Craft Ciders

BC’s Best

In a sea of a thousand cideries spanning North America, a small but determined group from BC are taking the market by storm, and attracting the attention of discerning consumers. Close to three dozen BC cideries now operate, up from a handful just five years ago. This growth reflects a similar trend in the rest of North America, where 90% of the continent’s cideries have emerged within the last five years. Despite the relatively small number of BC cideries, they take home a disproportionate number of awards and accolades. Local cidery favourites such as Sea Cider, Broken Ladder, and Merridale have all won gold medals and Best in Show awards at recent national and international competitions, including the Portland International Cider Cup, the North American Cidercraft Awards, and the Dan Berger International Wine and Cider Competition. How have BC’s cideries been able to stand out in this growing North American market?

In part, we can thank our European forebearers, who planted apple orchards and brought the tradition of fine cider to BC when they set out to firmly establish an agricultural industry. Beginning in the 1850s, European pioneers began staking out farmland on BC’s coasts, then moved inland to the Okanagan as agriculture became viable in the valley with the introduction of irrigation. Apple orchards were some of the earliest signs of European agriculture, as pioneers established farms to feed trading posts and growing New World communities. BC was well suited to growing apples, which responded well to BC’s climate and rich earth, both on the West Coast and the Okanagan Valley. Apples were also easy to store—in the root cellar or as cider—for trade and consumption. Nowadays, the Okanagan is home to most of BC’s apple orchards, but orchards a century old can still be found on prime agricultural land around BC’s coastal communities.

BC has some of the finest apple growing land on the continent.

BC has some of the finest apple growing land on the continent, and where there are apples, there is cider. BC’s pioneering cidermakers had a high standard to meet, as fickle ex-pats used to European cider weren’t satisfied with low quality alternatives. BC’s early cidermakers used techniques refined in Europe over the centuries, and their passion and skill were handed down to each new generation of farmers and cidermakers.

Thankfully, unlike other regions in North America, BC’s tradition of fine cidermaking didn’t end with Prohibition. While many cider orchards elsewhere were cut down during Prohibition, BC’s Prohibition Era, from 1917 to 1921, was relatively short-lived. BC’s apple orchards were spared the axe, and cidermaking was not as disrupted in BC as it was elsewhere on the continent.

Still other factors, such as urbanization and industrialization, doomed cidermaking in other regions of North America. BC was spared much of this influence thanks to careful urban planning to avoid taking over limited agricultural land. The protection of agricultural land was enshrined in legislation in the 1970s with the formation of BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve and policies discouraging the conversion of farmland to other uses. Today, apple orchards in BC are still protected from development.

It is no surprise that BC’s cider styles reflect the high quality of our fruit.

With a long tradition of apple growing, British Columbians continue to demand high quality cider and the “real deal”. That “real deal” has meant that BC cideries continue to use BC apples, not juice or concentrate trucked from a thousand miles away. Because most of BC’s cideries are using BC apples—including heritage varieties and vintage cider varieties—it is no surprise that BC’s cider styles reflect the high quality of our fruit. The renaissance of the BC cider industry began with the earthy phenolic styles produced from estate-grown English cider varietals grown at Merridale and Sea Cider then branched into the dry, yet fruit-forward styles produced by Broken Ladder and others, an expression of BC’s long history of growing some of the tastiest apples on the planet.

BC cidermakers have long respected the connection between orchard and glass, and a vibrant, award-winning industry has been built on the partnership between orchardists and cidermakers. When you drink BC cider you are drinking BC apples. It’s no wonder BC produces award-winning cider, and the rest of the world is taking note.

Emily Ritchie is the Executive Director of the Northwest Cider Association, a local trade association supporting cidermakers in BC, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana.

Photo courtesy of Sea Cider.