Rethinking Cider (Part II)

I mentioned a while ago that for too long I was hostile to the idea of cider. I tried a few I didn’t like, then flew to Frankfurt and tried some that didn’t seem to like me. That was that.

My tastes changed when I attended the mouthful of an event known as Canadian Beer News and Canadian Cider News present The Rhino Fall Beer & Cider Festival 2013, and was introduced to West Avenue. Since then I’ve also noticed Thornsbury, Spirit Tree, Pommies and a few others showing up more often.

West Avenue
West Avenue Heritage Dry Cider, at BarHop (the focus being on the grain was obviously my camera’s intuition)

From what I understand – and at this point, admittedly, it’s not a lot – Ontario grows great cider apples. In fact, the Ontario Craft Cider Association claims “… Ontario has the best apples in the world for cider production.”

However the OCCA also laments the discrimination its members endure when sent to school with their craft beer cousins (who, of course, are just starting to get the same respect – if not equal access to distribution – as Ontario’s wineries).

First, some facts and stats to ponder:

  • The LCBO marks up Ontario Craft Cider (cider which uses 100% Ontario apples or pears) nearly 55% above the cost it purchases it for. Factor in taxes, and the cidery is left with just 52% of the final tally. Ontario brewers, on the other hand, are marked up at a much lower rate, netting them 73% of what the consumer pays.
  • If a cider producer sells a keg to a bar or restaurant, 40% of the purchase price goes back to the LCBO, even though the government agency has no part of the transaction. Breweries, on the other hand, pass off exactly nothing in the same situation.
  • Whereas the Ontario Craft Brewers receive yearly taxpayer assistance in the form of Ontario Microbrewery Strategy dollars, the cideries have no similar investment.

That all comes from the OCCA. I wanted to do some follow up, but their website discourages it by failing to provide any contact info. If I persisted (harassed their members, posted on their Facebook page, scrolled to the bottom of this news release), I could probably find something, but I’m assuming the omission is intentional so who am I to be a pest?

Despite a wonky playing field, it seems fermented pommes are still making huge gains. Cider is actually the fastest swelling alcohol segment at the LCBO, and the homegrown juice (at least in terms of percentages) is the grower, if not the yet show-er.

LCBO cider sales
Domestic cider is that which is produced elsewhere in Canada (courtesy the LCBO)

Consider that The Beer Store doesn’t sell it, and the only cider listed at The Wine Rack (Grower’s) is from B.C. and you’ll get a sense of how difficult it is for consumers to find local selection. If I wanted to pick up some West Avenue to take home, I’d have no idea where to go. (Incidentally, the LCBO’s new Cider Rules! booklet gives West Avenue’s Chris Haworth a platform to boast about the strides Ontario cider has made. “Five years ago, Ontario had two cideries. In the past few years we’ve sprouted 15.” Below his photo, this: West Avenue Cider products are currently not available at LCBO stores).

Cider Rules
West Avenue’s Chris Haworth of Page 2 of the LCBO’s Cider Rules! booklet

More and more I’m finding myself curious about this beverage, especially local varieties. If it’s true Ontario breeds the very finest pomaceous fruit, the opportunities for growth are enormous, especially if cideries here go apples out branding their geographic superiority. While they may not luxuriate in the tradition of Frankfurt’s Sachsenhausen (are there any ciderpubs in Ontario?), with proper branding it seems only the province’s regulatory environment can stunt their vast potential.

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