Ciders by the Sea

Exploring the cideries of Southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands

By Marianne Scott

Apples, eaten the world over, are the second most consumed fruit (after bananas), and their popularity is reflected in hundreds of sayings—men have Adam’s apples, we don’t mix apples and oranges, Apple Inc. is worth $2.78 trillion, and New York City is nicknamed the “Big Apple.”

Through thousands of years of cross breeding, an estimated 7,500 apple varieties exist, and DNA analysis shows that they descended from apple trees that grew in Kazakhstan’s fruit forests. Today, apples flourish in every temperate climate.


The fermented drink derived from apples—cider—originated thousands of years ago—precise dates slumber in pre-history. Apples were likely carried to Europe along the Silk Road. Crab apples are a BC native species and perhaps Indigenous people carried seeds when migrating to the Americas from Asia.

Yeasts that ferment apples live everywhere, so spontaneous fermentation likely took place far and wide and cider was “discovered” wherever apples grew. Today, English and French cider apples are often considered best for making cider—they contain more tannin and are more astringent and acidic.

Settlers from Europe, Japan and Hawaii were prolific apple tree planters. On Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands their legacy lives on in orchards, farm fields and along roads. Apples are BC’s most valuable edible horticulture crop.


In recent years, craft cider making has flourished in BC. Cidermakers are entrepreneurial, innovative and they experiment with many varieties of apples, other fruits, herbs and spices. They shun the highly sugared drinks made by commercial producers, whose apple juice content may be low.

Saanich Peninsula

My first cidery visit was at Seaside Farm and Ciderhouse near Sidney. Owner Kristen Needham thinks of cider as a social beverage, quaffed with friends and family. “It’s a humble drink,” she said. “It’s approachable and you don’t have to be a sommelier to appreciate cider. People like the stories behind the beverage, how apples grow and cider gets made.”

Kristen’s father owned an orchard near Shuswap and the family once homebrewed cider. “I never thought I’d farm,” she grinned. She’d studied international relations concentrating on food security and launched an international development firm. The birth of a son and daughter led her to stay put and launch Seaside Ciderhouse.

She acquired 1,000 whips (baby apple trees) for her Saanich Peninsula farm; they’re arranged in rows and supported by cables. Since 2007 Seaside produces multiple ciders, including the Heirloom, Canadian Invasion and Temperance Series—which have won a flock of awards. Like many cideries, Seaside hosts weddings and retreats, along with a store filled with ciders and other apple products.


Another Saanich Peninsula cidery, the Victoria Cider Co., opened in the summer of 2022. Wayne and Maureen Ralph began planning their orchard in 2010 after they both retired.

“I liked cider as a young guy,” said Wayne. “So, when we bought property in 2010 and found some 100-year-old apple trees, we got a press and made cider for ourselves, then began making it commercially. We attended master cider and perry (pear) academies and visited cideries in Washington and Gloucestershire. We planted 1,850 whips including 40 varieties of tannin-heavy French and English cider trees. We want our own apple supply and have created a hygienic orchard—fabric keeps down weeds, no animal poop, no rotten fruit.”

The cidery picks eating apples at three other farms, which make up 40 percent of their cider. Blending English and French bittersweet and bittersharp cider apples produces a dry cider; a farmhouse cider that’s sweeter; ginger, a semi-dry cider blended with ginger; and pear cider maturing in whiskey casks. “We have a winery licence,” added Wayne. “We ferment special vintages from specific apple strains, like grape varieties that produce distinct wines.”

In 2020, Jillian and Cody Brown acquired the Saanich Peninsula’s Todd Cideries after looking for a place “to create community and the mental wellness gained from working the land.” Renaming it Junction Orchard and Cidery, the couple have created a nursery to backfill the existing 3,400 trees with new seedlings. “The bulk of our trees are the bittersharp kingston black and the bittersweet dabinett, English-style apples,” said Jillian. “We had our first full cider season in 2021. We’ve also created a welcome place for tastings and events—some with live music and food trucks.”

David Mitchell, with his red, bushy, Moses-like beard is the cidermaker. “From apple to bottle, I do it all,” he grinned. He’s pursuing a master’s degree in fermentation at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University. David likes to test his ingenuity and ferments several modern ciders, including the dabinett single-apple cider aged in red-wine casks. He’s also bottling hopped blackcurrant infused with hops and a splash of vanilla, and rhubarb, which includes a touch of BC honey to the apple and sour rhubarb mélange.

Gulf Islands

Salt Spring Wild’s owners Gerda Lattey and Mike Lachelt traded in their sculpting and philosophy careers to launch their cidery, buying property in 2015 with 80-year-old heritage apple trees. They’d produced homemade cider until the hobby turned into a business. Salt Spring was once an abundant regional apple supplier but lost its large orchards over time. But many trees still thrive, including wild trees along roadways. “We use local apples,” said Gerda, “many are rare varieties. With permission, we pick from 100 private growers and honour the variety of Salt Spring apples and apple history.”

Like other cideries, they use a rack-and-cloth press to crush a mix of bittersweet and bittersharp cider and culinary apples. “We pre-blend in tanks and blend again afterwards,” said Gerda. “Our ciders can reach 10.5 percent ABV.”

Production manager Jesse Scott said the cidery bottles year around. “Apples ripen at different times. Picking crews bring them in. They’re weighed, fed through a chipper, then mashed in a hydraulic press.”

Salt Spring Wild produces a wild variety of ciders. Their flights include the popular Farmhouse Scrumpy, based on high-tannin apples from historic orchards. They ferment pear cider and ciders flavoured with rosemary and bitter orange, even maple bourbon/apricot. The apple/pear/quince cider is unpasteurized, bone dry and finishes in the bottle. “There’s no limit to modern ciders with their special blends,” said Jesse.

Salt Spring’s Ciderworks is owned by Peri Lavender and Brian Webster who launched their organic orchard 12 years ago. Their cidermaking goal aims to connect people to the places they live, eat and drink.

It takes time and commitment to grow apple trees to bearing age and the couple allowed their trees to mature for five years before making cider. A three-wire trellis system supports their fruit trees.

We sat on Brian’s deck overlooking the 3,500 trees in the orchard. “I made a map to keep track of the different varieties,” he said. “About 20 percent are UK and French cider apples and others are local heritage varieties. We’re fundamentalists, focus on our own orchard and know where every ingredient comes from.”

Cidermaker Perri never adds sugar to their ciders; instead, judiciously added juice from sweeter apples determines the ciders’ dryness. The ciders’ ABV runs between 4.8 to 7.6 percent. Peri also cultivates and sells her own whips.

Their ciders include Firkin, which blends juice from all their apple varieties; Rebel with blackberry juice; 365 (apples), a rustic scrumpy; and the Flagship Collection’s Serious Cider made from cider and crab apples.

Partners Matthew Vasilev and Katie Selbee translated their experience in urban farming to rural South Pender Island where they and an angel investor formed Twin Island Cider in 2016. They, like other cidermakers, found a treasure trove of heritage and heirloom apple trees scattered around, some more than 125 years old. They also built an orchard by grafting bittersweets from England and cuttings from Lasqueti and old Pender trees. Like many cidermakers, they live in rural splendour, surrounded by apple trees, meadows and vintage barns.

“Our varieties are more culinary than cider apples,” said Matthew. “We make great cider from standard bittersweets and harvests from the old trees. No added yeast. There’s no CO2 injection. The cider can take up to six months to ferment and up to 12 months to bottle. We call it ‘natural cider.’”

“We follow our natural inclination—hands on cultivation,” Matthew continued. “We’ve also adopted 30 orchards where we pick apples. In 17 of these orchards, we prune and maintain the trees.”

Twin Island has established a cider club—participants receive three special ciders quarterly, accompanied by descriptions of how they’re made. They also produce a hybrid pét-nat cider using with both apples and grapes (pét-nat stands for “pétillant naturel” or natural sparkling cider that goes through a second fermentation after bottling). Katie has been producing clay vessels from locally dug clay, in which some ciders age, infusing them with a special terroir flavour. They’re called “From, Here.”


Cowichan Valley

Three Cowichan Valley cideries have long, medium and short pedigrees. Rick Pipes and Janet Docherty have operated Merridale Cidery & Distillery with its 10 varieties of English, German and French cider apple trees for 30 years. They refurbished a rundown orchard and have added thousands of trees, a tasting bar, restaurant, farm store, even yurts, growing the production to more than 200,000 litres annually. Their signature ciders include the dry barrel-aged Scrumpy, semi-dry House, and Merri-Beri laced with blackcurrant, cherry and raspberry juices.


“It’s not my personal story that counts but how our ciders express our story,” said Bruce McKinlay, co-owner with wife Bree of the Valley Cider Company near Duncan. Besides the 45 varieties of “big root stock” seedling apple trees he planted, their 27 acres also include hay fields, walking trails and wetlands. The property is home to blackberries, salal berries, fir tips and Vancouver Island-native oso berries—they all flavour Valley’s ciders. Bruce also collects apples at a second orchard.

Encouraged by Bree, Bruce left an IT career to begin his craft cidermaking in 2018. His ciders are small batch and aged a full year. He’s focused on signature ciders such as slow, fully dry Still Lif, and Bon-Dry, containing only apples and matured 16 months. But he also likes to innovate and produces a score of other cider tastes, including Love Potion with rose petals, lavender and damiana, the popular Fruïjti flavoured with strawberries and watermelon, and Fuego containing fiery, blackened serrano peppers.

He’s intent on keeping it simple. Tasting times are limited, the bottles are sized at 330 millilitres and marketing is by-word-of-mouth. “When I started the cidery, I saw the environment, not parking lots, not an empire,” he said. “It’s an incomparable lifestyle sprinkled with hard, physical labour.”


The youngest cidery on the block is Affinity Cider, owned by Vancouver-based Tanner Elton, but managed by pommelier (apple-cidermaker) Kieran Holdsworth. “We’re a farm-gate cidery,” said Kieran. “We’ve been producing since 2018, but only launched formally this (2022) summer.”

The company’s first idea was to make special vinegars but as the owner has an interest in fermentation, a cidery emerged instead. Finding apples in the Cowichan Valley wasn’t difficult. They mapped out where apple trees were likely to be found, and today the cidery ferments apples gleaned from backyards and old farms where the fruit might otherwise go to waste. They add value to trees growing among brambles and to abandoned trees and orchards, receiving location tips by word-of-mouth and Facebook.

About 15 types of apples go into every batch and ferment with wild or champagne yeast. “The ciders are different each year depending on what we harvest,” said Kieran. They produce Heritage Dry with its barnyard flavour, and Pome Blend, which fuses apples, pears and quince into a wine-like concoction. Kieran also produces a scrumptious blackberry port-like dessert wine.


Craft cideries have seen significant growth in BC, part of the renewed entrepreneurial desire to farm, and the public’s growing craze for locally produced, farm-to-table food and drink. Like craft beer and craft spirits, craft cider has joined the parade, producing delectable, fresh, innovative libations based on that ubiquitous fruit—the apple.










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