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Just two years ago, you couldn’t find locally made craft cider on tap in New Brunswick. Adam Clawson and his partner Nicola Mason, owner-operators of Red Rover Brewing Company, saw a chance to fill a void.
Having relocated from Leeds, England to Fredericton in 2007, the couple missed drinking the refreshing fermented apple beverage that’s prevalent in pubs all over their home country. “We started making cider for ourselves just because there really wasn’t any around here,” says Clawson, who emigrated to Canada for a mechanical engineering job at the University of New Brunswick.
He remembers Mason ordering cider at the campus bar. “The bartender just looked at her, blank-faced,” he says. Red Rover released its first cider in February 2014. Today, its ciders are on tap at a dozen restaurants and pubs in the province. In New Ross, Nova Scotia, Muwin Estate Wines makes Bulwark Craft Cider, the province’s best-selling local cider. Co-owner and lead cider-maker Dominic Rivard and business partner Germain Bergeron released Bulwark cider in August 2012. Rivard is a veteran winemaker. “I’ve made a lot of fruit wines for a very long time,” he says. “For me, it’s just an extension of fruit wine making.” By definition, hard apple cider (normally just called cider) is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting the juice from pressed apples. If it includes any other fruit, it would be a fruit wine and not a cider.
While there’s no universally accepted definition for what separates regular cider from craft cider, the Ontario Craft Cider Association describes craft cider as cider produced from 100-per-cent local juice (no concentrates) using craft methods. In New Brunswick, Red Rover occupies the local cider scene alongside Verger Belliveau and Dunhams Run, companies that both produce bottled ciders that are available in provincial liquor stores. There are also a handful of smaller producers around the province, selling on-site at farms and farmers’ markets. Arlington Orchards, Prince Edward Island’s largest apple orchard, has two ciders available at P.E.I. liquor stores. In Nova Scotia, there are five local craft cider companies with bottled products in N.S. liquor stores, plus several other smaller producers that sell directly from farms or wineries.
With a growing demand, craft beer giant Garrison Brewing partnered recently with Bulwark to partially produce its own cider. “They choose the apple varieties, press them and ferment before handing the rough cider off to us. We chill it, filter it and carbonate,” says Garrison owner Brian Titus. Garrison offers its own Brewhouse Cider for samples and for sale in growlers at its flagship location at the Halifax Seaport. “Cider is something we’ve been looking into for awhile,” Titus adds. “This market is growing rapidly.” Numbers at N.S. liquor stores prove that to be true. In the last 52 weeks, the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission reports that its cider sales are up 60 per cent; Bulwark sales alone have grown 122 per cent. Locally made ciders account for 20 per cent of all ciders sold.
And to put cider sales into perspective alongside other ready-to-drink beverages (like coolers), five years ago cider was just four per cent of sales in that category. Now, ciders are up to 20 per cent. Rivard wants Bulwark to represent a more English-style cider: dry, crisp and having backbone (meaning lots of complex flavours and substantial mouth feel). “One big difference with the [apple] varieties here, versus the ones in England, is that the apples here are not as tannic,” he says. “They’re a bit more fruity and more aromatic.”
He seeks out the most tannic apple varieties Nova Scotia offers: golden russets and northern spies. Rivard tests the cider at various points during production, does lab work to confirm acidity and sugar levels, and makes adjustments to ensure each batch tastes the same, year-round. Bulwark offers three ciders by the bottle in N.S. liquor stores: its best-selling Original, Blush (which is finished with blueberry, raspberry and cranberry fruit wines); and Gold (which is made with local honey). Its fall release, which will become a mainstay of the lineup, is Bulwark Hops cider, which uses a cold-steep process to extract citrus notes from cascade and chinook hops.
Red Rover sources apples exclusively from N.B. orchards for its ciders. “English style is more about low-carbonation because then you’re not really hiding any of the apple notes underneath the CO2,” notes Clawson. The mainstay offerings at Red Rover are its spring, summer and fall ciders. “Our fall cider is cinnamon on the nose, and clove and allspice on the mouth,” Clawson says. “[It’s like] savoury apple pie.” He enjoys creating different products, like the Halloween cider called White Witch, a white beer and spiced cider combination made with fresh cilantro and orange zest.
Growing production levels at both cider facilities signal that the craft cider movement is catching on quickly in Atlantic Canada. Red Rover’s first batch of 800 litres lasted three months; the company is now closing in on 3,000 litres per month. Bulwark has invested in a bottling machine that’s capable of 6,000 litres per day. The company sells close to 6,000 bottles of its Original cider in N.S. liquor stores every week. Muwin Estate’s total production is closing in on half a million litres per year, most of that cider.
“A good quality cider, because it’s a nice middle ground between wine and beer but is a very different taste from either, means it’s a very unifying drink,” Clawson says. And having passionate producers pushing boundaries and creating new tastes for consumers is taking the beverage to new sophisticated heights. “Cider culture is definitely growing,” says Clawson. “We’re the front-line staff. It seems it can only get bigger from here.”