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Anheuser-Busch InBev is expanding into the cider category.

Its newest beverage, Johnny Appleseed Hard Apple Cider, will become available nationwide on April 7. Described as a "sweet and intense hard apple cider" in promotions, Johnny Appleseed has an alcohol content of 5.5% and includes apple juice from fruit harvested in the U.S. and elsewhere globally. The cider is made in Baldwinsville, N.Y.

Hard cider is a fast-growing category that saw sales rise 78% at retail and in restaurants in 2012, according to market tracking firm Technomic. Earlier this month, MillerCoors launched its own Smith & Forge Hard Cider.

Cider occupies a "sweet spot" between beer and wine and hard liquor drinks mixed with juice, says Adam Oakley, vice president of high-end at Anheuser-Busch. "Cider drinkers are looking for an alternative (and) they want something that is more refreshing. We tried to develop the most refreshing cider that you could get by blending ... a perfect balance of apple intensity and sweetness."

The new product is the first new brand in eight years from Anheuser-Busch, which merged with InBev in 2008. Another A-B InBev brand, Shock Top has a Honeycrisp Apple Wheat beer, which is a hybrid of a Belgian wheat beer and a sweet cider.

According to Biography.com, the man who served as the basis for the folk hero Johnny Appleseed, John Chapman, did grow apples primarily used in making alcoholic beverages, hard cider and applejack.

The legend of Johnny Appleseed evoked good memories in test marketing, Oakley says. "He was an adventurer. He was open to trying new things. He was more about the journey that he went on than the end game. That value set really appealed to our consumer."

Johnny Appleseed Hard Apple Cider will be available in 12-oz. glass bottles with a twist-off cap in six-packs and 12-packs, and sold individually in 16 oz. and 25 oz. cans, and on draft this summer.

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