Craft Cideries are popping up all over BC
Craft cideries have been popping up around B.C. in the last several years. What they produce is not what many Canadians have typically experienced. Bob Thompson, co-owner of the Summerland Heritage Cider Co. describes the usual cider purchased at a B.C. liquor store: “A very sweet, simple drink often made using apple concentrate, water, artificial flavours and other ingredients.”
Instead these craft cideries are coming up with a range of artisanal choices, much like those produced by craft beer brewers, which experienced amazing growth in Canada in the last few decades.
“New cideries are springing up all over Washington and Oregon and the trend is moving north. I think it has been producer-driven to this point as consumers won’t buy what they don’t know exists,” says Thompson. He believes the biggest job craft cider producers have now is educating consumers that a full-juice cider made using more traditional methods can have really interesting, complex aromas and flavours, body and finish.
“Cider is very popular in Europe and statistics show that market trends start in Europe, filter into the States, and finally make the way to Canada,” observes Theressa Ross, owner of East Kelowna Cider Co. “It starts off producer-driven, and if the consumer likes it, that creates the demand.”
“I believe the current resurgence is consumer-driven,” says Rick Pipes, co-owner with Janet Docherty of Merridale Ciderworks at Cobble Hill on Vancouver Island. With the cider industry gaining momentum in the U.S. over the last ten years Pipes believes the market is gaining maturity. “As more choices become available, consumers are able to find the product more easily and have the ability to find ones they like.” Pipes also points out increased demand for natural and gluten-free products; cider fills the bill.
“Craft cideries keep in pace with the slow and local food movements,” says Kristen Jordan, owner of Sea Cider Farms and Cider House in Saanichton. For growers it’s a chance to do something value-added with their apples and diversify income sources.
That another craft cidery is scheduled to open in Vernon in 2014 –the BX Press Cidery & Farm (www.bxpress.com)– is a sign producers believe ciders will increase in popularity.
Some beer breweries are also cashing in on the cider movement. Kelowna’s Tree Brewing Co. and Calgary’s Big Rock Brewery have both introduced ciders made from B.C. apples.
The Significance to Growers
Whether the cider surge will make a difference to the province’s apple orchardists is a matter of opinion.
“There are more options and choices for their fruit,” says Sabrina Fedorak from The View Winery in Kelowna, which also produces a hard apple cider from trees that have been growing on the Turton family property for over five generations.
Pipes sees craft cider as an opportunity to use cull fruit or to cider-specific apple varieties, developing an entirely new crop for farmer. “In southwest England, there are more cider apples grown than eating apples.”
However, Thompson thinks the craft cider industry has a long way to go before it has much of an impact on fruit growers. “There are only a handful of craft cideries in the province and they just don’t have the production to demand large quantities of fruit. For the time being I think it will mostly benefit only a small number of growers.”
Craft cideries create their beverages from a variety of apples, ranging from dessert to heritage types or those grown specifically for cider. Sometimes other fruit is mixed in, sometimes it’s cull fruit, other times the best fruit. Some grow all their own or at least part of what they use; others buy from orchardists.
Sea Cider uses high-quality fruit, growing a portion and buying the rest. Says Jordan, “Most of our ciders use heritage apple varieties. We also make perry from pears and a cider with blackberries added.”
“We grow many varieties of apples and use what we can from here; otherwise we source out top grade apples from other producers,” says Glenn Cross of Double Cross, located in Kelowna.
At the Left Field Cidery Company, located near Logan Lake, Kate Garthwaite says they’re not concerned about the size or appearance of their apples. “What matters to us is that the fruit is ripe and free of rot. We find that by blending bittersweet cider apples with dessert apples, we are able to produce a nice, balanced cider.”
At the East Kelowna Cider Co., “We use 100% of our own fruit,” says Ross. “We have a grading system where our pickers pick and grade the fruit right off the trees and pack extra fancy straight into the box for grocery stores; the rest go for cider and to commercial sales. We grow eight varieties of apples and use four. We also have pears, plums and peaches and have plans for pear and peach cider.”
Merridale grows more than half of its own apples and buys the rest from two Cowichan Valley orchards and two from the Okanagan. “In our opinion, good cider is made from varieties of apples grown specifically for the purpose,” says Pipes. “They are known as Bittersharps or Bittersweets and have the required acids, tannins, bouquet and flavour to make great cider. Many of these varieties have been grown in the U.K. and northern France for many centuries.”
The quantity of apples used by a craft cidery, of course, depends on cider production. In a year Summerland Heritage Cider Co. uses 24,000 pounds to make 600 cases while Sea Cider Farms uses 260,000 pounds to make 7,000 cases.
Theresa Garthwaite of Left Field, Kate's sister, says their limit on production is sourcing enough apples. If they had more they could make and sell more cider.
Overall, says Thompson, “The B.C. apple industry currently has a number of challenges and while another outlet for apples is always positive, I don’t see the craft cider industry having a large impact on most growers any time soon. However, I’d be happy to be proven wrong!”
To Market, To Market
Marketing is an individual strategy, dependent on goals and production capacity.
“We sell on Vancouver Island and in the Lower Mainland. We sell all of our product each year,” says Pipes.
Sea Cider sells throughout western Canada and the western U.S., using an online distributor south of the border to sell into 30 states.
While the East Kelowna Cider Co. sells only in B.C., the Left Field Cider Company markets product in the Okanagan, the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and Alberta.
The View sells its cider to hundreds of locations around the province and has a distributor in the U.S. They also sell bulk cider to breweries, so they can make their own blends.
All the craft cideries interviewed agree the future looks bright. Sales have increased each year at Double Cross Cidery and they are currently debating whether to go larger.
“People love to try something different and there are already a number of outstanding ciders being produced here with more entrants coming in the next few years,” says Thompson of Summerland Heritage Cider. “These new cideries can’t help but to raise the visibility of craft cider in the province and we welcome them.”
Kate Garthwaite of Left Field just finds it exciting that a cider culture is emerging in North America, especially on the west coast. ■
- Big Rock Brewery, Calgary, www.bigrockbeer.com, Product: Rock Creek Dry Cider (uses Okanagan fruit in its cider)
- Double Cross Cidery @ the Junction, Kelowna, www.function-junction.ca, Annual production: 4,500 L, Product: Hard Apple Cider, Braeburn Iced Cider, Fuji Iced Cider, Pink Lady Iced Cider, Pear Iced Cider
- East Kelowna Cider Co.Kelowna, www.eastkelownacider.com, Annual production: 20,000 L, Product: Ross Hard Apple Cider to deep, Ross Logger Cider, Winter Gold Iced Cider, Winter Burn Iced Cider and three soft ciders
- Left Field Cider Company, Logan Lake, www.leftfieldcider.com, Annual production: just under 30,000 L, Product: Big Dry, Little Dry, limited release, small-batch Cidermaker’s Select Series
- Merridale Ciderworks, Vancouver Island, www.merridalecider.com, Annual production: 130,000 L, Product: English-style Traditional Cider, House Cider, Scrumpy Cider, Cyser Cider, Merri Berri Cider, Cidre Normandie, Champagne-style Somerset Cider
- Sea Cider Farms & Cider House, Saanichton, www.seacider.ca, Annual production: 65,000 L, Product: sulphite-free Flagship, Wild English, Kings & Spies, Pippins, Rumrunner, Cyser, Pommeau, Pomona
- Summerland Heritage Cider Co., Summerland, www.summerlandcider.com, Annual production: 5,400 L, Product: Tuesday’s Original
- The View Winery, Kelowna, www.wardshardcider.com, Annual production: 108,000 L, Product: Wards Hard Apple Cider
- Tree Brewing Co., Kelowna, www.treebeer.com, Product: Dukes Dry Apple Cider