Editorial: Cider rules need revision
Sep 14, 2013
In The News
“Everything old is new again” is a familiar saying that often proves true. What is also true is that sometimes when the old becomes new again, adjustments need to be made to accommodate the times. Such is the case as apple growers respond to a resurgence in public demand for hard cider. The food and beverage industry is much more regulated than it was in the pre-Prohibition days when hard cider was common throughout the region. The regulations need to be changed to allow this new old beverage to fulfill its marketing promise.
Currently, federal law sets a tax of 23 cents per gallon on hard cider. However, if its alcohol content goes over 7 percent, that tax goes up to $1.07 per gallon because it falls into the same class as wine. And if the cider is bubbly, with carbon dioxide levels of more than 39 percent, it is considered the same as champagne and taxed at $3.30 per gallon.
The classifications make it difficult for producers, especially those who would like to experiment with different types of apples, since the variety of apple used affects the alcohol content. It also makes it difficult to add other fruits such as pears to the mix. The tax structure is unwieldy and expensive, limiting the expansion of an industry that holds great promise in our region, where the climate and soils make ideal apple growing conditions.
To correct this taxing problem, Rep. Chris Collins has cosponsored the CIDER Act, HR2921. CIDER stands for Cider Industry Deserves Equal Regulation. Rep. Collins is co-sponsoring it with Rep. Earl Blumenauer. Similar legislation has been proposed by Sen. Chuck Schumer, who refers to his version of the legislation as the Cider, Investment & Development through Excise Tax Reduction Act. The Collins/Blumenauer bill would change the federal tax law’s outdated definition of hard cider. It would increase the carbonation level and alcohol content allowed in hard cider and allow pears to be used in hard cider production.
Hard cider has begun to enjoy a resurgence in popularity in recent years, parallel with increasing popularity of craft beers. The trend is new, but it harkens back to a strong tradition historically. Colonists began producing cider in the 1700s, and by the 1860s, Western New York had many commercial orchards. Many farmers made sure they had a barrel or two of hard cider to get them through the harsh winters of this region. In the 1880s, however, cider declined in popularity as beer and wine began to be produced commercially. And cider production took a last big hit in 1919 with Prohibition. The industry is just now starting to rally as consumers rediscover the many tastes and varieties of cider. Fixing the taxing structure would be a boon to those who have ventured into this new market.
Western New York has 3,478 acres of apple orchards, and apples are a big crop for Orleans County, in particular.
“The hard cider industry is poised for major growth and, unless the federal tax code is reasonably adjusted, our producers and farmers are going to miss out on this economic opportunity,” Rep. Collins said in a news release. “If these simple changes to the tax code are made, not only will the American cider industry expand and become more competitive and profitable, but our local apple growers will see a major demand for their product.”
Cider production is growing by 20 percent annually, the Congressman said. Greater leeway in what is considered cider will allow producers to expand and take advantage of this trend. It makes sense to straighten out the tax codes so this industry can grow to meet soaring consumer demand.