When early pioneers travelled to Canada, some did so with apple seeds in their pockets. Settlers planted trees to grow dessert and cider apples, blending the fruit to make hard cider that was sometimes safer to drink than the local water. It was the first alcoholic beverage made in this country. But during Prohibition, the trees were ripped out of the ground and the beverage was nearly forgotten. That is, until now. Today, the fruity, effervescent drink is experiencing a serious comeback, thanks to a triumvirate of local-foodism, a thirst for craft products and people looking for a gluten-free alternative to beer.
Ontario’s cider scene is booming — five years ago, just three cideries existed here. Now there are 19 and growing. Ontario’s apple orchards are dominated by culinary apples like McIntosh and Idared, but the cider craze is inspiring more and more farmers to plant heirloom and cider varieties too, which should make for locally grown old-world-style ciders in a few years’ time.
Ontario craft cider makers use full apple juice instead of concentrate to create vibrant, fruit-forward sippers that range from sweet to dry. Plus they’re borrowing techniques from the worlds of brewing and winemaking to create barrel-aged beauties with farmhouse funk and Champagne-like effervescence. One thing’s for certain: We’re in for a very tasty future. Here are three Ontario cideries — Pommies, Brickworks and Thornbury Village — that are leading the way using crisp local apples, age-old tradition and a lot of ingenuity.