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Hard cider is booming across the country as more consumers turn to fermented beverages made from apples and pears. But as the drinks become more popular and producers rush to fill the market, entrepreneurs are finding that a lack of educational opportunities hampers their ability to make the most of their raw materials.

Researchers from Cornell AgriTech are helping producers in New York state and around the country fill that gap.

The hard cider market in the U.S. has expanded more than 10 times in size over the past decade, with sales surpassing $1.3 billion in 2017. Chris Gerling, extension associate at Cornell AgriTech, is partnering with the Cider Institute of North America (CINA) to create a quality-driven and sustainable cider industry through education and research.

CINA is working with universities and training institutions such as Cornell, Oregon State University, Washington State University and Brock University to develop research and instruction to benefit the hard cider industry.

The Cider and Perry Production: Science & Practice course, most recently held at Cornell AgriTech Dec. 3-7, is an integral part of the curriculum, said Peter Mitchell, an internationally renowned expert from the Cider and Perry Academy of the United Kingdom, who taught the course with Gerling.

“There are schools you go to for winemaking and brewing, but there aren’t a lot of resources out there for a hard cider maker who wants to be at the top of their field,” said Mitchell. “As the cider industry explodes across the U.S. we want to make sure we have enough experts out there who can make really good cider. Courses like this at Cornell AgriTech are building CINA’s curriculum and will help the cider category grow in the U.S. by elevating product quality.”

The production course at Cornell AgriTech offered technical assistance on microbiological and chemical strategies to create consumer-friendly products. Cornell experts gave guidance on selection, application and management of production processes and technologies, to help producers improve quality through detailed sensory evaluation and quality control methods.

“Most cider apples are coming off of trees with Cornell rootstock, so having the opportunity to take a course on hard cider at Cornell AgriTech is really valuable, as experts here are working on every level of cider production from the ground to glass,” said Will Lochland, of Riverhead Ciderhouse in Calverton, New York.

The course had 21 participants from New York, California, Virginia, Michigan, Connecticut, Tennessee, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Canada.

“There aren’t too many classes like this where cider producers can come listen to experts on the intricacies and proper way to make really good cider,” said Eric McCrory of Angry Orchard Cider Company. “From the microbiological standpoint, it’s amazing to hear these experts talk in-depth about proper production methods.”

“Like other fermented beverage products, hard cider can be a quality, nuanced product that can speak to consumers in a really special way,” said Gerling. “With the right knowledge, the hard cider industry is poised to continue evolving and expanding. We are recognizing this potential by offering expertise at Cornell AgriTech and supporting CINA’s mission.”

“A lot of cider producers are taking this course for growth reasons. They are ready and passionate about expanding beyond basic knowledge and making an ultra-premium product,” said Stephen Metcalf of Gypsy Circus Cider of Kingsport, Tennessee.

Mitchell said there were only a few major cider producers in New York when he first began teaching courses at Cornell AgriTech 15 years ago. 

“Over the years, the cider industry has exploded. New York is poised to be a leader in hard cider production, thanks to its burgeoning apple industry and hard cider experts at Cornell,” he said.

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