TORONTO—The Ontario Craft Cider Association (OCCA) held its inaugural Ontario Cider Week in Toronto in early June and called on government to level the playing field with respect to how cider is sold within the province.
Ontario cider is sold to bars through the LCBO’s direct-to-licensee program with cideries remitting 40 per cent of the sale to the LCBO, a markup that Ontario beer and VQA wines do not pay.
“We’ve got a very strong message—level the playing field,” OCCA chair Nick Sutcliffe told ORN.
The two-year old lobby group represents more than 15 Ontario cideries and was formed “to create a centre of excellence,” through collaboration among cideries, Sutcliffe said.
While there are other issues cideries face—including production levels, healthy supply lines and selling cider at farmers markets—Sutcliffe said these issues are peripheral to the association’s primary message of reducing LCBO markups.
“That’s the only message we’re going with,” he said. “We just can’t take our eyes off the ball.”
The inaugural Ontario Cider Week was staged at five Toronto bars—The Loose Moose, Tequila Bookworm, WVRST, Bar Hop, The Only Café and Bar Volo—featuring ciders from across the province. The only ticketed event, held at Bar Volo on the final day of the week, was sold out within eight days.
“It’s been very positive,” Sutcliffe said, adding that all of the Ontario ciders featured throughout the week were produced with 100 per cent Ontario-grown apples or pears.
“I’m a true believer that in Ontario, because of our cold climate, we will be making the best cider in the world,” Sutcliffe said, pointing to Ontario’s success at the 9th annual Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Association Competition where several Ontario cideries took home medals including Twin Pines of Thedford, ON, which won best-in-show over 327 entries for its Hammer Bent Red.
LCBO spokeswoman Heather MacGregor told ORN, cider is one of the fastest growing segments.
Last year, Ontario cider sales were $7.1 million, an increase of almost 72 per cent over the previous year.
“It really speaks to the interest and demand for locally produced products,” MacGregor said. “We are happy to be working with local cideries and it’s obviously a huge growth for us and we’re very excited for different products that can be brought to market.”
According to Sutcliffe, there are at least five cideries preparing to launch in the province this year.
Co-owner of TGS Cider Christian Lenz said it is a great time to be in the cider business and Ontario Cider Week is the first step toward recognition.
Lenz said his contract cidery tried many different recipes but landed on a 14 per cent ABV aged cider.
“We do a very different process than would be typically done with a cider,” Lenz said. “We do more of a beer process but [with] no hops. We add our own yeast (we don’t use natural cider yeast) and we go from there.”
According to Lenz, the cider is aged for at least a month, but is best after a year.
Chris Haworth, owner of West Avenue Cider, has been in production for two years at his cidery in Caledon, ON. In the first year, the cidery produced 10,000 litres and sold out in three months. This year, six times the production has been pre-sold out.
“Cider is booming,” Haworth said, adding the Ontario Cider Week was a way “to showcase how versatile cider is.”
During the week, attendees could sample a blood orange cider, a cranberry raspberry cider, hopped ciders, barrel-aged ciders and many others.
Sutcliffe—who is also creator of Pommies Dry Cider—said the cider movement owes a great deal to Ontario’s craft brewers.
“We’re about eight years behind craft beer and we have a lot to thank them for because they are opening everyone’s eyes to what else is out there,” Sutcliffe said.
According to the LCBO, craft beer sales have increased by nearly 500 per cent since 2006.
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