The state House on Tuesday passed legislation that cider makers hope could raise the profile of Pennsylvania apple orchards and one of their most popular byproducts: hard cider.
The bill, which was approved by the House on a 194-0 vote, would amend the state's liquor code to define alcoholic cider as a beverage made only through fermentation of apples or pears. The current definition permits cider products to be made with any fruit or fruit juice.
The bill is now heading to the state Senate.
Members of the Pennsylvania Cider Guild, a trade organization for the state's budding list of hard-cider producers, described the amendment as a top legislative priority for the past few years. The change would put Pennsylvania's law in line with global industry standards for hard cider.
"The effects, while not immediate, are extraordinary for our industry," said Ben Wenk of Three Springs Fruit Farm in Adams County, the maker of Ploughman Farm Cider. "It's instrumental in educating the public about cider, how it's made and what makes it different from wine and beer. It will hopefully lead to cider being shelved with similar beverages, rather than with alternative malt beverages by default."
Most importantly, he said, the legislation could be a building block for more cider-specific legislation moving forward.
The commonwealth now has nearly 50 cideries, one of the fastest-growing craft beverage categories in the state. But cideries often are overlooked in the craft alcohol industry because they operate under winery or brewery licenses in Pennsylvania.
The guild, of which Wenk is a member, has said it would like to see a separate licensing category for cideries in Pennsylvania.
"If we could find something that would benefit all cideries in Pennsylvania such that they didn't have to choose winery or brewery licenses, I think we'd want to pursue that," he said.
Wenk also said the new amendment, known as House Bill 131, would be a big win for apple growers in Pennsylvania.
An estimated 70 percent of Pennsylvania's apple production comes out of Adams County. Pennsylvania is sixth nationally for cider production and the nation's fourth-largest apple producing state.