You could say that Nick Kauffman has been bitten by the apple. He's so enamored of apples that all he really wants to do is to make cider: real cider, which is the product of apples that have been crushed, pressed into juice, allowed

to ferment and then clarified by racking and/or filtration. Real cider is a clear, lightly alcoholic drink. However, there's one problem. There's little demand for it.

Kauffman, a Washington resident, says that only in New York state is there any sizable cider industry. Yet until the mid-19th century, cider was a staple beverage in this country.

It's not that there's a shortage of apple orchards today, but rather that modern growers are encouraged to produce the eating varieties that sell in supermarkets, most of which are not suitable for cider. Just as wine needs grapes that are high in acidity, so cider needs tart, crisp apples.

Why don't we drink more cider? Probably because of cider's confused identity, a confusion that, judging from the varying styles of the imported brands, is compounded by the industry. Some are sparkling, such as Sidra el Gaitero from Spain. Others are still and fruity, in wine bottles, such as Purpom from France. And a third type is still, bitter-tart and packaged in beer bottles. These are the English ones, Merrydown and Bulmers.

So far as the American industry is concerned, the problem is that inadequate provision was made for cider in the post-Prohibition federal regulations. Take taxes. No federal tax need be paid, as long as no preserving methods or preservatives are used. If the cider is preserved in any way, it's taxed as though it were a wine. In New York state, the higher tax applies if the cider is bottled in glass containers, regardless of the alcohol content.

"New York treats cider quite sensibly," according to Adam Giffard, who produces a highly rated cider at his mill in North Branch, N.Y. Giffard says that "because of the regulations, cider is a locally made and locally consumed product." His cider, made with white-winemaking techniques, has a limited life, and he uses a refrigerated van for deliveries to New York restaurants. Unfortunately, it doesn't go much farther afield.

Cider should not be expensive, but the distribution problems make it difficult for producers to stimulate the consumer interest needed to keep prices down. And the imported brands, of necessity stabilized, are taxed as wines.

Nobody has yet made money out of a large-scale operation. Some have tried and failed. Showerings, an English company, built a plant at Havre de Grace, Md., to bottle the bulk-imported Will Gaymer's brand. It's been a financial disaster, mainly due to a misguided marketing assessment of American tastes.

On a small scale, there's happier news. Mills are being restored in New York state, workshops and research projects are being organized by the state, and people like Giffard are determined to find a legitimate place for cider in the market.

Then there are amateur enthusiasts like Nick Kauffman. All he wants is a chance to bring his cider-making out of the garage at home and into the marketplace. His cider-making principles are similar to lagering for beer and he'd just like one brewery to let him get to work on one idle tank. That's all.