Cider Takes Off

When exactly did cider get so popular? Why does cider occupy three whole fridge spaces at the small government liquor store in Oliver? Who saw this coming? Clearly, nobody did. The small cider producers in the Okanagan have got to be happy about it.

Cider historically has always been a part of our beverage production history in BC. The Okanagan has been known for growing apples for over 140 years. The name of the first commercial winery in BC survives today on bottles of cider. Cider has even rescued the finances of large commercial wineries like Calona and Mission Hill at various points in their histories. Cider, it seems, has always just been there in BC.

Perhaps it is somewhat bizarre then that cider has traditionally been at the bottom end of the sales statistics in the BC Liquor store statistics on sales. Cider was first indicated as a separate category in 1967 in the Liquor Control Board’s (as it was then known) 46th Annual Report. In that year, cider sales measured 0.14% of the nearly $156 million in total sales. By 1990, cider had crept up to account for just over 2% of total sales. By 2004, cider was holding steady at 5%. The category was renamed “Refreshments” in the following year which likely means that other little bottles of fizzy boozes (Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Smirnoff Ice, etc) had probably been lumped into the cider category for some time before that.  In the most recent report for 2016-2017, “Refreshments” is holding steady at 6% of total sales where it had been since the previous year. (Interestingly, this same report shows that wine had overtaken beer to represent the largest percentage in  total sales for the first time ever at 35%!)

Growers‘ line of ciders is the most ubiquitous brand across the country. Developed in the 1950’s by Dr. John Bowen and F.A. Atkinson at the Summerland Research Station, the Growers’ Wine Company in Victoria purchased the recipe in 1962 and took over production. Fast-forward through the corporate ownership history to today and Growers’ remains in production at Arterra Wines Canada, where it is distributed nationally. The product line now includes a wide variety of fruit flavours and are all off-dry in style. In the late 1990s, the Growers’ cider brand was a common site in my university dorms’ recycling bins on any given Monday morning. Though I don’t recall trying it at the time, I had many friends who experienced some very rough mornings because of it, and other newer, but similarly sweet, bottled beverages. Even now, the Growers’ ciders are far to sweet for my palate but I can see how they would be appealing and approachable to a lot of people. The late 1990s was also the era when products like Mike’s Hard Lemonade made its debut and gave people alternatives to beer. This is the product category that is now called “refreshments”.

Smaller cider producers started popping up in the past decade and cider has really started to take off. Occasionally good bars would have Strongbow from the UK but there were not usually a lot of choices. Merridale Cider in Cobble Hill on Vancouver Island has been slowly making its way since 1990. The Okanagan has a growing scene too (ha – get it?) and has even caught the attention of cider-focused websites like this one.  BC Tree Fruits, the apple-packing co-op, has even gotten into the act with a line of ciders called Broken Ladder. They even have a tasting room and retail space just down the road from the Sandhill wine shop in Kelowna. Cider is in every LRS and government liquor store. In the Oliver government store, there are three full fridges dedicated to cider! So, who’s fault is it that cider has now become so popular in BC?

For me personally, I put the blame squarely on Wards from Kelowna. If their cider wasn’t so damn aromatic, perfectly balanced, and so utterly refreshing, then I probably would never have bothered with cider in the first place! Wards has a wine connection of course through The View Winery and Vineyard, a winery that has been featured many times on this site (notably here, herehere, and here). Ward’s cider is distinctly drier and more aromatic than the basic level cider and, to my tastes, is a beautiful, complex beverage that keeps me interested with ever sip.

So is cider just the latest hipster beverage that will fade away as soon as something else comes along? To answer that, you’d probably have to ask an actual hipster. (My beard is just not long enough.) I think that as long as there are producers who are interested and capable of producing a quality cider, there really is no reason why cider can’t have a long shelf life in BC.

Cheers from wine country!



9 thoughts on “Cider Takes Off

  1. josypheen

    I am still searching for a BC cider to love. I find a lot of them dry, but in an acidic way (rather than with any complex flavour.) I LOVE cider back in the UK, but I just didn’t find the right one here yet. 😦

    Having said, I didn’t see many of these yet, so i need to keep trying them! 🙂

    Do you know of any places that do cloudy cider in BC?

    1. I guess it depends on what you are looking for with a cider. I’m big on crisp, zingy, and refreshing styles of white wines (dry rieslings, pinot blanc, etc) so I enjoy similar aspects with ciders. For my tastes, the Ward’s cider is the one to which I’ve been comparing everything else because it has the crispness but also has a beautiful aroma and a complex taste. They also use cider apples, instead of regular sweet eating apples, and on top of that, those trees are old so the fruit has that extra concentration that only old trees can produce.

      A cider like Growers was created because apple growers in the Okanagan had surpluses of Red Delicious and other eating apples that they could not sell and needed a new use for it. From what I’ve seen, a lot of the small newer cider places are using eating apples for making cider instead of real cider apples. (Clearly, they are only using what they have at their disposal –
      nothing wrong with that.) But perhaps that accounts for the complex elements that you find lacking in BC.

      I would suggest seeking out BC ciders that only use traditional cider apples and see how that goes. Wards uses cider apples as does Merridale Cider on Vancouver Island, which is one that I would strongly suggest trying as well. Let me know if you find anything that you really enjoy!

      1. josypheen

        Thank you!
        That is really helpful! I didn’t realize that they might be using non-cider apples.

        I need to do a bit more research rather than randomly trying whatever has an interesting label (!)

        Have you ever tried Old Rosie? That is my favourite type back home. It is brewed in old whiskey barrels, so picks up an amazing, complex flavour. It is sooo good.

      2. Haha! Shopping by the label is good sometimes and not-so-good sometimes, just like wine. There are some great wines out there with crap labels, which is unfortunate.

        I have not tried Old Rosie, but you had me at “whiskey barrels” so I’m totally intrigued now! Anyone import it into BC?

      3. josypheen

        lol not very close at all!

        Old Rosie is a little cloudy, not fizzy and is really strong. Strongbow doesn’t really have a similarly complex flavour, it’s just good for simple summer days.

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