11 Ways Hard Cider Shaped American History

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Today is National Cider Day, so let’s celebrate the most authentically American drink, one that’s done everything from saving colonists’ lives to rescuing George Washington’s political career to swaying presidential elections.

1. Cider Apples Kept the Colonists Busy

When English colonists first arrived in North America, they enthusiastically embraced the wide range of wild fruits they found growing, from grapes to berries. Unlike back in England, however, edible apples were tough to find. The colonists quickly got to work on rectifying this situation, and as early as 1623 they were planting cider apples in New England from imported seeds. Apples flourished in the fertile soil and friendly climate, and soon apples were a key part of most colonial farms and menus.

2. Hard Cider Kept Early Americans Nourished and Healthy

These new orchards were so bountiful that most farmers ended up with a much larger crop of apples than they could actually eat. By fermenting these apples into hard cider, the colonists were able to create a tasty drink that would remain fresh and usable much longer than the raw fruits. Better yet, hard cider made a safe alternative to frequently suspect colonial drinking water supplies.

3. It Also Kept The Colonists Merry

These early settlers also enjoyed tossing back a well-earned drink or two, and for colonists, cider had several advantages over beer. The colonists had a hard time cultivating hops and barley, so anyone who wanted a mug of beer had to either import these raw ingredients from back home or have barrels of beer shipped across the Atlantic, a costly proposition. Meanwhile, apples had no such drawbacks, which cleared the way for hard cider to become the original American tipple.

4. Hard Cider Paid the Bills for Colonists

For colonists, hard cider was more than just a delicious drink and a safe, clean alternative to water. It was also a key component of the colonial economy since currency was often hard to come by in the colonies. There was plenty of hard cider to go around, though, so in the absence of money, hard cider became as good as cash. Colonists would pay their bills with barrels of hard cider and worked out barter arrangements centered on hard cider. Cider and applejack (hard cider that had been further fortified through freeze distillation) were supposedly even used to pay the construction crews that built some of the country’s first roads.

5. Hard Cider Kept Colonists’ Other Foods Safe

Although hard cider was terrific for preserving large apple harvests, it played a crucial role in colonists’ other dietary staples. Colonists discovered that by further fermenting hard cider, they could create apple cider vinegar, which became a crucial ingredient and colonial condiment. Most importantly, though, this vinegar created from hard cider allowed colonists to preserve vegetables through pickling, a godsend during long New England winters.

6. Hard Cider Was Served at the Battle of Concord

The Battle of Concord, one of the first showdowns in the Revolutionary War, was surely a harrowing engagement for both British troops and American revolutionaries. But that didn’t mean that either side had to skip its daily mug of hard cider. As the fighting fell into a lull, the sides dropped back into a standoff, and local “crazy man” Elias Brown saw a business opportunity. Brown strode through both sides’ lines selling hard cider.

7. Hard Cider Helped Launch George Washington’s Career

Compared to colonial elections, today’s political process is a somber, serious affair. Candidates often engaged in a practice called “swilling the planters with bumbo,” which basically entailed buying voters drinks to get them in a favorable frame of mind before they hit the polls. When a young George Washington ran for Virginia’s House of Burgesses in 1755, he didn’t shell out for drinks — and lost the election in a 271-to-40 landslide.

Undeterred, Washington ran again in 1758. And this time, the cider was flowing. Washington’s campaign served up 144 gallons of hard cider and other libations, and Washington cruised into office. Without hard cider, who knows whose face would be on the $1 bill?

8. Hard Cider Fueled John Adams

Washington’s vice president was an even more ardent hard cider enthusiast. Adams was strict about having an apple a day, and cider was his preferred way to get it. Before he settled in to work on running the country or helping gain independence, Adams kick-started each day by draining a tankard of hard cider — he once mused of this daily ritual, “It seems to do me good.” Adams became a cider devotee as a college student and later reminisced about his student days of throwing back cider: “I shall never forget, how refreshing and salubrious we found it, hard as it often was.”

9. Hard Cider Boosted Thomas Jefferson’s National Pride

Adams loved drinking cider, but his presidential successor took things to a different level. Thomas Jefferson was a proponent of cider and devoted a large portion of the South Orchard at Monticello to cultivating cider apples. For Jefferson, Americans’ superior apples were a point of pride for the New World. He called his Taliaferro cultivar “the best cyder apple existing” and dismissed European apples with “They have no apple to compare with our Newtown Pippin."

10. Benjamin Franklin Used Hard Cider in His One-Liners

While the other Founding Fathers used hard cider to get elected, stay healthy, or underscore what the new nation did well, Benjamin Franklin mostly enjoyed drinking cider and using it in his writings. Franklin wrote of seeing a Native American tribe hear a missionary tell the story of Adam and Eve, which prompted one member of the audience to remark, “It is indeed bad to eat apples. It is better to make them all into cider.”

Franklin was also a proponent of hard cider as a social drink. He memorably quipped in Poor Richard’s Almanack, “He that drinks his cider alone, let him also catch his horse alone.”

11. Hard Cider Got William Henry Harrison Elected

When William Henry Harrison ran for president as the Whig candidate in 1840, a Richmond newspaper editorial tried to dismiss the decorated general as ill-suited for office with the scathing remark "Give him a barrel of hard cider, and ... a pension of two thousand [dollars] a year ... and ... he will sit the remainder of his days in his log cabin."

Far from insulted, Harrison and his Whig supporters embraced the jab. They borrowed a page from George Washington’s playbook and started running on a “log cabin and hard cider” platform as a common man who understood voters better than his opponent, Martin Van Buren. Hard cider was the perfect symbol for a populist candidate like Harrison — it was something that Americans made better than anyone else in the world. Hard cider became a key ingredient in Harrison’s raucous campaign rallies, and Harrison sailed into office with 234 electoral votes to Van Buren’s 60. The lesson: Never underestimate hard cider’s power.

Happy National Cider Day! Did you know that Woodchuck has been hand crafting cider in Vermont since 1991? Well, you do now. Pick some up today and enjoy America’s Original Hard Cider. Click here to join our community on Facebook.