When it comes to the cider scene in BC, those who operate fruit orchards tend to stick together. Based primarily in the province’s pastoral belts (on the Island, in the Okanagan and the Fraser Valley), these small operators make cider, at least in part, from their own fruit. Founded in 2016, the BC Farm Crafted Cider Association acts as a voice for these land-based cider producers.
In 2018, along with other liquor industry groups, the BCFCCA prepared a set of recommendations for the Mark Hicken Technical Advisory Panel reporting to the BC Government Deputy Ministers’ Committee on Liquor Policy Reform. Suggestions included a Cidermaker Quality Alliance (CQA) and other methods of distinguishing between their artisanal ciders and those old-school sugary ciders in 2L bottles that many of us grew up with.
In 2019, BCFCCA took a big step forward with the launch of BC Cider Way, an ale trail-like program breaking BC cider tourism into four distinct regions. Like the pioneering BC Ale Trail, the campaign seems to be unique in North America in that it’s multi-regional rather than contained by just one Destination Marketing Organization. Light research shows that there are other tourism Trails that involve cider such as Nova Scotia’s Good Cheer Trail, or apples such as Ontario’s Apple Pie Trail (with a cidery list). But Cider Way seems to stand alone as a large, cidery-only initiative.
Jason Child, General Manager of Merridale Cidery & Distillery, is the current President of the BCFCCA. Naturally, as the original pioneer fighting to establish a viable orchard cidery business, Merridale holds a certain status in the BC craft cider community. Each Fall, Merridale presents a sold-out Cider Harvest Festival with many Association members participating. Let’s have a word with the young man who’s leading both Merridale and the BCFCCA.
Q&A WITH JASON CHILD OF BCFCCA
You’ve mentioned that the BC Farm Crafted Cider Association has 32 members. That represents the majority of cideries in BC. How much growth has there been since BCFCCA was founded?
Any idea how many total jobs the BCFCCA or BC cider industry represent?
That’s a great question, and tough to answer as we haven’t surveyed our members for that type of information. Many BC cideries are family-owned with only a few other employees, if any.
What we do know is that the industry and its associated employment impact is growing every year, and that impact extends into neighbouring farms that grow apples for our members, as well as other local tradespeople and craftsmen.
The Association launched a tourism marketing initiative named BC Cider Way last year. How are consumers and industry taking to the idea?
We have been receiving a lot of buzz about BC Cider Way. It has definitely been a bit of an industry rallying point and has attracted new members to the BCFCCA. I think it gives craft lovers a tangible way to differentiate between land-based craft cideries and ‘commercial’ operations.
At the point of launch, BCFCCA’s website was converted over to use the Cider Way brand and even its domain name. How much explaining do you have to do, e.g., what is Cider Way vs. BCFCCA?
The transition has been very smooth, and the two brands have really blended seamlessly.
How much inspiration was taken from the way BC Ale Trail was organized? Did you reach out to the beer people for insights?
The BC Ale Trail was definitely an inspiration. I am a huge fan of how the Trail rolled out and how well it aligns with Destination BC’s vision. So naturally, we made sure the BC Cider Way followed suit and leveraged their learning.
Are there other cider trails in North America that inspired it?
As far as I know, we’re the first region in North America that offers this level of depth. However, there are several great cider routes and trails in England and France.
Are you receiving support for your marketing efforts through the BuyBC cost-shared funding program? How critical is that support for the association’s financial sustainability?
Yes, BuyBC’s support was critical in helping us get BC Cider Way off the ground; it would not have been possible without their help. We are so grateful for their financial support, and also for how patient and knowledgeable their team was throughout the project.
In what way does the BCFCCA help set and maintain quality standards for cider producers?
We do this by implementing strict eligibility standards for our members. Specifically, in order to qualify to be a member of the BCFCCA, a cidery must:
- Be 100% independently BC-owned
- Make their cider with at least 95% juice content, not from concentrate
- Not dilute their cider with water
- Make their cider in small batches
- Slow ferment their cider
- Make their cider on the same farm where the apples are grown
In terms of consumer education, are you able to overcome the legacy perception of cider as sugary, mass-marketed ‘alco-pop’?
That’s our goal, and we’ve got more converts every week!
We’re also working on teaching consumers the difference between a mass-produced, ‘Chaptalized’ water-added cider and the farm-based, 100% fruit, slow fermented cider that our members craft.
Certain Northwest cities like Portland have had a number of successful urban cideries in the past. Do you feel that there is room for urban cideries in the BC cider landscape?
There is. However, BC urban cideries must have ‘commercial’ licences because they don’t grow their own apples. So, being land-based cideries who farm-craft our ciders from our own apples, and purchase all of our apples from BC producers (stimulating the local economy), we work very differently from them.
[Note that the new-era ‘urban cideries’ are sometimes referred to as ‘commercial craft cideries’. For a discussion of this subcategory, see “The Craft Cider Licensing Debate: farm or factory, beer or wine?” from our Fall 2016 issue.]
A number of your members are also members of the Northwest Cider Association. As an organization, does the BCFCCA communicate or work with the NCA at all?
Yes, we do work well together. Typically, our members will also join the Northwest Cider Association if they sell, or plan on selling, their products in the US.
What is next for BCFCCA? What would you like the Association to accomplish?
More consumer awareness of the difference between farm-crafted and big company cider!
– Dave Smith, with files from Brian K. Smith