Tag Archives: Did Prohibition Prohibit Cider?

Online Prohibition Talk for Cider School

This Thursday, May 7th at 6 pm I’m presenting “Did Prohibition Prohibit Cider?” for Cider Culture‘s Cider School. It’s a free Zoom meeting. You can find the login at the event’s Facebook page.

Hope you can make. Drinks are optional, but strongly encouraged.

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Upcoming Presentation & Tasting at Lemon Hill for Philly Cider Week


On November 3rd I’ll be presenting “Did Prohibition Prohibit Cider?” for Philly Cider Week at Lemon Hill Mansion in Fairmount Park. Along with the talk, Dressler Estate will be offering tastings of their ciders.

Hope you can make it to get answers to all your cider and Prohibition questions (and you should question everything) and sample some wonderful ciders!

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Did Temperance Cut Down Orchards?

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


In 1834 a “traveller” from the Earth to the moon

one day came across a [moon] man busily employed in cutting down a fine orchard of apple-trees, and was inclined to consider him mad, until on inquiring he found him only a zealous member of a temperance society.

Like the “traveller,” when we hear stories of Temperance supporters destroying orchards we also think they were mad. And we hear them a lot. Such stories are common today, having become part of the lore of American cider.

Lore or not, orchards were certainly concerning to Temperancers. If cider was the cause of alcohol abuse, orchards were the cause of cider. One Temperance writer believed that, “an old orchard and distillery, are almost invariably indices of widows, orphans, poverty, and drunkenness.”(1) Another said,  “I thought of those total abstinence men, who were so zealous in the cause of temperance, they cut down their orchards, that they might be a stumbling block to their [imbibing] neighbors. (2)”

Statements like these make it easy for us to believe proponents of Temperance wantonly destroyed orchards in their pursuit of a teetotaling America.(3) Since the late 1800s these stories have been offered as easy explanations of what happened to cider and cider apples in America.

Straightforward though they are, these explanations are challenging to believe. A closer look reveals that things were not that simple and that later generations misunderstood who was uprooting cider orchards.

For example, despite the stories, it’s hard to find evidence of Temperance zealots chopping down someone else’s orchard. Such vandalism has always been illegal and anyone who did so would be liable to prosecution. In looking through early American newspapers, the only account of an orchard being chopped down in the night found so far is this:

cutting orchards press (philadelphia, pennsylvania), january 14, 1867, 6

This appears to be more vendetta than anti-vice. The Press (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), January 14, 1867, 6.

Though it’s difficult to find orchards being destroyed by others, it’s much easier to find stories of people talking about it. They seem to begin just as Temperance was moving towards total abstinence. But, instead of Temperance raiding parties, it seems farmers were themselves the ones getting rid of their orchards. As early as 1827 the anonymous “farmer” wrote in “What Shall I Do With My Apples?” that

If no other market can be found for our cider, but at the still, let it be a matter of conscientious inquiry with every farmer, whether it is right for him to make more cider than he wants for reasonable use in his own family. If not let him select those trees which yield him choice fruit, and so many that he may calculate in ordinary years to have a good supply of apples and cider, and then consign the rest of his trees to the wood house, and the land they occupy to a more profitable crop. I would not have a scarcity of the native and natural beverage of our country. But for all the trees which yield liquor for the still, I say, and every friend of humanity says, and let every thrifty farmer say BURN THEM.

Two years later a Connecticut farmer was reported to have actually had (and ridiculed for having) his orchards cut down for fear his apples should be turned into apple brandy.

temperance weekly eastern argus, published as eastern argus. (portland, maine) • 07-14-1829 • page [3]

Evening Eastern Argus (Portland, Maine), July 14, 1829, 3.

As news of this spread, so did the comments on how absurd it was to sacrifice an orchard to prevent cider.

temperance republican star, published as republican star and general advertiser (easton, maryland) • 07-21-1829 • page [3]

Republican Star and General Advertiser (Easton, Maryland), July 21, 1829, 3.

Stories of farmers axing their own trees were repeated throughout the nineteenth century. For example, in 1862, Henry David Thoreau, “heard of an orchard in a distant town, on the side of a hill, where the apples rolled down and lay four feet deep against a wall on the lower side, and this the owner cut down for fear they should be made into cider.” As the century progressed, the story changed in the retelling. People left out that it was farmers who were destroying their own orchards. In 1897 Alice Morse Earle, an historian of early American domestic life, wrote that

The whole apple crop was so devoted to the manufacture of cider that in the days of temperance reform, at the beginning of this century, temperance zealots cut down whole orchards of full-bearing trees, not conceiving any adequate use of the fruit for any purpose save cider-making.

It’s interesting to note that most reports of orchards being ripped out by Temperance farmers are written by those who often “heard” that it happened. Or, as in the case of the anonymous farmer who wrote “What Shall I Do With My Apples?”, it may have been a Temperance writer posing as a farmer. There is evidence suggesting that many stories may have been exaggerated or invented. It certainly was not a requirement. As one Temperance writer noted that he supposed some farmers may have pulled out their orchards in support of the cause, “such an act of destruction was found not to be demanded.”(4)

At the same time as some farmers may or may not have been ripping out their orchards, others did nothing at all. For example, the Report of the Commissioner of Patents for the Year 1852 noted that, “Some years ago, orchards were suffered, and even encouraged, to run down, from a strange philanthropy, lest the juice of the apple would somehow find its way into alcohol.”

Still, some saw a more measured approach. One author lamented that

We are not of those who approve of that zeal which a few years ago demolished some of the finest apple orchards in the interior. It is our opinion that the zeal which destroyed the apple orchards is not a zeal according to knowledge. And we much regret the little attention that has been paid to the cultivation of apple orchards throughout the whole interior of New England.(5)

Another Temperance writer didn’t see the need to abandon apples all together, asking

What shall be done with the fruit, especially the apple, so abundantly bestowed upon us? Shall it be destroyed beyond its domestic use? Or shall it be left to perish on the ground?…Some felt that they were called, in the providence of God, at once to root out their superabundant orchards, and devote the soil to grass and grain, for the support of man and beast. And there is good reason to suppose that in the great cider districts of the country, man’s appetite for this corrosive beverage had led many to err in this wide appropriation of beautiful fields.(6)

Finally, another proclaimed, “It is high time that the valuable fruit of the orchard was put to some better purpose than making men drunkards.”(7)

So what were those better purposes?

One suggestions was to use apples as an inexpensive fodder for animals. It was noted that apples were, “valuable for feeding stock” including, “horses, sheep, and cows; also for hogs…”(8) Not only were apples a cheap source of fodder, it was suggested they were a better long-term investment since apple-fed hogs, made twice the money cider would. (One farmer reported making a $600 return using the same amount of apples he got only $300 with for cider.(9) Another benefit was cider apples used as fodder required almost no change in the orchard, since “both sour and sweet apples as food for hogs, cattle and horses, may be well used to almost any extent: they are much more valuable to be thus used than to be made into cider…”(10)

Apples could be fodder, but it dawned on many that they could be food too.

The farmers throughout the country have not, as has been said, “in their fanatical zeal cut down their orchards; on the contrary they have been increasing them, not however, as I trust, to furnish cider to be drank, but to furnish fruit to be eaten, which recent experience has shown to be most nutricious [sic]…”(11)

As Americans increased their orchards, they began to adopt the idea that, “”…the principle use that we would make at present of apples in the country would be for every day fruit to be used in families.(12)

temperance new hampshire sentinel, published as new-hampshire sentinel. (keene, new hampshire) • 03-24-1836 • page [3]

Some orchards were not destroyed, but planted, “fully competent to temperance.”  New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire), March 24, 1836, 3.

Apples as food was not entirely new to Americans. That eating apples could be the primary use was. But, it was suggested, even if Americans weren’t ready to consume them, they would make an excellent export, as, “People of the tropics love apples. Great for cooking and baking. Vinegar.” (13)

Apart from the moral arguments, Temperance writers also made economic arguments in support of transitioning orchards away from cider apples. One writer made the dubiously positive claim that, “engrafting and budding will change the character of an orchard, and more than compensate for the time and amount lost, producing the change – in ten years”(14)

In selling the idea that apples were for eating and not drinking, Temperance had found an answer to the orchard problem. They shared it with everyone, saying, “mirabile dictu! Grapes and apples were made for food. Laugh not, gentle reader, at this grave annunciation. It is really the great discovery of the nineteenth century…”(15).  And that “great discovery” encouraged farmers to plant, “A neat orchard of well selected fruit, for domestic use, cookery, and barn feed, is an invaluable part of a farm,” since “for any thing else, it is a nuisance.”(16)


Another great discovery under an apple tree. Source


Next Time: What was the “Cider Question” and why was it so contentious?


1. Journal of the American Temperance Union I, no. 3 (March 1837), 41.

2. The Extra Globe 4, no. 5 (April 26, 1838), 71.

3. In some stories, Prohibitionists also cut down orchards. For examples, see the following sites: http://www.farmdistiller.org/northwest-apples; /https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/02/15/hard-cider-comeback/5488087 ; https://www.threeriversparks.org/index.php/blog/hard-cider-story-war-immigration-and-prohibition; https://grow.cals.wisc.edu/departments/features/craft-ciders-comeback; http://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/nine-apple-cider-traditions-no-longer-us/ .

4. “Second Annual Report for 1838,” Permanent Temperance Documents (New York: American Temperance Union, 1838), 48.

5. Farmer’s Monthly Visitor III, no. 5 (May 31, 1841), 68.

6. “Second Annual Report for 1838,” Permanent Temperance Documents (New York: American Temperance Union, 1838), 48.

7. Journal of the American Temperance Union I, no. 9 (September 1837), 138.

8. Journal of the American Temperance Union I, no. 3 (March 1837), 41.

9. Journal of the American Temperance Union I, no. 10 (October 1837), 151.

10. Farmer’s Monthly Visitor III, no. 5 (May 31, 1841), 68.

11. Journal of the American Temperance Union V, No. 8 (August 1840), 115.

12. Farmer’s Monthly Visitor III, no. 5 (May 31, 1841), 68.

13. Farmer’s Monthly Visitor III, no. 5 (May 31, 1841), 68.

14. Journal of the American Temperance Union I, no. 3 (March 1837), 41.

15. Mirable Dictu! translates as “wonderful to relate!” Journal of the American Temperance Union V, no. 10 (October 1840), 154.

16. Journal of the American Temperance Union I, no. 9 (September 1837), 138.

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Intemperate Temperance Cuts Down Cider

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


Though Temperance originally advocated moderation, after the 1830s it fought for total abstinence (from alcohol consumption, that is). As Temperance changed, cider went from being a temperance drink, to a contributing cause, and finally to being the cause of alcohol abuse in America.

Temperance grew more potent because Americans at the beginning of the nineteenth century were a drunken, hot mess. Prior to the Revolutionary War Americans generally drank in a couple of ways – daily dram drinking (small tipples throughout the day, not with the intention to get drunk) and occasional social binging (essentially inebriation parties). The Revolution unleashed a degree of freedom completely unknown before, and with it came excessive drinking. Some people were anxious and uncertain about this new-found freedom and sought refuge in alcohol, while others saw drinking to intoxication (whether alone or not) as an expression of personal liberty. Whether it was from anxiety or freedom, studies suggest that more alcohol was consumed per person between 1790 and 1830 then at any other time in American history. (1)

As we saw last time, Cider was originally tolerated as a Temperance drink. Temperance advocates focused on hard liquor instead. Up through the 1820s if Temperancers viewed cider as a problem it was because it could be distilled into apple brandy. Some Temperance-supporting farmers worried that their apple orchards were the root of this evil. (2) For example, one “farmer” entitled his 1827 op-ed, “What Shall I Do With My Apples?” and continued

Is the question now rising in the mind of many a farmer, who is, or would appear, the friend of temperance. If he gathers his apples, of course he must make them into cider; and if he makes them into cider, of course he must sell it; and if he is to sell it, of course he must sell it to the distiller, or procure it distilled and then sell the brandy; and if the brandy is sold, it must be drank; and in this way every barrel will make and circulate liquid fire enough to ruin a soul, if not to destroy a life.

In 1829, a Connecticut farmer was quoted as saying he worried about having an orchard, “because the apples may be ground into cider, the cider may be distilled into spirituous liquor, and liquor, if drunken, will make a man drunk.” (3)

In the 1820s, Temperance organizations were established and spread across the nation. By the 1830s, these organizations hardened their view of softer alcoholic drinks. In 1869 one Temperance supporter explained this change, saying

In the infancy of the temperance reform, say from 1826 to 1832, a pledge, including spirituous or distilled liquors, was the only pledge in force, so that a man could be an active member of a temperance society and yet use and dispense in his household, wine, beer, or cider. A few years of experience convinced the earnest friends of temperance, that these drinks were constantly manufacturing new drunkards, and were also carrying back to their cups the most of those over whose reformation they had rejoiced. Hence the adoption of the total abstinence pledge, embracing the fermented as well as the distilled liquors.

sons of temperance detail

Artistic rendering of a Temperance pledge. Detail from the Sons of Temperance, c. 1845. Wikimedia.

From then on the Temperance view was that cider, not apple brandy, made drunkards. In 1836 the American Temperance Society said that, “Cider, strong beer, and wine are… the foundation of intemperate drinking.” Physician Samuel Bayard Woodward wrote in 1838 that, “Even cider, although in many instances it may be taken without danger, will induce, in many others, a love of something stronger, and, as the natural tendency is to desire an increase of strength, it will increase the danger of a relapse.” In 1839 the American Temperance Union wrote that, “Wine and cider are great and mighty hindrances to the overthrow of intemperance.”

The 1838 Temperance Map illustrated these views.

The map shows the Lands of Inebriation and Self-Denial. The map is an allegory of one’s descent into drunkenness and the (one and only?) route to salvation. The Ocean of Animal Appetites leads you to Inebriation. Inebriation consists of the territories of Indulgence, False Security, False Pleasure, False Comfort, False Hope, Total Indifference, and Ruin. The entry into the “Land of Inebriation” – a horrible place full of nasty pleasures and self-inflicted pains – was “Cider Inlet.”

Cider Inlet

Detail from upper left of the map.

From the 1830s onward, cider was portrayed as the “gateway” drink to harder stuff. During that time, Temperance worked to prevent alcohol addiction by working to prevent cider consumption.

Next Time: Did intemperate Temperance cut down orchards?


1. See W.J. Rorabaugh, The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), Chapters 2 and 5.

2. It is often difficult to tell if a temperance article was authored by a farmer or by a Temperancer posing as a farmer to use “peer” pressure.

3. Weekly Eastern Argus, published as Eastern Argus. (Portland, Maine) • 07-14-1829, Page 3.


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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?”


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.

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.


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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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?”


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


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.


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.


  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?”


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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