Sales of cider soar on P.E.I. as more cideries tap into the trend
'There are more cider drinkers, more cider connoisseurs'
Sales are soaring on P.E.I. as Islanders show a growing thirst for cider, both from away and brewed locally.
The numbers tell the story: the P.E.I. Liquor Control Commission now has 28 ciders sold in stores across the Island, and the number has increased in each of the past five years.
The commission reports total volume of cider sales grew 36 per cent from 2017 to 2018, with sales increasing 40 per cent to $1.4 million.
The P.E.I. Brewing Company produces Gahan's 6 Hours of Sun, available at liquor stores. Cider is available directly from Riverdale Orchard, licensed in May 2018 and Red Island Cider, licensed in May 2019.
A new cidery is scheduled to join the list in the next couple of months.
Double Hill Cidery in Caledonia, P.E.I., will specialize in wild apples.
"It's a wonderful place for growing apples and you can see that everywhere in the landscape on P.E.I., on the side of the road, in the hedgerows, apples are everywhere," said owner-operator Sebastian Manago.
"They grow naturally, so this is a natural habitat for apples."
Manago has been fermenting all winter and hopes to be ready to launch in late spring or early summer.
He says there are some challenges to working with wild apples, that have to be sorted by hand before they are milled and pressed.
"Wild apples can come in all shapes and sizes, they can be large apples, they can be tiny," Manago said.
"You deal with a huge variety but that creates the quality because you have a huge variety of flavors in that juice and that carries right through to the cider."
Manago points to the history of cider, which was the most popular drink in North America before Prohibition.
"When Prohibition was lifted, the breweries were quicker back in the game than the cideries which had ripped out all the apple orchards," Manago said.
"It takes time to grow a tree to bear an apple and so the brewers were quicker back in the game and that's why beer has taken off."
Manago says cider is making a strong comeback, for many reasons.
"I think it is a very natural product, by nature, apples are very good for you, so it's a product made from a healthy fruit," Manago said.
"People with celiac disease, people who don't like gluten, I think it's the lightness of the product and the low alcohol level of it."
Manago says Double Hill will make the wild apple cider more like a wine than a beer, sticking to one batch a year.
They are also growing their own orchards, to ensure a supply of wild apples, grafting the best of the wild trees and establishing new varieties.
"The aspiration is to have to create a really true terroir product from P.E.I. that is unlike any other product in North America," Manago said.
"It can only be made on P.E.I. and that's the ambition."
Just a matter of time
Anne Jamieson and her husband Alex operate Riverdale Orchard, where they produce a cider called 2 Scots 3 Apples.
The Scottish couple moved to Prince Edward Island in 2014.
"Coming from the U.K., the cider business over there has had a resurgence and we knew that would eventually come across to the pond to Canada," Jamieson said.
"It was happening in the States and it was just a matter of time before it came over to Canada."
Jamieson is not worried about the growing number of cideries.
"There are more and more cider drinkers, more and more cider connoisseurs, who know what good quality cider should taste, feel like in your mouth," Jamieson said.
"If you look at the microbrewers are on the Island, they all seem to be doing really well, they have their own following."
Jamieson says, like microbreweries, each cidery will have something distinct.
"You could have the same raw material but because we perhaps use the apples in a slightly different way, or they're grown in our orchard compared to someone else's, " Jamieson said.
"There's a slight difference to all the different products."
'Looking for something different'
Red Island Cider has just opened its doors in Charlottetown.
"I think that a large portion of the cider drinking crew is actually craft beer consumers and they're looking for something new, because that crowd is always looking for something different to try," said Robert VanWaarden, co-owner of Red Island Cider.
"People are looking for something that is somewhere in between a beer and wine and maybe neither, there are actually a lot of people out there that aren't big beer drinkers."
VanWaarden is not worried about the growing number of cideries on P.E.I.
"I think there's room for everybody. We've seen an explosion in craft beer which is now leading us to eight craft breweries on the Island, with two or three more about to come online here," VanWaarden said.
"I think we haven't come close to tapping into the cider consumption ability here on P.E.I."