For some, the word cider brings up unfortunate memories of an over-sweetened, candy-coloured liquid in a two-litre bottle: a poorly informed underage decision that almost always resulted in a date with the porcelain throne.
A team of local restaurateurs is hoping to take that reputation and turn it on its head with handcrafted, locally sourced apple cider, made right here in Vancouver.
In 2011, Dane Brown and Clinton McDougall were on the hunt for a B.C.–made draft cider for the taps in their East Pender sausage joint, Bestie. Nothing they came across satisfied their palates.
“There just wasn’t any real cider on tap,” Brown says during an interview at the restaurant. “So we started thinking that cider was something this landscape was kind of lacking, and that it would be cool to try and make our own.”
It started off humbly: Brown, McDougall, and their good friend Patrick Connelly would spend their Sundays—the only day of the week they weren’t at Bestie—making cider.
“That was the day we would get together, drink cider, read about cider, and try and make cider, but we didn’t know how the industry worked, or the taxation, or any of that,” Brown says, admitting that their first batches were made using a Jack LaLanne juicer.
Since then, McDougall has studied at Washington State University, where U.K.–spawned cider expert Peter Mitchell teaches a cider-making course. The group also takes annual trips to the North American Cider Convention.
It took nearly two years of planning, tasting, and tweaking, but the trio has developed a bright, dry, and balanced beverage—aptly named Sunday Cider.
Sourcing different apple varieties from the Similkameen Valley—everything from Porter’s Perfection and Fameuses to crabapples, Spartans, and Galas—Brown, McDougall, and Connelly have the fruit pressed at a family farm in Keremeos. Then, the juice from the apples is sent down to their sublet East Van warehouse, where it’s fermented and carbonated.
“You can make great cider with all kinds of different apples,” Connelly says, ”but that being said, there’s an art of blending and finding out what works best to get the perfect balance of acidity, sugar, and tannins.
“Some people, like traditional cider makers, diss making cider with normal apples, but what we’re saying is, we can get creative and cool and fun with the apples that we have locally,” he says.
Local ingredients are crucial to their operation, not just for the on-trend marketability, but because they’ve witnessed the struggle that Okanagan orchardists are facing: wine grapes are swallowing up orchards at an alarming rate.
“It’s about food sovereignty, which wasn’t necessarily at the top of mind when we set out on this project,” admits Brown, “but as we’ve discovered more about the industry, it’s become important to us.
“You have to grow really pretty apples for Whole Foods, but we’re allowing orchardists to have the security of knowing that we can take their apples, no matter what they look like.”
Sunday Cider’s first blend, a pale-yellow, unfiltered, ultra-crushable beverage perfect for summer sipping, was fermented using Champagne and white-wine yeasts, but the team is constantly experimenting with different yeasts and fermentation methods, and will be launching its second style, a hopped cider, at its first growler-fill event this coming Saturday (July 2).
Since the release of their first style in late 2015, Brown, McDougall, and Connelly have sold every drop they’ve made in kegs to local breweries and a handful of restaurants. Connelly says they’ve even had to tell a few restaurant owners eager to buy that they’d have to wait, “because it’s selling so fast”.
So far, weekly growler fills are planned for every Saturday this summer between 1 and 7 p.m. This will be the only way Vancouverites can drink Sunday Cider at home—for now.
What started out as a modest endeavour has taken off, and Brown, McDougall, and Connelly say they’re excited to be on the edge of the small yet expanding world of craft cider.
Want a look inside the Sunday Cider cidery? Check out our photo gallery, and some hilarious pictures with the crew, here.
Get your growlers filled this Saturday (July 2) at Sunday Cider’s hopped-cider launch at 1575 Vernon Drive.