British Columbia

Cider-making craze hits UBC Apple Festival

A cider-brewing craze has hit Metro Vancouver — spurred on by trends like gluten-free living and a love for fermented drinks like kombucha, according to those in the know.

For the first time, the festival will feature varieties geared towards cider

Jeff and Nathaly Nairn say they will take in any type of apples or crab apples. (Justin Student)

A cider-brewing craze has hit Metro Vancouver — spurred on by trends like gluten-free living and a love for fermented drinks like kombucha, according to those in the know.

The fad has spread all the way to the University of British Columbia's Apple Festival this weekend, where, for the first time, growers will sell trees with apples well suited to making cider.

Festival organizers say they're trying to feed the "explosion of popularity" in cider making.

Justin Student, 40, will be one of the growers at the festival. Of the 50 or so trees he'll be selling, he has five types with apple varieties that can be pressed into cider — Dabinett, Brown Snout, Ellis Bitter, Stoke Red and Frequin Rouge. 

"Many of the apples that you would eat, or try to eat, that are specific to cider, you'd spit them out because they're very tannic and very bitter," Student said.

"In the cider world those types of apples are called spitters."

Justin Student took an interest in growing apples about seven years ago. He also brews his own beer and kombucha. (Justin Student)

'There's no better way'

Jordan Patrich, brewmaster at the Burnaby Brewing Company, says his store was sold out of cider-making kits throughout the summer. 

"It's been crazy busier this year compared to years previously," Patrich said.

Customers who walk into the store can purchase a kit to make cider at home or make it and ferment it on location with the help of staff. The kits come with filtered apple juice and other ingredients like yeast, but customers can bring in their own juice if they prefer. 

"The best results that you get from making cider is using the best ingredients. So if people are actually using their own apples, there's no better way."

Most of the varieties at UBC's Apple Festival are for eating, but grower Justin Student is hoping more people will also be interested in apples for cider. (CBC)

The ingredients only need two to three weeks to ferment, Patrich says, before customers can bottle their batch. He says the process is much easier than making beer or wine. 

Patrich has seen all sorts of trends since he started working at the Burnaby Brewing Company about five years ago.  When he first started, wine coolers were all the rage, he said. Sales of those have now dropped to nearly nothing.

He thinks part of what's fuelling interest in ciders is the gluten-free trend. (Beer made from barley and wheat contains gluten.) That's combined with current preferences for sour beers like lambics. 

"It's just that tart crispness that people like," he said. 

Combining interests

For Student, growing cider apples is a result of a combination of many interests and side projects. 

He says he has been growing apples and cider varietals for about seven years, but has been focusing on the latter in the past three. 

He has access to many lesser-known types of apples through the B.C. Fruit Testers community. The group, which he joined about five years ago, aims to maintain heritage, rare and antique apple varieties. 

After Student took an interest in growing apples, he then started keeping bees to help pollinate the trees on his properties in Ladner and Powell River.

He then combined his interest in growing food with his passion for brewing and fermentation — he also makes mead, beer and cider and non-alcoholic drinks like kombucha.

The UBC Apple Festival is mostly about eating varieties, Student says, but he hopes that a growing interest in fermentation and brewing will lead to more sales of his cider apple trees. 

The festival runs until Sunday at UBC's Botanical Gardens. 


Maryse Zeidler


Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at