Homebrewing's Fine, but Here's How to Start Home Cidering

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Before University of Minnesota fruit-breeding specialist James Luby identified the apples in front of my family's barn as Lodi apples a few weeks ago, my wife and I harvested several bucketsful of them, rented a crusher and press and set about making our first batch of cider.

The result was a sweet, aromatic concoction that was enjoyable chilled or warmed and filled our refrigerator in gallon jugs for weeks. We opted against fermenting it this year, but seeing the recent success and escalating cost of hard cider, I'm starting to wish we had.

For beer lovers, this is a season filled with big steins of Marzen, trellises filled with fresh hops, ales teeming with pumpkin and harvest brews spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. It's a somewhat similar situation for cider fans, who are in the middle of the apple harvest and seeing Boston Beer add cinnamon to the Cinnful Apple variety of its Angry Orchard cider while Oregon cidermaker Wandering Aengus blends fresh hops into its Anthem Hop Cider.

As much as the current grape harvest makes this a busy time for winemakers and the changing weather makes it a lovely -- if somewhat slow -- time for brewing beer, this is also when North America's home cider makers get pressing. As cider's popularity takes off, home cidering's lure only increases.

Hard cider accounts for less than 1% of the total U.S. beer market, according to market research firm Symphony IRI. Cider sales in chain and convenience stores brought in $450 million in 2011 and jumped 84.5% last year, though. That outpaces the 1.5% growth of the overall beer market, the 5.6% growth of wine and even the 17% growth of craft beer during the same span.

According to market research firm Nomura Research, however, cider's growth is fueled by an audience that craft beer and the beer industry in general have had a tough time drawing. Roughly half of cider's drinkers are women, who make up only about 20% of all beer buyers and drinkers. Not only that, but cider's fans also tend to be more well-off than their beer-swilling counterparts. Cider also sells for an average of $35 a case, well above the $29 a case paid for imported beers and the $33 brought in by craft beer.