Did you know hard cider is the fastest growing alcoholic beverage in Ontario? It was the first alcoholic beverage enjoyed in North America – the pilgrims fermented their apples – and since then, the drink has gone in and out of fashion. During prohibition, hundreds of acres of apple cider orchards in Ontario were ripped out, ending a thriving industry. Years later when prohibition was repealed, cider was the last alcoholic beverage considered for production because it takes an apple tree five years to produce apples.
While hard cider has long roots in Canada, it actually hails from the United Kingdom where it’s simply known as cider. In Canada, we refer to cider as the non-alcoholic, unfiltered apple juice that makes its way to farmers’ markets every fall, while hard cider is the name we use for the fermented (alcoholic) variety.
Modern cider makers are adding their own unique touches for heavenly takes on the traditional blend. Take Steve and Michelle Farris, for example; the husband and wife co-owners of Ernest Cider Co. craft their cider in-house at their Aurora facility from start to finish, and sell it on the shelves of 300-plus LCBO locations across the province.
All of their ingredients are locally sourced, following the Farris’ mandate to support local farmers. The cider is made from a blend of seven Ontario apples, carefully balanced for acidity and sugar to ensure it always achieves just the right PH level and taste profile. “We make it in the traditional fashion in the sense that we ferment it slowly and we don’t release it until three months later,” Michelle says. “It’s similar to wine-making from that perspective.”
Ernest Co. Cider currently offers two flavours of cider. Their Ernest Dry is a dry cider sweetened with organic cane sugar and raw, pure wildflower honey sourced from Steve’s old university roommate who now owns Martin’s Sweet Farm in Campbellville. Then there’s the Rubee, which is infused with cranberries from Muskoka and cherries from the Niagara escarpment.
Having been born and raised on the farm himself, Steve has a special passion for the labour of love. “Knowing what it’s like to be in agriculture – the risk and the hard work – it’s more of a lifestyle and the love of being a farmer that drives everyone,” says Steve.
The apples used to make cider don’t look the same as the perfectly shaped and shiny variety you find at the grocery store. They may be discoloured or bleached from the sun, but they still taste the same. Of course, the farmers make lower margins on the ugly fruit. “The look of the apple doesn’t matter after it’s pressed,” says Steve. “So being able to give those local farmers a market for some of these products that there [previously] wasn’t a huge demand for is a real bonus.”
Like wine grapes, there are many types of apples, each with their own characteristics. Most hard ciders are a blend of apple varieties, while others are produced from just one kind. Methods of production vary,textures range from still to sparkling, and flavour profiles range from dry and crisp to off dry and fruity to ice cider. “With the craft ciders, you’re reminded more of a wine versus many of the mass-produced ciders on the shelf, which are more of a sugary apple juice,” says Steve.
This makes them perfect partners for a wide range of food. A cheese platter of old cheddar, soft cambozola or hard pecorina offers weighty flavours that suit many flavours of cider. But the pairings don’t stop there. “We’ve always enjoyed turkey with stuffing and a glass of Rubee,” says Michelle. “Because Rubee has cranberries in it and it’s not at all sweet; it’s kind of like a blush, dry cider wine. It’s lovely.”
With consistently excellent quality, locally grown and produced ciders, innovative styles and palate complexity, it’s no wonder there has been a surge in popularity with Ontario’s appreciative drinkers. “Like you see in the beer industry, consumers are becoming more discerning and they want a less sugary drink – something that’s more authentically made, that uses all local produce and gives back to local farmers,” says Michelle. “This is where the growth is coming from. It’s promising, and we’re looking forward to a good future.”
by Charlotte Ottaway
Ernest Cider Co., Aurora
Toronto Cider Festival Held each August
Ontario Craft Cider Week Annually each May/June