Ontario marks its first ever Cider Month
A week-long annual tradition blossoms into a month-long celebration as industry witnesses unprecedented growth
When Jenifer Dean got into the craft cider business almost 20 years ago, she had little idea the industry would experience the popularity it's seeing today.
Dean's late husband, Grant Howes, and his family launched The County Cider Company in Prince Edward County in the late 1990s.
"At one time, we were the only cider company in Ontario and now there are so many. It's raising the profile of the industry across the province," Dean said.
Thanks to unprecedented growth, especially over the past decade, the Ontario Craft Cider Association (OCCA) has named June its first ever Cider Month.
According to the OCCA, between 2012 and 2017, sales of Ontario craft ciders soared from 1 million to 11 million dollars. During the same period, the number of craft cideries selling product through the LCBO increased from just under five to over 30.
For Dean, who also happens to be a founding member of the Ontario Craft Cider Association, there's no better time to celebrate.
"Previously it was Cider Week, but now that cider is so big, it only makes sense to do a whole month," she said.
More than a dozen bars and restaurants will be offering samplings of new and limited-release ciders, as well as food pairings from June 1 to June 30.
The LCBO will also be hosting cider tastings. The month-long celebration will be capped off with an inaugural craft cocktail party at Toronto's Burroughs Building, with a cider-based cocktails from local craft producers.
Innovation is key
"It helps that Ontario apple growers are growing some of the best apples in North America," Dean said.
But she says it takes more than that to make a great cider. She attributes the growth of the industry in large part to innovation and experimentation.
"The variety of apples is changing," she said.
"More cider-specific apples are being grown ... making the cider more complex and interesting to drink."
Cider companies are also experimenting with different flavours.
In June, The County Cider Company will be offering a black-peach cider. Other cideries will be launching flavours such as honey-rosemary, raspberry apple, and watermelon basil.
"Consumers want something new and different and they want to be the first to have that flavour," Dean said.
On the eve of Cider Month, the federal and provincial governments jointly announced investments to further boost the growth of Ontario's cider industry.
"Ontario plays a significant role in Canada's growing craft cider industry," said Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.
"As Ontarians enjoy this year's Craft Cider Month celebrations, our Government is pleased to support the province's cider industry through investments to increase efficiencies, reduce impacts on the environment and offer exciting new products to consumers."
The investments include:
$130,175 for Sunnybrook Farm Estate Winery to purchase and install an advanced glycol chilling and piping system for cider production to help reduce energy usage costs by 50 per cent, and a new wetland wastewater treatment system to help reduce disposal costs and eliminate wastewater.
$70,661 for Fielding Estate Winery to purchase a new robotic press to establish three new product lines, which will help to increase capacity when processing apples for cider.
Dean is glad the cider industry is gaining more support and anticipates the industry will continue to trend upwards as more cider makers come up with new and interesting flavours.
"The passion for making cider is really apparent. And it's a great alternative to beer or wine."