got your dryer ones, you've got your sweeter ones, you've got your spiced ones - and I just think that there's more room for everybody's taste in there.
KECK: Bartender Andy Buxton nods.
ANDY BUXTON: Oh, sales have probably doubled, tripled in the last two or three years. It used to be nothing. Nowadays probably 30 percent of people who are coming in here are demanding cider, not just asking for it. Even our locals who are drinking Budweiser are starting to switch over to a little bit of cider.
KECK: Cider's popularity has evolved since the late '80s, a lot like the craft beer industry. But it's only in the last few years that cider's appeal has exploded nationwide, attracting marketing giants like Miller Coors and Anheuser Busch.
Andrea Riberi, a beverage analyst for Nielson, says it helps that cider appeals to both men and women. It's gluten free and seen as something new.
ANDREA RIBERI: People born in the '80s and '90s - which we call millennials - they really want what's new, they're always looking for the next big thing.
KECK: Which right now happens to be hard cider in all sorts of new flavors and fruit variations.
According to Symphony IRI Group, U.S. cider sales for the last 12 months were just shy of $90 million. Leading the pack is Woodchuck Cider, which was first bottled in 1991 in a two-car garage in tiny Proctorsville, Vermont.
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KECK: Today, Woodchuck's bottling plant employs 125 people and cranks out 70,000 cases of hard cider a week. Bret Williams bought the company in 2003 and says since then he's watched the U.S. cider market go from a four million case category to seven million.
BRET WILLIAMS: When I started with the company way back when, all we heard was no. People didn't know what hard cider was. Now there's - it's gone from fringe behavior to a very small movement. But it's becoming powerful. People are incredibly passionate about Woodchuck.
KECK: While Americans still don't drink nearly as much cider as folks in the United Kingdom, Williams thinks there's plenty of room for growth.
WILLIAMS: The whole cider category is only two-tenths of one percent of the beer market. In England and Ireland it's 15 to 20 percent. So there is so much upward traction for the category, it's almost mind-numbing.
KECK: Industry analysts doubt the U.S. market for cider will ever be as large as the U.K.'s. But Ireland's C&C Group is more bullish. The company plans to buy Woodchuck for a whopping $305 million.
For NPR News, I'm Nina Keck in Chittenden, Vermont.
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