When non-cider drinkers think of cider, they picture smuggling Growers into the basement at family dinners to indulge in the may-as-well-be-juice, entry-level alcohol. But cider has been growing in popularity as a bright, sweet, summer drink and alternative to beer. The first annual Fraser Valley Cider Fest turned skeptics into apple appreciators with its stellar lineup up of BC cideries.
The same appreciation for local, unique, and fresh that makes craft beer so popular translates easily to cider. But at this cider celebration, as I notice looking around the Tzeachten Community Centre in Chilliwack, the demographic is different. Beer festivals tend to attract the same crowd each time; Fraser Valley Cider Festival brought in the wine drinkers. It blends craft culture with those that are used to drinking out of stemmed glasses.
Hosted by the Chilliwack Community Arts Council, the festival featured cideries from Vancouver Island to the Okanagan. Sample glasses and starter tokens were provided with admission to give a taste of all there was to offer. I quickly spotted some of the usual suspects including Lonetree and Broken Ladder (BC Tree Fruits Cider Co.,), and couldn’t wait to sip samples from Fraser Valley Cider Company and the island’s Sea Cider.
If I didn’t know it was the first, I wouldn’t have guessed. The festival was branded with a simple, bold apple logo on the walls, and plenty of real apples as centre pieces. Each guest received a “cider shopping list” to keep track of their favourites and was encouraged to take part in the 50/50 draw. There were sample menu items from local cuisine including Curly Kale Eatery, and plenty of standing tables for mingling, plus a seating area with live music. There was also special designated driver pricing with complimentary non-alcoholic beverages — a smart and considerate touch. Overall Fraser Valley Cider Festival had the polish and attention to detail of a well-seasoned annual event.
I started as a craft beer drinker years ago, but my body chose cider and I’ve been hunting for a craft batch of well-balanced apples in BC ever since. I returned to my favourite liquor store in Mission, hoping their stellar reputation for craft beer had translated to cider. This was how I stumbled on Ward’s Picker’s Hut Winter Spice cider out of Kelowna. It was rich and full of flavour, bringing in spiced notes to get me through those cold snowy months.
But it’s not winter anymore, and I already bought out the store’s supply of Winter Spice. So my attendance at the Cider Festival had dual purpose. One was to sample and review BC cider, the other was to scope out the growing cider scene and this year’s summer drink.
Ward’s Hard Cider was sampling their Picker’s Hut Premium and noted that just like craft beer, craft cider has a quickly growing fan base.
“It’s growing! Just like craft beer— now cider is getting in on it too,” they said.
Sea Cider’s mainland representative noted that their cider has been producing for 10 years, but the island location kept it isolated from reaching its full popularity.
Kaylan Madeira, owner and cider-maker at Twisted Hills, said it was great to see events like the Cider Festival coming out of the Fraser Valley. It shows the still small scene is changing and growing.
“Craft cider is still so small that I could phone … and talk to anyone, which is a lot of fun,” she says, adding, “It is absolutely growing — it’s one of the fastest growing beverage markets right now.”
It was impressive to see so many successful cider companies (and up-and-comers like Fraser Valley Cider Company) in one place. Some I’d heard of, and tried at local restaurants — Lonetree and Left Field are both available at Bow and Stern — and others were entirely new. I was excited to try them all.
But the most excitement was coming from the cider-makers themselves. They were buzzing as they got to know their guests, talked about apples, and encouraged visitors to visit their tasting rooms around the province. Time to plan a cider-centric summer road trip!
Wondering what to pick up for your first back yard barbecue of the season? Looking for something new as the nice weather quickly approaches? Check out my response to some of the ciders featured at Cider Fest. Many were tried, but these stood out as favourites. Find them in your liquor store, or plan your summer vacation around visiting their tasting rooms.
Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse
Saanichton, Vancouver Island
This cidery was happy to get off the island to see what the mainland has to offer. They fit right in with their unique flavours and polished presentation.
What I tried: Rumrunner
Aged in rum-soaked bourbon barrels for six months, this hearty cider drinks like the smooth glass you offer guests after a good meal. Its rich profile lets the rum flavours shine, while its light finish reminds us it’s a cider.
Twisted Hills Craft Cider
This cidery sources all their own apples with everything certified organic. They shared the knowledge that for it to count as cider, it needs to be 90 per cent apples. Anything less, and it drifts into cooler country.
What I tried: Kingston’s Twist
This cider hits the spot. Finer bubbles make for a less aggressive mouthfeel than most other carbonation. It’s a well balanced semi-dry that walks that line with confidence. Overall Twisted Hills makes for easy drinking from the beginning of the night to the end.
Dominion Cider Co.
Dominion runs two orchards, but only one is for cider. They have a huge variety of apples — some for eating, and others like the “Yarlington” which serve their purpose better as cider.
What I tried: Craft Cider
Cider’s have a tough job in trying to be full of flavour without being too sweet. Dominion finds this balance with their Craft Cider. It was crisp and light and comfortably between sweet and dry. A great medium drinking option for those warm summer nights.
Fraser Valley Cider Company
Langley, Fraser Valley
The Fraser Valley Cider company represents the only cidery in the valley. A recent addition to the ranks, they’re excited to open their tasting room in Langley this spring. No need for a road trip, take an afternoon and check out this neat new local offering.
What I tried: Elderflower
Well balanced with just enough floral aroma to set it apart, this cider begs for a lazy summer afternoon. Its brightness and smooth finish made it an instant favourite this season.