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Drink an apple a day

Cider is making a comeback, but it may not be the beverage you remember

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Photo: NS Department of Agriculture

Cider is making a comeback, but it may not be the beverage you remember.

Long before they served as a deterrent for the doctor’s office, apples were the core ingredients in a very popular beverage: cider. For generations, anyone with an apple orchard produced their own cider for personal consumption. The drink was especially popular in Quebec and parts of the Maritimes. Anywhere apples grew, cider was made.

But somewhere along the history of beverages, cider fell out of favour. There are different theories for its decline, including Canada’s Prohibition in the 1920s and the increased popularity of beer, which was cheaper to make and could be produced year round in mass quantities.

But today, cider is making a comeback, spurred on by the creation of small craft breweries and a movement focused on sourcing local foods. Some wineries and apple companies started experimenting with cider. Now in Atlantic Canada, particularly New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, several cider makers are not only making traditional cider, but also experimenting with new blends.

Tideview Cider in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley—an area so rich with apple orchards, the fruit’s blossom has its own festival–makes premium handcrafted ciders from locally grown fruit. One of the company’s partners, John Brett, remembers drinking cider as a young boy. His mother was from Quebec where cider was a staple. As an adult, Brett made his own cider and thought there could be a market for the product.

“I just like it,” says Brett. “It just boiled down to that. It’s clean and fresh. It can be complex, but it’s not as heavy as beer.”

All of Tideview’s ciders are made in small batches. Just like fine wine, its ciders have distinctive characteristics: sweet, dry or sparkling. The company uses heirloom varieties of apples, including Ribston Pippin and Yellow Bellflower. Some of their specialty products include Heritage Dry, Premium Draught, Sparkling Ice Cider, Raspberry Cider and Golden Russet Dry. They also experiment with blends, but Brett admits certain combinations don’t always work and the process takes considerable patience.

“Sometimes you have to play with them for years to get something you can sell,” says Brett.

In New Brunswick, Gagetown Cider Company produces everything from apple cider coolers, apple ice wine, Golden Delicious wine, as well as a product called “Twisted,” a cider with seven per cent alcohol. It’s one of Gagetown’s best sellers.

Owner Blair Stirling and his team mixed crabapples with pears, hoping the extreme tartness of the crabapples would add flavor to otherwise bland pears. But he says the crabapple cider on its own turned out so well, they sell it as a separate product. It has an alcohol volume of nine per cent.

Stirling has been in the apple business since finishing college. His company started making cider in the 1990s, after wondering what they’d do with the apples that weren’t quite perfect enough for fresh sale at market. In Nova Scotia the name Stirling is synonymous with apples; it was Blair’s grandfather, A.R. Stirling, who brought an apple orchard to Gagetown, after his Nova Scotia orchard was destroyed by a hurricane.

Stirling says while today’s ciders are quite refined, he understands that many will hesitate to try it, recalling their early experiences—and subsequent hangovers—from products such as Golden Glow cider. Still, he says, the renewed interest might just be the drink’s simplicity.

“It’s thirst quenching and it’s all natural,” says Stirling. “It’s just the juice from apples.”

Despite the new blends, the making of cider hasn’t changed in generations, although modern-day techniques make the process faster. Apples are handpicked and washed. The fruit is then ground to a pulp, which is put into a press to squeeze out the juice. The juice then goes into a sieve, and what’s left is the raw material for cider. Leave it as juice and you have “sweet cider.” Put it through the fermentation process and you get “hard cider.” The alcoholic content in hard ciders vary anywhere from four to roughly 12 per cent. Some cider makers, such as Gagetown, sell their higher-alcohol volume ciders as apple wines. While apples serve as the base for most ciders, other fruit can work, too. For example, cider made from pears is referred to as “perry.”

Stirling calls cider more of a “meat and potato” kind of beverage. He says the acidic base of cider works best with vegetables, chicken, turkey and beef, rather than spicier meals such as pasta.

“It goes with a very basic meal very well,” Stirling says. “Or a sandwich lunch.”

Brett says the raspberry cider goes well with barbecued foods slathered in sauce. The Heritage Dry cider, he says, is best paired with seafood.

In many cases you can substitute cider for beer, such as with mussels or sauces and stuffings.

Also in New Brunswick, Belliveau Orchard makes sweet cider from its own apples. It’s free of fat and cholesterol and rich in Vitamin C, calcium and iron. The orchard also produces apples wines, including sparkling apple juice and apple-based wines such as Pomme Glacée and Massé.

Eric Noel, the company’s wine maker, says he’s seen an increase in sales of cider over the past few years, adding that when people start asking for cider at bars and restaurants, it’s a sign the trend is catching on. “When people want it then that means there is a movement,” says Noel.

It’s a movement that seems to be following in the footsteps of the region’s growing and successful wine industry. In fact, Brett says there are similarities. Apples are to cider as grapes are to wine. And ciders, like wine, will only get better with age.

“The analogy with wine is the same,” says Brett. “What the grape tastes like is not what the wine tastes like. Ciders are apple-y, but the apple is transformed. It brings out the best qualities of the apple.”

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