Liquor commission adapts rules to allow new cidery in Charlottetown

Owners of a new cidery in Charlottetown are pleased with a P.E.I. Liquor Control Commission policy change that will allow them to open their doors and sell hard cider — and others will now be able to do the same without owning an orchard.

New rules allow cideries to operate without growing own orchard

Red Island Cider co-owner James VanToever pours a glass at the cidery on Longworth Avenue in Charlottetown. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

Owners of a new cidery in Charlottetown are pleased with a P.E.I. Liquor Control Commission policy change that will allow them to open their doors and sell hard cider — and now others will be able to do the same, without owning an orchard.

Red Island Cider makes alcoholic cider and is gearing up to start sharing its product Friday after overcoming hurdle after hurdle: several location changes, a supplier going into receivership, and issues acquiring a licence to sell.

Under liquor commission policy, cider had been considered a wine. Because of that, cideries needed to be licensed as a winery, which meant growing at least three acres of apples on site.

'It wasn't going to work'

But co-owner Robert VanWaarden says he and his business partner James VanToever, who have been friends since childhood, weren't ready to make that type of investment.

The pair is set to open their small Charlottetown taproom, with hopes to someday set up a location in rural P.E.I. as well. VanWaarden said without this policy change, their business idea would have been "dead in the water." 

Cidery co-owner Robert VanWaarden inspects a glass of cider. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

He said the company approached the commission to find a way to run the business under existing legislation. 

"There are definitely people in the past 10 years that have walked through those doors and said 'What do we do to get cider going?' and were told that they needed to plant an orchard," VanWaarden said.

"And you know that's $150,000 to $200,000 investment that you put in for three years before you start seeing apples. So for two young guys who just came back to the Island, it wasn't going to work."

Hope for industry expansion

Ultimately, some collaborative work with the P.E.I. Liquor Control Commission led to a policy change that enabled Red Island Cider to get a licence as a microbrewery instead; apple acreage is not part of the criteria for a microbrewery licence.

The commission made the policy change after looking at how craft cider — made by those who don't grow the apples themselves — is handled in other Atlantic provinces. 

The cidery's owners say without the policy change, they'd never have been able to get their business off the ground. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC )

"It was very limiting for small business owners, just financially and human-resource wise," said VanToever.

"To manage an orchard and grow trees that can produce the juice that you want to make the best cider is a task in itself, let alone to manage a bar and make cider and make contacts with the restaurant and hospitality industry, it's just, that's a huge undertaking."

The owners hope this modification will help make it easier for others to start and operate this type of business on P.E.I.

'Enough room for everybody'

Fellow craft-cider maker Anne Jamieson, co-owner of Riverdale Orchard, in Bonshaw, P.E.I., said she is delighted with any changes that help the cider industry grow on the Island. 

"I think it's a win-win situation for everybody," said Jamieson, who started the business in 2014 after arriving from Scotland.

She said getting the orchard established along with getting the cidery up and running wasn't a quick or easy process.

But Jamieson said whether a cidery offers a rural day trip experience or a quick urban stop, anything that makes local craft cider more accessible is a good thing.   

"I think it's great for the industry, it's great for P.E.I., and honestly — good quality cider speaks for itself. There's enough room for everybody." 

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Jessica Doria-Brown


Jessica Doria-Brown is a videojournalist with CBC in P.E.I. Originally from Toronto, Jessica has worked for CBC in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Ontario.


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