How Much Cider Is That?

How much cider did an early American family make or drink annually? Seems like it should be an easy question to answer, but it’s not. Those early Americans didn’t often record detailed accountings of their cider production and consumption. Instead we have to dig into what they did say to find our answers (or at least more informed questions).

Alcohol, including cider, was usually listed by vessel type, not gallons. You’ll find casks, kegs, cags, barrels, tierces, hogsheads, and pipes of cider in the records.  According to The American Instructor (1770) some of these vessels represent a standardized amount(1):

While this focused on measures for wine and beer, the second Note (printed above the Beer Measure) is important for the cider researcher. It says that wine measurements were used for ALL liquids except beer and ale. Which suggests that a tierce of cider was 42 gallons, a hogshead was 63 gallons, and a pipe was 126 gallons.

Of course this implies a consistency that never was. Even if the words remain the same, weights and measures change with the time, place, and contents. For example, in Pennsylvania (the only state I looked up so far) there’s an 1823 state law establishing a hogshead of cider as 110 gallons.(2) However, in Carlisle, PA in 1832 hogsheads of whiskey were said to contain 75 gallons.(3) It seems the American Instructor’s liquid measure table is merely a suggestion.

The page raises other questions: If cider is treated as wine, does that mean there is no set measurement for a barrel of cider, like there is for a barrel of beer? Are casks, kegs, and cags really only generic descriptions for storage vessels? Which “gallon” was The Instructor using? And why couldn’t they have just written everything down for us?

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1. An 1811 British edition includes the same information.

2. Acts of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg, PA: William Greer, 1823), 10.

3. George Duffield. An Address Delivered In the Presbyterian Church, Before the Young Men’s Temperance Society of Carlisle [Pa.].  (Carlisle, PA: George Fleming, 1832), 8.

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