Cider Audiences Are Ripening

I was standing at the front of the room noticing heads bobbing up and down in recognition and agreement. This was new.

When I first started offering cider history presentations a few years ago it was different. Most of the audience’s comments were about how people either hadn’t really tried cider or how they liked Angry Orchard. Most of their questions were the kinds you might hear in a modern bottle shop: how sweet was the cider, how strong was it, how long could it be stored?

Recently, that’s changing. Audiences are more conversant with cider and cider’s history (even if at times that “history” is created by advertisers and tale-tellers). Our conversations are suddenly about cider economics, apple varieties, and fermentation preferences, among many others. Their growing awareness makes my work more accessible and interesting to audiences.

Happily, this suggests that American cider audiences are maturing. It also means I need to update my talks a little faster now.

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The Mighty Effects of Spirituous Liquor Displayed, or Cider was a Temperance Drink

This is the next installment in our continuing series, “Did Prohibition Prohibit Cider?”

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Throughout the eighteenth century temperance was defined as moderation.(1) Being temperate in all things, or at least being seen as such, was desirable. Even Benjamin Franklin, the Founder known for having a good time all the time, placed temperance first on his list of 13 virtues, saying, “Eat not to dulness; drink not to elevation.”

Franklin wasn’t the only one to suggest temperance. Reminders, gentle and otherwise, to lead a temperate life were common, because it was believed being intemperate caused many ills, physical and social. One saying went that, “AFTER SWEET MEAT COMES SOUR SAUCE,” which was explained as

… an excellent Monition to Temperance and Sobriety, for that whatsoever is excessive and unreasonable, either in our Actions or our Passions or Appetites, in either drinking or eating, to Gluttony; either in point of Wit, Mirth, or Wantonness to Intemperance; of Lust, Leachery, or Lewdness to Iniquity, will certainly make the sweetest Meat we can eat rise as sour as a Crab in our Stomachs; for there is a rank Poison in the Tail of all unlawful Pleasures…(2)

By the way, the crab mentioned above is shorthand for a crab apple.

Eighteenth-century temperance was motivated by the enlightened, self-improving culture of the time. As the century progressed, more and more people grew concerned about alcohol’s physical, moral, and social impact. This temperance, led by two Philadelphia social reformers, believed distilled liquors were a real danger.

1774 Benezet Mighty Destroyer Displayed Title Pagein 1774 Anthony Benezet, a Philadelphia teacher and Quaker, published The Mighty Destroyer Displayed, targeting hard liquor as the root of many ills, from untimely death to slavery. He said that, “alcohol enfeebles drinkers,” and, “thousands die annually by alcohol, but no one blames it.”

Though focused on hard liquor, his conclusion made little distinction between fermented and distilled beverages. He warned that, “All intoxicating liquors may be considered as poisons; however disguised, that is their real character, and sooner or later they will have their effect.”

However, he does mention cider as beneficial. Benezet suggested water and molasses with a little cider was a refreshing and healthful drink for harvesters. He’s quick to mention that the cider is desirable for its addition of acid, not alcohol.(3)

A year after Benezet published The Mighty Destroyer the American Revolution began. During the war, alcohol was a part of army life. Rum was issued to soldiers as a daily ration and as a reward for extra service.(4) The Continental Army’s Surgeon General, Dr. Benjamin Rush, grew concerned about the healthfulness of drinking among soldiers, particularly rum drinking. In 1778 he published Directions for Preserving the Health of Soldiers, covering the appropriate dress, diet, exercise, cleanliness, encampments, and exercise for American soldiers. Under “Diet” he argued that, “The use of rum, by gradually wearing away the powers of the [body’s] system, lays the foundation of fevers, fluxes, jaundices, and the most of the diseases which occur in the military hospitals.” Despite his attempts, rum continued to be issued for the rest of the war.

1959.0160 A, B Benjamin Rush Painting and Frame

Clearly Dr. Rush is not one of those drinking writers.
Source

He carried these concerns into civilian life. In 1784, ten years after Benezet’s work and one year after the Revolutionary War ended, Rush published An Inquiry Into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors on the Human Body. Expanding on his thoughts from Directions, he said that, “Liquor destroys more lives than the sword,” and that distilled beverages inhibit the morals and manners of drinkers.

Unlike Benezet, Rush doesn’t think all alcohol is ultimately poison. He listed the alcohols which he felt were beneficial when consumed in moderation. At the top of his list was cider, which he called, “This excellent liquor” and said it, “contains a small quantity of spirit, but so diluted and blunted, by being combined with an acid and a large quantity of saccharine matter and water, as to be perfectly inoffensive and wholesome.”(5)

To help his readers gauge their level of health through their drinking habits, Rush included a “Moral and Physical Thermometer.” He rated drinks from healthiest at the top (water) to most dangerous at the bottom (peppered rum), along with the each drink’s effects and outcomes. According to the thermometer, cider is a “temperance” drink which can lead to “cheerfulness, strength, and nourishment, when taken only at meals, and in moderate quantities.”

Temperance Theremometer

Benezet and Rush are not as vehement in their temperance as later generations would become. Neither is trying to outlaw alcohol in any way, appealing instead to their readers to make healthy choices. And neither think cider is a particular problem. Cider, it seems, is the only alcoholic drink they both find any value in.

NEXT TIME: Cider is no longer wholesome as Temperance gets intemperate.

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1. For “temperance” as moderation see Nathan Bailey, An Universal Etymological English Dictionary (London, 1775) and Daniel Fenning, The Royal English Dictionary (London, 1775).
2. You can find the proverb in Nathan Bailey, An Universal Etymological English Dictionary (London, 1775).   I have no idea what makes it an “excellent monition.”
3. For value of acid taste, see Benezet, 26-7.
4. Cider was also issued early in the war, but discontinued as a regular ration by late 1776.
5. Rush says cider, beer, and wine are the three most useful alcoholic beverages.

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Upcoming Historical Cider Symposium & Tasting

On Sunday, August 19th, Stone & Key Cellars and the Morgan Log House are co-hosting a historical cider symposium and tasting in Montgomeryville, PA. I’ll be there offering a version of “Cider: Pennsylvania’s Once (and Future?) Favorite.”

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For more information and to buy tickets check out their Facebook page.

Hope you can make it!

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Winding Down the Winery Work

Recent requests reminded me that I haven’t updated you on my winery work in a while. Not long ago I sold out of the Holt’s 95. With that, I am no longer cidering at Blackledge Winery and haven’t been for some time.

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It was an honor to have His Excellency as my final customer.

There have been some big changes in my life – new job, new commute, new priorities – since starting in 2014.

I would like to thank the folks at Blackledge for inviting me to bring cider to their lineup. I had fun researching the recipes, locating the orchards, developing the juice blends, writing and designing the labels, and coming up with each cider’s name. The names, by the way, were based on the names and publication dates of the historic authors whose ciders we were making. They deserve credit too.

Thanks also to Blackledge for the opportunities being there opened up to me. There is more I wish I was able to learn and try, but then there always is. I’m grateful for the experience.

For now, I’ll continue researching cider history, recreating ciders at home, offering presentations, and figuring out what’s next.

Good luck to Blackledge and thanks to all of you for your support.

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Did Prohibition Prohibit Cider? – Colonials Outlaw Inebriation For All and Alcohol For Some

This is the next installment in our continuing series, “Did Prohibition Prohibit Cider?”

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It’s easy to think that Prohibition was the first attempt to legally control alcohol consumption, but it’s not. Almost as long as there has been alcohol in America, there has been alcohol control. In Colonial America that legal control was exerted through anti-intoxication laws, dispensing licenses, and access control.(1)

Pennsylvania, for example, took intoxication very seriously. Drunkenness was officially illegal throughout the entire eighteenth century.

In 1700 the Pennsylvania Assembly passed, “The Law Against Drunknenness and Healths-Drinking.” It expressly outlawed, “every person disordering or abusing him or herself with drink unto drunkenness, and every person suffering such excess at their houses, and every person that shall drink healths [toasts] which shall provoke people to excessive drinking…” In January 1706, the Assembly passed the similar, but slightly reworded law, “Act Against Drunkenness and Drinking of Healths.” The 1779  “Act for the Suppression of Vice and Immorality,”  continued to outlaw intoxication using very similar language as the “Act Against Drunkenness,” (see Section IV). In 1786 the Assembly felt that the 1779 law was not, “fully and duly executed and enforced…” and passed, “An Act for the Prevention of Vice and Immorality and Unlawful Gaming and to Restrain Disorderly Sports and Dissipation.” Section III, yet again, stated that no one shall drink to intoxication.

This concern over intoxication spilled into taverns. We think of early American taverns as places flowing with drunken fun. They certainly were, but they were also places for public discourse, education, and entertainment. They were central to their communities and were seen as places where community standards needed to be upheld. Tavern licenses were granted to those seen as being a, “sober and fit person to keep a house of entertainment…” As specified in the tavern license, part of a tavern keeper’s job was to prevent indecent behaviors, including drunkenness, in their establishment.

Tavern License 1755

During most of the eighteenth century, tavern keepers were also to keep alcohol from Indians. 1755 Pennsylvania tavern license. Courtesy of the Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, PA.

 

Tavern License 1826

Seventy years later, Indians are no longer a concern and the wording is different. The intent remains the same though – no drunkenness allowed in the tavern. 1826 Northampton County, Pennsylvania tavern license. Courtesy of the Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, PA.

Though everyone was legally expected to refrain from drinking to excess, colonial American leaders felt they needed to limit certain people’s access to alcohol. They passed additional laws prohibiting Indians, enslaved people, servants (indentured, domestic, and apprentices), and even working class white men from having ready access to hard liquor.

Indian Prohibition October 28, 1701

“An Act Against the Selling of Rum and Other Strong Liquors to the Indians.” Passed October 28, 1701. The Charters and Acts of Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania

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A Supplementary AC T to a Law of this Province, intituled, An Act that no Public-house or Inn, within this Province, be kept without Licence.

“A Supplementary Act to a Law of This Province, Intituled, An Act That No Public-House or Inn, Within This Province, Be Kept Without Licence.” Passed August 26, 1721. The Acts of Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania.

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Iron Workers

“An Act for the better regulating the Retailers of Liquors near the Iron Works and elsewhere.” Passed March 5, 1726. The Acts of the Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania.

At the same time they’re passing these laws, gentry men’s drinking habits are getting a pass. Middling and gentry men could drink whatever they wanted and to excess, often in social, all-male gatherings.

Tuesday CLub

The genteel could run riot, but no one else could. “Mr Neilson’s Battle With the Royalist Club,” attributed Dr. Alexander Hamilton. Maryland Historical Society.

Like many laws attempting to prohibit sin and vice, there was more hope than success in them. Whether at home or at the tavern, people drank what they wanted and got drunk.

NEXT TIME: The temperate beginnings of Temperance.

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  1. The majority of other alcohol-related laws covered production, sales, and taxes.

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Did Prohibition Prohibit Cider? – An Exploration

prohibition title slide

This is the first post in a series based on my talk, “Did Prohibition Prohibit Cider?”

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American cider’s recent resurgence has people asking if it was so popular before, why did it go away?

Most cidermakers will say that Prohibition killed cider. Prohibition is the popular name for the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution which outlawed alcohol production. The story generally says cider was America’s drink, but Prohibition suddenly ended that.

Cider Prohibition Statements

A quick Google search turns up thousands of hits saying similar things.

It wouldn’t be until the 1990s, 60 years after repeal, that cider began its current recovery.

This timeline certainly suggests Prohibition ended, or at least interrupted, our cider culture. But it’s not a very satisfying answer. Prohibition didn’t affect our taste for beer, wine, or spirits. So what was going on? Did Prohibition really prohibit and inhibit cider?

Over the coming weeks we’ll explore how Temperance, pests, new apple products, changing popular tastes, market competition, and Prohibition influenced American cider culture.

I hope you’ll come along!

NEXT TIME: Early Americans attempt to keep drinkers in their proper place.

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A Sparkling Cider Surprise

I got home from work, eagerly selected a recently acquired sparkling cider, and walked a few steps into the kitchen. I untwisted the cage, but before it was over the cork, the bottle exploded and a three-foot stream of cider shot straight out of the bottle.

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(but it did look fantastic)

By the time it was done most of the cider was all over the counter and floor, leaving only this

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Our recent heat wave had primed the bottle. Besides not diffusing it by chilling, my opening technique may have been a little hasty. I should have done this:

Or perhaps next time I’ll combine my interest in cidering and fencing and do this:

There are certainly enough swords and cider laying around my house to perfect my technique.

 

 

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