Cider, the delicious gold nectar made from fermenting apples, lives a complicated life. Wineries and breweries have long made their own expressions and the small community of cideries has been trying to perfect it. But in the eyes of the law, Cider doesn’t quite fit into either the beer or the wine category. In fact, the TTB and the state of Georgia differ on what hard cider truly is and what licenses are required. In a way, Cider, as opposed to being beer OR wine, is beer AND wine. So, what does that mean a brewery is to do about licensing and legal compliance?
Starting from the top, the TTB considers cider a wine. Wine, as defined by federal law, is any alcoholic beverage produced from fermenting the “juice or must of sound, ripe fruit.” Cider, a fermented apple juice, fits neatly into that category. Therefore, to be federally licensed to make cider, the producer needs to have a Federal Bonded Winery Permit (FBW). Just like distilling permits, brewers can apply to alternate their brewery with an FBW if they choose to begin cider-making. This permit would apply to any type of fermented juice alcohol that is not distilled into spirits, including traditional grape wine, perry (pear cider), or mead (honey wine).
Hard cider also comes with distinct federal labeling requirements and tax brackets, dependent on the alcohol by volume (ABV). For labeling, the magic number is 7% ABV. If the cider contains less than that amount, then there are FDA requirements to meet, but with less TTB requirements. Anything above 7% ABV will have TTB requirements, but no FDA. So, a brewery intending to sell 5% ciders into other states will need FDA requirements met before the sale happens, but won’t have to apply for a Certificate of Label Approval (COLA). Something to remember, though, is that all beverages with .5% or more ABV are required to put certain information on the label by the TTB.
For taxation, the magic number is 8.5% ABV. A cider with LESS than 8.5% is eligible for a tax break. Because money is involved, things get more technical. Firstly, Carbonation levels in qualifying product must be no more than .64g/100mL. Other ingredients in the cider, like fruits flavorings and non-apple (or pear) juices, can disqualify the producer as well. Non-fruit flavors, on the other hand, are allowed to be in cider. Also, it should be noted that using pear juice for perry will not disqualify the product. If the product meets these restrictions, the producer could be eligible for a tax break of $.844/gal., dropping the tax from $1.07/gal. to $.226/gal. As an example, a barrel-aged apple cider weighing in at 7.9% will be allowed the tax break, but if it crosses 8.5% then the cider is disqualified from the tax break. Likewise, 4.3% perry would qualify, but 4.3% perry with lemon and lime would be disqualified because of the added fruit.
Distinct from the TTB, the state of Georgia considers cider a wine, on some occasions, and a beer, on others. The difference hinges on what ABV the cider is being produced at, either above or below 6%. When cider is above 6% ABV, then that cider is a wine in the state of Georgia and must be produced by a licensed farm winery. However, breweries can make cider in Georgia under the 6% limit because ciders under 6% are considered malt beverages, covered by the brewery license. There are no additional licenses needed to make the <6% cider on the state level in Georgia. As such brewers with FBW and state brewery licensing can begin making cider immediately. Unfortunately, unlike the FBW, the brewery license does not apply to non-apple ciders, like perry, because “Hard Cider” is defined as an alcoholic drink produced from the fermentation of apples specifically. Therefore, any non-apple fermented beverage would still be considered wine regardless of ABV.
In review, cider is a complicated item under the law. The differing treatment on the state and federal levels requires different things from breweries who want to make cider as well. But with these licenses, it is possible to find tremendous success with less than 6% ABV apple hard ciders in Georgia.