Kris Rothstein's Blog

BC Cider Festival 2018

Kris Rothstein

Cider is a very old beverage. Like beer, it was often created as a safer drinking alternative to water in rural communities who were already producing fruit. It was included in farm labourers’ wages in the UK until that become illegal in the nineteenth century, and a wider market was sought.

After becoming less fashionable for a while, with a reputation as the musty drink your grandad makes in his shed, cider has experienced a huge renaissance in many parts of Europe and North America. It is booming in Canada as well, with many new offerings from BC, where, until recently, cider was associated with syrupy, artificial drinks. Traditional cider though, is all about showcasing the amazing aromas and tastes that come from the natural process of fermenting apples. Perry is the equivalent drink made from pears. A cider apple or perry pear rarely tastes good off the tree, but magic occurs when it is mashed and pressed and eaten by yeasts.

BC Cider Festival was part of BC Cider Week, put on with the NorthWest Cider Association on May 6th 2018. Over thirty small cider companies were showcased at the event, and their beverages have now become a lot easier to find around the province, pouring at many bars and restaurants, and available at many private liquor stores, and, of course, at cidery tasting rooms. I have become a huge enthusiast after touring small batch craft cider farms across the west of England over several years. A few years ago, BC ciders were often disappointing, but at this year’s festival (the third), the drinks were a source of pride.

The range was wide and, for the most part, the quality was high. A high percentage of the artisans at the festival have been in business for only a year or two, having experimented with making cider for a couple of years before that. As with craft distilling, artisans are attracted from many different backgrounds, from winemaking to brewing, food science to philosophy.

My favourite discovery was Cedar Cider, based in Agassiz and run by Gabriel Jeffries. He was inspired by travelling in Italy and the United Kingdom. The fruit is mostly organic, much of it from seventy-year-old family orchard trees. Three proper perry pear varieties are used to create the Perry Pear Wild, which I will be seeking out! They were also pouring a Blackberry Bourbon Barrel Aged.

Twisted Hills from Cawston uses the French Calville Blanc d'hiver apple to produce a very floral and balanced medium-sweet cider, which was one of my favourites. They are another family farm using organic practices since the 1970s. The Tangled Rose throws in some plum for colour and flavour, without overpowering the apple.

The couple who run Saltspring Wild cidery, Gerda Lattey and Mike Lachel, came from backgrounds as a sculptor and a philosophy student. They embrace the use of wild island apples and pears, wild yeasts and organic fruit. Small local farmers and growers get in touch with them about fruit, or just drop it off. They draw from a wealth of heritage cider apples growing on Salt Spring. I could not resist buying a bottle of their bitter orange and rosemary cider. Many combinations like this can be gimmicky and used to mask flavourless apples. Not so with Saltspring Wild; the tastes are combined in a lovely way. I look forward to a batch which is now aging in muscat barrels.

Twin Island Cider harvests fruit on some other Gulf Islands, though they are based on Pender. They use wild fermentation, some bottle conditioning (when the last part of the process occurs after bottling to produce natural carbonation). The Port Wash Pyder was top notch. They have access to an eighty-year-old orchard of seventy trees and thirty apple varieties, mostly American heritage varieties.

BX Press adds some historical charm to the mix with ciders named after local North Okanagan characters and based on lore from the Barnard’s Express stage lines. The Bandit (with cherry) was my favourite, and is named for the many men who attempted stagecoach robberies in the region. The specific inspiration was Sam Rowlands, who likely robbed a shipment of $15,000 in gold outside 100 Mile House in 1890. He broke out of prison and was never seen again. They grow the apples, press, ferment, mature, and bottle on the orchard.

Bricker Cider Company in Sechelt works on a five-acre family orchard of older trees and are adding new plants. They are definitely inspired by UK-style farmhouse cider (fruit forward, light carbonation, wild yeasts, not mass-produced), but aren’t afraid to put a new twist on the fruit, as with their surprisingly light and easily-quaffable Sidra de Mayo Mexican-inspired cider, made with sea salt and homegrown jalapeños.

Summerland Cider embraces the tannic and acidic side of cider, but still produces a balanced drink. Both the English traditional style Tuesday cider and the seasonal Farm Gose would not be out of place at a UK pub.

Naramata Cider makes a tasty range, mostly with its own fruit. I can recommended the refreshing lavender cider. West Coast Cider launched in Port Coquitlam just last year. Its fruit comes from across the border in Washington and its ciders are inspired by many of the great Oregon cider makers (the wild experimenter Reverend Nat's is the one I love most). Persephone, primarily a brewer on the Sunshine Coast, contributed a hopped cider which managed to escape the fate of most attempts to marry cider and beer. In this case, just the right hops showcased the taste of the fruit instead of overpowering it. Dominion Cider, with a home brewing background, concentrates on the hand-crafting process and makes, among other things, the delicious New World Perry. At Left Field Cider, Kate Garthwaite learned from one of the most respected cider makers in the UK - she’s added a cider with rhubarb to her list and the flavour combination really works well.

TXOTX Imports brings in ciders from the U.S. (like the delicious Shacksbury from Vermont, which blends old and new world techniques and fruit) and Spain (Isastegi, with a big inviting flavour profile ) and Chile (the fantastic Quebrada del Chucao, the first South American cider I have tried). On weekends, they also run the Orchard & the Sea in Gastown, BC's first and only craft cider house, which feels like a secret eating and drinking club.

What is exciting about events like BC Distilled and BC Cider Festival is the intense passion and enthusiasm of the artisans involved. It can be tough to find a niche and monetize it, so no one takes on these projects unless they love them. Every orchard or farm also has a unique original story and I’d love to chat with these cider makers for much longer.

I recently read Thad Vogler's By the Smoke & the Smell: My Search for the Rare & Sublime on the Spirits Trail, in which the successful San Francisco bar owner travels and tastes handmade spirits—rum, scotch, cognac, mescal—and provides insight into the odd people who make them. Vogler is an abrasive character, not afraid to dish the dirt on others in the trade. Some of his stories are unnecessarily mean, but you certainly get an authentic sense of what it is like to travel with him and other spirit nerds to far-flung farms in an attempt to find perfection. I hope there will be an equivalent book on cider, though to get an initial taste of the cider world you can’t go wrong with World's Best Cider: Taste, Tradition and Terroir, from Somerset to Seattle, a collaboration between supremely knowledgeable writer Pete Brown and photographer Bill Bradshaw.

People love to write about alcohol, although wine and beer get the lion’s share of the attention. Wine memoirs abound, like The Road to Burgundy (an American with no experience tackles Le Chambertin, one of the most revered names in wine) by Ray Walker, The Mad Crush (about a century-old abandoned vineyard in California, restored by an eccentric cast of characters) by Sean Christopher Weir and Alice Feiring's The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World From Parkerization (a wine writer's life). I look forward to similar reminiscences and unlikely tales about cider in the coming years.



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