Ontario craft ciders are not only delicious – they are also local! Made from apples that grow abundantly in our own province, they offer the perfect addition to your next meal, party, or round of drinks at the bar.
At last weekend’s City Cider celebration, members of the recently-formed Ontario Craft Cider Association (OCCA) served up samples of their wares. Volunteers and visitors alike enjoyed sips of cider from Hoity Toity Cellars, Pommies Dry Cider, Spirit Tree Cidery, and Thornbury Cider.
To learn more about their products, I spoke with Nick Sutcliffe, owner of Pommies Dry Cider and chair of the OCCA. I’m delighted to share his insider insights below.
What makes Ontario craft cider special?
I asked Nick, what makes local hard ciders a good choice for boozy beverages? His enthusiasm for local ingredients was contagious.
“You have to start with the raw materials,” he explained. “Ontario is about the best place in the world to grow apples for cider, because the cold climate here creates a more acidic apple, and a more acidic apple creates a better cider. And they grow everywhere! I always joke, if you’re driving along a country road – or even a city road – and you throw an apple core out the window, you’ll get an apple tree. So, we’re not fighting nature. Nature is definitely on our side.”
At last weekend’s City Cider event, some of the apples used in Ontario craft ciders were on display. Guests could try a slice of sour and tannin-rich varieties, including the Chestnut Crab, Michelin, Kingston Black, Foxwhelp, and Bulmer’s Norma.
More familiar varieties are also used in Ontario’s cider presses. “Like the Northern Spy,” Nick told me. “It’s a spectacular apple! And the Russet, Empire, Spartan, Ida Red – all those apples make really, really good cider.”
When it comes to big brand imports, many cideries rely on fruit concentrates as base ingredients. But Ontario’s craft cideries prefer to use 100% juice.
That makes a difference when it comes to taste, claims Nick. “I always say, you get out what you put in. When you’re using 100% juice – especially with Ontario apples – you’re going to get a spectacular product.”
What is the best way to enjoy Ontario craft ciders?
Ontario craft ciders are especially refreshing when served cold. Some people enjoy them on ice, but Nick prefers his without.
While cider goes down easy on its own, it also pairs well with food – and not just as a drink, but also as a cooking ingredient.
“It goes incredibly well with anything pork related,” suggests Nick, whose company features an online archive of cider recipes. “Cider was made for pork. It also goes spectacularly well with chicken or with fish. And we always joke that wine stole cheese away from cider. You know, people love to host wine and cheese parties – but the reality is, it should be a cider and cheese party. Remember when you were a kid? You would take a bite of apple and then a bite of cheese? Delicious!”
As a bonus, Ontario’s craft ciders are typically gluten-free. That makes them a great alternative to beer for people with Celiac Disease or other types of gluten intolerance.
Where can you buy Ontario craft ciders?
Why stop at wineries when it comes to touring Ontario’s agricultural regions? Many members of the OCCA run tasting rooms, retail stores, or restaurants. You can make a day trip – or swing by en route to somewhere else – to learn about the cider-making process, sample and buy their products, and support a delicious local industry. Visit the OCCA online for a list of local cideries and their locations.
The LCBO has also begun to stock Ontario craft ciders in some stores. You can browse for local options online, by searching for “Canada Ciders” in the LCBO’s online database. Or go one step further and encourage the LCBO to strengthen their support of local cideries, by asking the manager of your local store to stock a wider selection of homegrown options.
“We are a budding industry here,” says Nick. “So, we’re fledgling. If you give us a shot, then we really put the quality of our ciders up there with any in the world.”
For more information about Ontario craft ciders, visit the Ontario Craft Cider Association online.