B.C.’s other burgeoning craft scene: cider

Finding people to drink craft cider is easy. Finding the ingredients for it? Not so much

June 28, 2016

By Jessica Barrett / Photo: Page & Paper

Dane Brown isn’t disappointed to learn the cider on tap—Cowichan Valley-based Merridale—sold out hours ago at the East Vancouver pizzeria where we meet. After all, it just bolsters his argument that cider is the rising star of the city’s craft beverage scene. Brown and his partners followed in the footsteps of their craft beer brethren in starting the Vancouver-based Sunday Cider about two years ago, and quickly amassed more interested vendors than they could supply. “We always knew selling it wasn’t going to be the hard part,” he says, settling on a glass of Prosecco instead. “Making it would be.”

Sunday is one of more than a dozen B.C. cideries that have popped up in recent years to offer libations that bear scant resemblance to the sickly sweet confection commonly sold in two-litre pop bottles. For makers and drinkers, cider’s appeal is in its simplicity. The gluten-free alternative is made from little more than apples and yeast, making it the perfect product for bountiful B.C.

But as Brown and others have discovered, getting your hands on the right fruit isn’t easy. While many ciders are made from apples commonly found at your local grocery store, orchardists in the province have suddenly been inundated with requests for cider-specific varieties that were heretofore unheard-of in this part of the world.

Sunday Cider-212
Patrick Connelly, Clinton McDougall, and Dane Brown of Sunday Cider

The bitter fruit, known as “spitters,” are more akin to crabapples than your average lunchbox additions, and are loaded with tannins that give cider a certain depth. Although they’re commonplace in Europe, where they’ve been grown for centuries, orchardists in B.C. had little incentive to plant them in an industry geared to supplying grocery stores with fruit that looks good on the shelf. “They just haven’t been a thing,” says Bob Thompson, an orchardist and cider-maker based in Summerland. Indeed, he and his partners at Summerland Heritage Cider Company began experimenting with the drink to make use of their bruised and misshapen apples.

They only discovered traditional cider-apple varieties such as Yarlington Mill, Kingston Black, and Harry Master’s Jersey when they got serious about selling the stuff and managed to finagle a few sticks of budwood—used for grafting—from a local research station. That was 10 years ago, and it gave them a considerable head start on the newer cideries now clamouring to buy their extra fruit. But Thompson says he’s hesitant to begin planting specifically for cideries other than his own. Valuable as they are, cider apples are a labour-intensive crop that takes a long time to pick and often bears fruit only every other year. “I tell people they’re miserable to grow,” he says.

That hasn’t deterred the new generation of cider producers, like Brown, from getting into apple farming. It’ll be years before Sunday Cider’s plans for an orchard on the Sunshine Coast come to fruition, and in the meantime getting enough apples will continue to be a scramble. But with domestic cider sales worth $55 million in B.C. last year and the market still growing,  they’re sowing the seeds for a bright future.

See our Craft Beer Awards winners here >>

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