Washington State law and LCB regulations refer to “cider” from time to time. But, cider is a form of wine. So, where are the lines drawn? When is a product wine and when is it “cider” under Washington State law?
If you’re familiar with alcoholic beverage laws and regulations, then it’s no surprise that beverage definitions at the state level are not often in harmony with ones at the federal level. Moreover, wine laws vary from state to state. Washington State, though, is ahead of the curve in recognizing “cider” as a distinct product category and creating rights and regulations specific to this craft beverage. These advantages are no doubt thanks to tireless work from the Northwest Cider Association, and producers throughout this region. It helps, too, that Washington has the best apples around. But, that gets to our question today. Must a product be made only from apples to be considered cider in under Washington law? More on that in a second.
In any event, for onlookers—or producers themselves—it can be confusing reading “wine” referred to generally in one legislative breath, while “cider” is called out separately in another Washington beverage reg or law. Isn’t cider wine?
Here’s what’s important to know. Yes, all cider is wine. Therefore, only licensed Washington Domestic Wineries may produce cider. But, to take advantage of the specific market inroads created for cider, the product must actually be cider—at least according to Washington state law.
Here’s how Washington law defines cider. Set forth in RCW 66.24.210(6), “‘cider’ means table wine that contains not less than one-half of one percent of alcohol by volume and not more than seven percent of alcohol by volume and is made from the normal alcoholic fermentation of the juice of sound, ripe apples or pears. ‘Cider’ includes, but is not limited to, flavored, sparkling, or carbonated cider and cider made from condensed apple or pear must.”
Therefore, for a Washington brewery (under the base microbrewery license) to be able to now sell “cider” on tap and offer it to consumers for carryout, the product must fit under this legal cider definition.
Before I go, one last note, as a further nod toward Washington State as a leading source of cider laws and regulations. In proposed rule making, the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (“TTB”) heard from ten commenters who suggested that TTB define cider the same way Washington state does above. Specifically, the commenters wanted TTB’s definition to broadly account for a degree of carbonation. TTB took a somewhat different tact, which we’ll cover in other posts. But, for now, keep in mind that what is “cider” in Washington” is not per se “cider” for the purposes of federal labeling or taxation. When a Washington State law permits the sale of cider, in Washington the reference is to cider as defined above.