Random AsidesSkepticism

Bad Chart Thursday: Big Cider

Jug framed When I first saw the headline “The fastest-growing alcoholic beverage in the US isn’t a beer, wine, or spirit,” I immediately assumed the simplest, most obvious interpretation—that some kind of gigantic mystery drink, no doubt the result of a fermentation experiment gone horribly wrong (probably involving GMOs), was about to wreak havoc in the streets á la the Stay-Puft marshmallow man from Ghostbusters.

But no, the article’s subject is much more mundane, about the resurgence in popularity of hard cider (which incidentally could be paired quite nicely with an enormous roasted marshmallow man, but I digress).

This seems like just your typical seasonally inspired fluff news. Hard cider is the latest thing, experiencing rapid sales growth. Even the big beer companies are getting in on the action.

But all I can say to this is, well played, Big Cider. Well played. Maybe you and your shills can fool Heineken, but I am on to you.

I first became suspicious when I saw this almost indescribable chart in the article:

cider growth

I spent several minutes staring at that xy-axis. Why those bizarre random number choices? Why don’t the intervals match? Is 80 the only percentage, and if so, what are the other numbers measuring? Is this just a spectacularly bad chart, or is hard cider so powerful that it is changing the very meaning of numbers?

The bars make it look like hard cider is pretty much taking over the alcoholic beverage market. Of course, in the context of actual sales dollars, beer, wine, and spirits each probably bring in millions if not billions more dollars annually than hard cider.

To illustrate, let’s say I start a lemonade stand, and my first year, I make $30; my second year, I make $45; my third year, I make $75; and in my fourth year, I rake in $200 after extorting the kids running the competing neighborhood stand. In those same years, Country Time makes $20 million that first year, $20.5 million the second, $22 million the third, and only $21 million the fourth (no doubt due to competition from me).

Mellonade growth

My hypothetical growth is obviously quite impressive in comparison, even without random points on the xy-axis. I could even topple Big Lemonade, except I value my life. Those people don’t mess around.

So what is Big Cider’s end game? Money? Power? Worldwide mathematical illiteracy?

The article mentions that they are lobbying to raise the legal alcohol-per-volume percentage. Is this part of a long-term plan to lull the populace into a stupor? A percentage point here, a percentage point there, and pretty soon we’re living a modern-day Snow White on a massive scale.

Sure, I might be “leaping to conclusions” and “fear mongering,” but what if it’s all true? Are you willing to take that chance?

Melanie Mallon

Melanie is a freelance editor and writer living in a small town outside Minneapolis with her husband, two kids, dog, and two cats. When not making fun of bad charts or running the Uncensorship Project, she spends her time wrangling commas, making colon jokes, and putting out random dumpster fires. You can find her on Twitter as @MelMall, on Facebook, and on Instagram.

Related Articles


  1. Where do Bud Light Lime-A-Ritas rank?

    I see their Lionel Richie spewing commercials all over the damned place and they make me nauseated just thinking of them, I can’t even listen to All Night Long anymore. Good thing it was a bad LR song, the product that destroys Hello will have my wrath forever.

    1. Lime-A-Rita + All Night Long is pretty much the most sadistic combination I have every heard. I’ve never liked that song, in part because a mild dislike gets magnified by how it gets stuck in my head so easily. Ugh.

  2. Well, I for one am very fond of cider and I welcome our new hard cider overlords. Although I look forward to the upcoming export grade Mellonade!

    Where I come from x represents the independent variable (time). Is the US convention different or was that a slip of the keyboard?

    You are right, the percentage intervals are weird and. to cut to the chase, I would blame auto scaling by the bloody software and repeated fruitless attempts by the author to make it behave. It’s no excuse for a shit graph to be published tho!

    Finally, I fully agree with your point that percentages can be misused to spin data just about any way the author wants to push.

  3. I went to a hard cider release event last week at which the cider purveyors spent a great deal of time emphasizing that their cider was dry. Very dry. No one else does dry cider the way they do dry cider. Let me tell you about the dryness of this cider. By the time we got around to tasting it, I expected to be handed a glass of sand.

    But no. It was actual liquid hard cider. Pretty good too. “It’s really dry, isn’t it?” said the cider guy, his eyes fixed and bulging.

    It wasn’t THAT dry though. It was kinda sweet, in fact—though not cloyingly so. But I didn’t want to say that because, well, this cider is supposed to be dry. Really dry. Really REALLY dry.

    So—cowed into submission—I said, “Yeah, it’s pretty dry.”

    And that, I submit, is the power of Big Cider.

      1. This was definitely drier than most. Quite good, honestly. WildCraft Cider Works in Eugene, OR. They’re brand new, and they’re just on tap locally at the moment. But they have plans to bottle and distribute, though I don’t know what the timing on that will be.

  4. Okay, I get that hard cider is served at bars, so the bar chart might seem appropriate, but didn’t we establish in a previous BCT the fundamental postulate of chart theory that all food related charts should be pie charts? Now I’m confused.

  5. I should warn you, Mel: At that rate, you won’t be able to fill all the orders. (That’s an actual issue for a business on Pine Ridge right now. Who knew the market for buffalo jerky with cranberries was so large?)

Leave a Reply to BjornarCancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button