Every few weeks, Sophie writes about Beer, Brewing and Bites. Her stories are witty, educational and worth a read!
Nova Scotia Apples and Berries – Not Just For Grandma’s Pies - August 9, 2019
Nova Scotia has over 2,600 farms linked to the food and beverage industry. This includes growers of apples and berries. Our wee province of Nova Scotia produces 10% of this country’s apple supply and boasts about two dozen types of edible berries, including 40,000 acres of wild blueberries, making it the largest fruit crop in the province. But it’s not just fruit these days, it’s fermented fruit that is helping to spur growth in our local agri-business.
My loyal readers know me to be partial to beer, but there’s a new trend in alcoholic beverages that is piggy-backing on top of my beloved craft beer movement. According to recent NSLC statistics, “ready to drink” sales (which includes ciders, coolers, and other pre-mixed alcohol drinks) are up 81% over the previous year. Compare that to the growth in craft beer sales (up 27% over last year) and you begin to sense a shift in consumer preferences. Growth in the “ready to drink” market mirrors the craft beer movement; it’s being driven by that same desire to buy locally, from producers who offer a quality product with their own unique twist on style and flavor.
Cider in particular is becoming the “go-to” option as an alternative to beer – especially in tap rooms and bars where customers are looking for a gluten-free option, or a lower alcohol alternative to wine or hard liquor. Nova Scotia cider sales are up 21% from last year. And here’s the pleasant surprise – about half of those cider sales are made in Nova Scotia. That’s pretty impressive when at last count there were only 12 craft cideries in the province.
Innovation and marketing seem to be a key factor. As the cider category becomes more crowded, brands are trying to differentiate themselves with some interesting variations. Halifax’s Chain Yard Cidery opened in 2017 and already has produced more than 27 different ciders. Some cideries products are made with fruits other than traditional apples, including pears and apricots. Other fruit additions (think cranberries, cherries, and mixed berries), either pre- or post-fermentation, provide more nuance to a cider’s aroma and flavor. These innovations offer up a broader spectrum of choice - dry, sweet, sparkling, still, funky, tart, even barrel-aged.
Walk into your local brewery these days and you’ll find at least one tap line of cider reserved for the “alternative-to-beer” drinking crowd. The Saltbox has hired on its own cider-maker and has already released four versions of cider in their tap room over the last year (Backyard series, Original Sin, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, and Old Orchard), all of which have sold out quickly. A fifth release is in the making.
Let’s face it, we love the art of booze-making. And when we think about “think social, drink local”, the growing popularity of cider fits nicely into bolstering the local economy. 100% of cider ingredients can be locally sourced. The Annapolis Valley offers some of the most diverse apple varieties in North America. And then there’s the Nova Scotia blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, and raspberries that can be added to put a twist on flavor. Saltbox is working closely with Hazzberry Farms, the local Haskap farmers cooperative, to source the tart-tasting haskap berry as an ingredient in one of their upcoming cider releases. All of the agricultural inputs to the cider stay in Nova Scotia, benefitting local farmers as well as the other local businesses involved in the production process.
Ironically, cider-making was forbidden during the early days of British rule in Canada because it was in direct conflict with established brewers’ interests in 1763. It appears our local breweries have learned a thing or two over the centuries. Variety is the spice of life, and consumers want choice. So stop on by your local tap room, and if you’re with someone who steps up to the bar and says, “I don’t like beer…”, encourage them to sample the local cider.