What is “DRY”?

American Cider Association Board endorses dryness language

We are encouraging transparency and communication from cidermakers to build fidelity with consumers—don’t betray the consumer with marketing. Discussing flavor, ingredients, and sweetness honestly is how we help a drinker find the cider they will like before they open the bottle or can. Using poignant descriptive language on cans and bottles will reduce palate mismatches. Tell the drinker what your cider will taste like.

In doing so, it is important that our industry work toward a language that is (a) accurate (b) illustrative (c) unified.

The following organizations have embraced shared terms for communicating dryness: American Cider Association, BJCP, GLINTCAP, and NYCA. The four categories of sweetness are:

  1. Dry
  2. Semi-Dry
  3. Semi-Sweet
  4. Sweet

American Cider Association encourages our members to embrace the same terminology for the sake of consistency and educating the consumer.

Perceived vs. absolute dryness

The differences between mechanisms for measuring dryness chiefly come down to an actual measure of sugar vs. perceived dryness. A scientific dialogue on the precise impact of tannins and acids on perceived dryness is underway. The New York Cider Association has been working with Cornell to develop a perceived dryness scale that integrates the impact of tannins and acid (see their CiderCon presentation here). The team at GLINTCAP has started considering these impacts as well. We think this dialogue is healthy and we are closely watching it.

On the other hand, many cidermakers have taken the path of simply reporting brix or residual sugar. Measuring residual sugar is something easily done by most cideries in the comfort of their own production facility. Is it true that a dry fruity cider will taste sweeter than the residual sugar level suggests? Is it true that a high-acid cider will taste drier than the residual sugar level suggests? Yes, and yes. But the same things may be said about brix for wine or IBUs for beer. Perfect solutions are hard to find.

In speaking with cider makers, however, we know that figuring out how to communicate perceived dryness is important to many. Residual sugar alone does not tell consumers how tart or astringent a cider will taste. It does not reflect the consumer’s experience based on acids or tannins.

What can we do as an industry right now to help consumers find a cider they like?

The industry is testing definitions of these terms on its own. Consumers will tell us the answer if we listen carefully.

The current levels used by GLINTCAP to delineate dryness are:

  • Dry — Below 0.9% RS (Below 1.0 Brix)
  • Semi-Dry — 0.9%-1.8% RS (1.0-1.8 Brix)
  • Semi-Sweet — 1.8-4.5% RS (1.8-4.3 Brix)
  • Sweet — Above 4.5% RS (Above 4.3 Brix)

Another scale used in the industry with the goal of being “consumer-friendly” is:

  • Dry — ≤1% RS
  • Semi-Dry — 1.1-2.0% RS
  • Semi-Sweet — 2.1-3.0% RS
  • Sweet — >3.0% RS

These scales don’t consider acid or tannin levels. Anyone can adopt them today with little special equipment or measures. However, scientists and cidermakers are trying to determine the precise impact of tannins and acids on perceived dryness. What can we do as an industry right now to help consumers find a cider they like? To start, embrace the terms semi-dry and semi-sweet. It hurts the whole industry when we confuse the consumer about what a dry cider truly is.

As this blog is being written, precisely where these categories land on the residual sugar scale and the known impact of tannins and acid are still up for discussion. We will keep our members updated on developments in this industry-wide conversation. We are also discussing dryness scale developments with our colleagues overseas. This issue is something on everyone’s mind right now.

In the meantime, dryness: measure it, illustrate it, discuss it, and be honest. That’s what we’re saying.