B.C. ciders worth a sip, from sweet to dry
If you’re like me, your formative cider experiences involved something cheap, fizzy, and sweet that was decanted from a two-litre plastic bottle at a house party and left you with both a headache and a toothache the next day. Or maybe you’re not like me, but cut me some slack: we’re all young once, and we all make foolish choices. Back then, I honestly thought I looked good in acid-washed denim, and I also thought it seemed like a good idea to drink ciders that, along with wine coolers and “hard lemonade”, rightly belong in the alcopop category and should never be touched by anyone over the age of 20.
If that stuff isn’t real cider, what is?
“Cider is fermented apple juice,” says Rick Pipes, director of the Vancouver Island–based Merridale Estate Cidery. “That’s the simplest definition I can give.”
What, then, are we to make of the aforementioned beverages, with their peach and berry flavours and their pink and purple hues?
“Following the British definition of cider, those are not ciders,” Pipes says on the line from Cobble Hill. “Those are spritzers. Any flavoured cider is really a spritzer. When you talk about some of the commercial ciders made in British Columbia—without giving any names—they go even further, in that their raw material is not always apple. It could be grape. It’s whatever source of alcohol, and that’s why they flavour them, because their raw material doesn’t really have much distinctive flavour to it.”
Pipes ought to know his ciders: Merridale produces some 130,000 litres of the stuff every year. (The company’s products are available in the Lower Mainland only at private liquor stores.) When he’s asked what makes a good cider, he notes that it should be made entirely from the first pressing of the apples, and that the fruit should be proper cider apples, not eating apples. “I like a balance of tannins and acids, and I prefer them dry,” Pipes says. “I’m looking for body and mouthfeel, like you would in a fine wine.”
B.C. Liquor Stores’ online catalogue lists several dozen cider products, and others are available in private shops. I couldn’t taste them all, but I did some serious sipping, and here are some of the more interesting made-in-B.C. offerings I found. I have avoided anything made with fruit other than apples, but not all of my choices adhere to the purist’s definition.
(6 x 355 millilitres, $9.99 at LDB)
Kelowna-based Tree Brewing’s first foray into the fermented-apple world is nice and dry, with just a hint of bitterness—a beer drinker’s cider if there ever was such a thing.
(4 x 473 millilitres, $9.99 at LDB)
Named for the year the Growers Cider Company was founded, and for good reason: 1927 is a back-to-the-roots type of product. A traditional-style dry cider, it’s a decent summer sipper, but mostly it’s a welcome alternative from an outfit with cloying mango- and Saskatoon-berry-flavoured beverages in its portfolio.
Merridale Cidre Normandie
(750 millilitres, $16.24 at private stores)
This limited release is double-fermented and aged in French oak barrels. Cidre Normandie has fresh fruit in the nose, and is smooth and, well, oaky on the tongue. Think of it as like a good Chardonnay—only, you know, made of apples.
(341 millilitres, $5.50 at private stores)
A lightly carbonated blend of crab apples and sharp cider apples, Merridale’s Scrumpy is as pungently sour as that description makes it sound. But not in a bad way. This one’s not-for-sissies bite rewards small sips.
Okanagan Premium Cider Crisp Apple
(6 x 341 millilitres, $8.49 at LDB)
Okay, okay: it’s fizzy and sweet and alcopoppy, but if you can’t indulge in at least one guilty pleasure on a hot afternoon, what fun is summertime? Hide the box when cider snobs come over.
Sea Cider Pommeau
(375 millilitres, $25 at private stores)
Sea Cider touts this as “velvety”, and I’m not about to argue. Crafted from hand-pressed Snow apples, Pommeau is sweet and smoky like a really nice tawny port, and it’s one of three apéritif-style ciders on offer from this Saanichton-based company. The others are Cyser, a curiosity blending cider apples and fermented honey, and Pomona, which is made by freezing and slowly fermenting crab-apple juice.
Sea Cider Rumrunner
(750 millilitres, $17 at private stores)
Sea Cider ferments homegrown heritage apples in Champagne yeast for this one, which is aged in rum barrels. The dark-hued result has a piquant bite with a long, almost peppery finish. It doesn’t quite taste like rum, but there’s something inherently Caribbean about it, and it’s not hard to imagine Jack Sparrow quaffing some from a wineskin. My favourite of the bunch.