It’s safe to say that craft hard cider is fairly well-known in New Brunswick now. You can find it on tap at local restaurants, in liquor stores, and even at farmer’s markets. It wasn’t that long ago, however, that hardly anybody in New Brunswick had hard cider on their minds. In fact, we call it “hard” cider because we’re so used to “cider” simply meaning raw apple juice. But in England, cider is the fermented, alcoholic beverage, and “soft” cider is the term used for non-alcoholic cider. New Brunswick’s blossoming hard cider industry can be attributed to two English people who now call New Brunswick their home: Adam Clawson and Nicola Mason. Clawson and Mason are the co-owners of Red Rover Brewing Company, a cidery they started in 2012 when they realized that at the time there was nowhere to get a local cider in New Brunswick. They started selling commercially in early 2014.
We interviewed Clawson for our independent documentary Beerocracy on the New Brunswick craft brewing industry. He told us that the lack of a cider industry in the Maritimes can be attributed to prohibition. “The cutting down of the cider-specific apple trees was a very quick way to show your loyalty to sobriety,” said Clawson. “It was very hard to bring back, so it never recovered. So the dessert apples and the cooking apples that you would need for food never disappeared. So what we’ve done is we’ve taken the apples that are abundant, which are predominantly dessert apples, and created a hybrid cider based from dessert apples.”
The Red Rover owners had to quickly educate people on what hard cider is and how it’s a separate category of alcohol, as opposed to being a form of wine or beer. Clawson said that at first, customers would come in asking for “cider-beer.” But Clawson says that we’re now at the point where consumers are educated enough to tell the difference between a commercial cider and a craft cider.
Since Red Rover established a craft cider fanbase, other cider brewing companies have popped up. Fredericton is home to York County Cider, who also have a taproom and sell bottles at NB Liquor, and near Oromocto you can find Gagetown Fruit Farms, whose cider is available at the Boyce Farmer’s Market in Fredericton. In other parts of the province and even in some grocery stores we have access to Verger Belliveau Orchard’s “Scow” cider, and Yip Cider near Saint John, as well as others you can find depending on the location.
As for Red Rover, more cideries is no barrier to growth. Red Rover’s products can be found on the shelves at liquor stores all over New Brunswick. Red Rover Brewing was even selected as part of the Ignite Fredericton Export Igniter program, an initiative to help growing companies in New Brunswick to enter the international market by partnering them with local successful mentors, UNB business students, and offering other guidance and training.
If you’ve tried cider before but haven’t experienced all the different types of flavours available, then I highly recommend attending the Fredericton Cider Festival. At this event many local cider producers offer up different varieties of cider — and yes, there are lots. The 2017 event had about 25 different ciders available. The great thing about festivals is that you get a sample glass with which you can try small amounts of lots of different product, rather than committing to full glasses. My personal favourites apart from the staples are blueberry ciders and pear ciders, although I also love any cider with a hint of cinnamon as it tastes just like apple pie.
My own interest in cider, other than its great taste, extends to home brewing my own small batches. It’s very easy to brew a simple batch of hard cider. While it won’t taste as great as that of the pros, it’s fun and makes for great Christmas gifts. I like to use Coburn’s cider as my base, then I pasteurize it myself, add yeast, allow it to ferment a few weeks before bottling, and voila! I sometimes use different variations of yeast (wine yeast for a dryer cider, or ale yeast for a sweeter cider) or use hop additions to add some other flavours.
Even though Canada’s 150th year is drawing to a close, keep your eyes open for special ciders released in the fall and Christmas. Last year Red Rover had special limited release bottles of “barrel reserve” cider. You won’t want to miss out!