Tag Archives: Laws

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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Not a Matter of Being Gluten Free

A few weeks ago I took a couple of bottles of cyder to my fencing club for the post-fencing pizza party crowd to try. One was the 2013-14 Solebury, Sugar, Raisins, and cider yeast (based on Smith’s 1728 receipt) and the other was the 2014-15 honey wheat cyser (from John Nott’s 1723 receipt).

Everyone (well, almost everyone) had nothing but nice things to say about both. But the honey wheat was the bigger hit, as judged by the flattering language used to describe it. Modesty (and a poor memory) forbids repeating them here.

Thus the honey wheat cyser continues to be a fan-favorite among family, friends, and strangers. Based on these unscientific surveys, it’s a good contender for Blackledge Winery to produce.

But alas, no. It can never be made for sale.[1] It contains wheat and according to Federal regulation Title 27 – §24.200 General it is illegal to have grain, cereal, malt, or molasses in a bonded winery space, much less in the wine (or cyder).

No idea why this is the case. Attempts to gain clarity from various government agents have so far proven futile. Needless to say, it can never be, no matter how tasty it is.



  1. Same goes for the Penn cider (based on a 17th-century receipt from Gulielma, William Penn’s first wife), which also uses wheat. And yes, we could make the honey wheat cyser without the wheat, but then it’s just cyser. Though a wheatless Penn is a possibility.

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New Cider Laws (Maybe)

Currently there are two revisions, one Federal and one state, under consideration which would change the definition of hard cider (as well as the tax rate and required maker’s license) and hopefully make it easier to produce cider.

IRS SealAt the Federal level there’s H.R. 600: CIDER Act. While it seems to continue to refer to cider as a wine, it expands the definition of what hard cider is. Perhaps the most important change redefines cider as anything from 1% to 8.5% ABV. For comparison you can read the complete current law here.

Pennsylvania, my home state, introduced House Bill 483, which also expands the ABV range. Pennsylvania’s proposed ABV cap is 14%, but still allows cider to be taxed at the lower beer rate (I think. These things aren’t as clear one could wish).

Both pieces of legislation need to be vetted and voted on. Stay tuned.

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How Many Apples Does It Take To Make a Bottle of Hard Cider?

According to Angry Orchard’s new commercial (you can find it here) there are two apples in every bottle of their cider. Two whole apples.

I’m assuming they mean what amounts to the juice from two apples, since we usually associate a volume of juice with so many bushels of apples and not so many individual apples. Why they feel the need to say this remains unclear, though I would hazard a guess that it makes their product seem more wholesome. I dunno. But the commercial raises an interesting question: how many apples does it take to make hard cider? Or, more precisely, how much apple juice is in a bottle of hard cider?

Let's consult the oracle... the internet that is.

Let’s ask the oracle… the internet that is.

There is a legal definition which lays out the minimum amount required. According to Federal law hard cider only needs to consist of 50% apple juice or the equivalent of reconstituted juice concentrate.[1] The rest can be water, preservatives, adjuncts (flavorings), or whatever else that’s deemed edible.

You probably don’t know any of this because legally no one has to tell you. Federal labeling laws for beer and hard cider (defined as any alcoholic beverage with an ABV of 7% or less) and wine (an ABV between 7% and 24%) don’t require the exact ingredients to be listed, much less their proportions.[2] Labels also don’t have to include which yeasts or fining agents were used. The latter can be a problem for consumers since some finings can cause allergic reactions or are contrary to one’s lifestyle (for example isinglass and gelatin are both derived from animals and are vegan-unfriendly).

The label does have to say whether something has sulfites or certain coloring agents, but that’s about it. The rest of the mandatory label info is essentially concerned with who and what to tax.

Since there’s no law compelling them and no profitable reason to do so, cider companies tend to not reveal their recipes.

So how much apple juice is actually in every hard cider you drink? The world may never know (but it’s safe to say at least 50% will be).[3]


1. Title 27 → Chapter I → Subchapter A → Part 24 →, Subpart B—Definitions → §24.10 Meaning of terms → Hard Cider

2. Labeling laws are overseen by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, Department of the Treasury (did you think it was the FDA?). You can find the links to the relevant laws here:

For wine see Title 27 → Chapter I → Subchapter A → Part 4 → Subpart D—Labeling Requirements for Wine → §4.32 Mandatory label information.

For malt beverage see Title 27 → Chapter I → Subchapter A → Part 7 → Subpart C—Labeling Requirements for Malt Beverages → §7.22 Mandatory label information.

3.Unless you go to Great Britain, where it’s a minimum of 35%.

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