Vancouver cider houses on the rise
Perhaps echoing the boom in craft brewing, cider makers in and around the Lower Mainland are seeing a rise in interest and demand.
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Up until recently, B.C. cider was where craft beer was 10 years ago, with only pilsners and lagers, notes Shawn Pisio, co-founder of Txotx Imports, a Vancouver-based craft food and alcohol importer.
Txotx is a Basque word meaning to drink cider from a barrel, a tradition in the Basque region where people open up large barrels of cider in the spring, fill their glasses straight from the cask, and feast on food to celebrate the season. Pisio and his wife Kelly were so enamoured by their travels to the area that they eventually got married in a Basque cider house, and after returning to Vancouver, decided to start importing the ciders they loved.
Missing traditional cider houses, the Pisios enlisted their friend, chef Michael Broadbent, who had worked in the Basque region, to help them open one of the first cider houses in Western Canada.
Every weekend, Gastown’s Birds and the Beets Coffee House is transformed into Orchard and the Sea, offering a rotating selection of traditional Basque food paired with local and imported ciders on tap.
It’s an approach that’s proving very popular, filling a gap in the market.
Passionate about “helping the growing B.C. cider market,” Txotx also organized the inaugural B.C. Cider Festival last April, which quickly sold out.
Patrick Connelly, one of the founders of Vancouver’s Sunday Cider along with Bestie owners Dane Brown and Clinton McDougall, is similarly effusive about cider. At their East Van production space, shared with Humblebee Meads, they create a range of artisanal ciders. Although they don’t have a taproom, they roll up the garage door several times a year for what Connelly terms “mini-festivals.” Their Summer Sizzlers offer growler fills, food trucks, and DJs, “bringing people together in a joyful space.”
Their cider is also on tap across the region at places like Bestie, Field House in Abbotsford, and Luppolo. “We’re East Van proud,” noted Connelly, saying they joke that they have a shipping radius of 1.5 kilometres.
There’s a huge demand. “People have reached out to us. We always sell out, “ he said. “There’s a real surge of interest.”
McDougall’s interest in cider began early.
“As a baby, my first home in Canada was a picker shack on an orchard in Naramata and I grew up in the Okanagan, cutting through apple orchards to get to highschool, so I guess there's relationship with apples from the start.”
As McDougall noted, “Cider can be as complex as wine, and a varied as beer. I'd love to go head to head with a sommelier and pitch cider against wine in a cheese pairing, or take on a beer cicerone and see which bevy wins with BBQ.”
Sunday Cider’s main goal is to create great craft cider that’s 100 per cent B.C. grown fruit.
And cider can be more environmentally friendly too. Apples don’t have to be cosmetically perfect for cider, so there’s less waste.
McDougall describes cider making as “part science, part art. A connection to nature that you can eventually bring to the table and share with people. That's the basic reason we're making cider, to share some joy with the others.”