Faithful readers may recall that I try to make an annual pilgrimage to the Okanagan Valley, that heavenly little spot of Canadian wine country that is close enough for a quick getaway.
As luck would have it, WestJet had a last-minute seat sale for the August long weekend, so I hopped the one-hour flight from Calgary to Kelowna for a wild weekend of whimsical winery tours.
As per usual, I visited a mix of familiar wineries, a few that had rebranded due to mergers or acquisitions since my last visit, and even a handful of new entrants to the market. I continue to be impressed by our local Canadian winemakers who can produce such high quality wines in our short growing season, and came home with a few mixed cases of wine to enjoy over the coming year.
One thing that struck me was the growing number of cideries popping up beside the wineries. Around twenty years ago, it seemed you couldn’t drive for five minutes in the Okanagan without seeing an apple orchard being ripped out to make way for a more lucrative vineyard, but that trend seems to be reversing.
We are riding the wave of a cider revolution, with new apple orchards springing up, and existing apple orchards starting to ferment their own hard ciders.
Alberta was a pioneer in the cider revolution, with local cider production going on for 25 years now. It all started back in 1993, when an orchard owner in Kelowna hand-delivered a bushel of apples to the late, great, Ed McNally, founder of the Calgary-based Big Rock Brewery.
By 1994, Big Rock had started producing Rock Creek Cider out of the brewery in Calgary, and it has been going strong ever since. Rock Creek Cider is made in the dry style, meaning that nearly all of the sugars in the juice have been consumed by yeast during the fermentation process.
Big Rock was the only producer of hard cider for many years, but a few more Alberta producers have recently jumped on the bandwagon.
Calgary’s own Village Brewing, which was famously started by a number of former Big Rock employees, started producing Village Cider a few months ago. You may have already noticed Village Cider in tallboy cans at your local bottle shop. Made with a champagne yeast and just a tiny bit of Earl Grey tea for flavouring, it is the perfect refresher for these hot summer days.
Another new kid on the block is the Elite Brewing & Cidery, who opened their doors in Calgary last month. I sampled the Bunker Buster Raspberry Cider in their militaria-themed taproom last week. Made with BC apples and Alberta raspberries, the cider was extra refreshing on a sunny day, with the perfect balance of sweet and tart flavours from the different fruits.
Lest you think only that ciders are only a sideline for established beer brewers, look no further than the Uncommon Cider, who opened in Calgary earlier this year.
Uncommon Cider produces several different styles of cider, with a match for every palate. The flagship is the Uncommon Dry Craft Cider, made from a mix of Alberta and BC apples. Crisp and bright flavours with subtle spicy notes from the wild yeast fermentation, this one was my favourite.
Those who prefer a slightly bitter tang to their cider will enjoy the Uncommon Dry Hopped Craft Cider. Citra and Mosaic hops are added late in the fermentation process, which allows them to add floral aromas without extracting much of the bittering hop oils.
As an amateur home brewer, I have even whipped up a few batches of hard apple cider at home. The two crabapple trees in my backyard only produced about five litres of juice, which I painstakingly pressed by hand. Fortunately, a quick trip to Safeway provided me with another six litres of ready-made and preservative-free apple juice that I poured into the fermenter along with my hand-pressed juice and a few pinches of champagne yeast.
Fast-forward a few weeks, and my cider was ready for kegging. While the bouquet was not quite as complex as some of our local craft cideries, my homebrew cider was entirely quaffable, and garnered no complaints at my last garden party.
Remember, an apple a day keeps the doctor away, so try some local Alberta craft cider today!