A CONVERSATION WITH KRISTEN NEEDHAM
OWNER, FOUNDER & CIDER MAKER – SEA CIDER
As the craft beer industry has continued to grow, so too has the cider industry. In 2020, there are at least 32 cideries in BC and growth seems to be continuing. Breweries have taken notice and have jumped onto the wagon by creating their own line of cider to complement their beer line; Central City Brewers and Distillers, Whistler Brewing, Tree Brewing and Persephone Brewing are just four of the larger examples.
There are differences and similarities between the craft cider and beer industries. We don’t see collaborations occurring between cideries, but there are many specialty ciders: barrel aged, with fruit, berries, herbs and even hops added. Cider festivals are becoming more popular, along with cider cocktails and food pairings.
Now 13 years old, Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse not only has their orchard of organic and heritage apples, they now have a barrel-aged series as well as cider liqueurs. Introducing Kristen Needham, the woman behind Sea Cider!
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN THE POSITION? WHAT ROLE/S DO YOU PLAY?
I am the founder, owner, general manager and cider master. I embarked on this adventure 20 years ago and have worn every hat in the business, from tree pruner and apple picker to yeast whisperer and lab technician.
WHAT WERE YOU DOING BEFORE?
Prior to Sea Cider, I was an International development consultant focused on economic development and environmental management. I worked in places such as Ethiopia, Ukraine, Nepal, and South Africa.
DESPITE THE FACT THAT CIDER SEEMS TO BE A POPULAR DRINK AMONG WOMEN, IT APPEARS THAT THE MAJORITY OF CIDER MASTERS ARE MEN. IS THAT TRUE IN BC? IS THAT CHANGING?
The good news is that women are gaining ground in cidermaking, and women in BC are leading the way in North America. Not only are more and more women leading cidermaking, but more and more women are entering leadership positions in cider industry associations.
SEA CIDER HAS EXPANDED BEYOND THE CORE AND LIMITED RELEASES AND HAVE SOME CREATED SOME SPECIAL SERIES- INCLUDING THE STICKY SERIES AND THE CANADIAN INVASION SERIES. WHAT ROLE DID YOU PLAY IN THESE?
I tend to be the one that comes up with product ideas, which then get debated by everyone. Not every idea goes to market. When we come up with a new product, all our teams are involved—sales, marketing and operations—to fine tune the concept and turn it into a reality.
WHAT BROUGHT YOU INTO THE INDUSTRY?
I inherited an apple orchard and fell in love with cider culture as a boarding school student in Wales, where I lived as a teenager.
HOW WERE YOU TRAINED?
By the pros! The renowned Peter Mitchell was my instructor and mentor. Now I am trying to share some of what I learned; I am a founding member of the Cider Institute of North America, which is building certification programs in cidermaking.
HOW DID YOU DISCOVER YOUR PASSION FOR CIDER?
After many sips, and many cidermaking trials, beginning in my kitchen decades ago. I think what piqued my interest in particular was the fascinating history of cider apple cultivars and some of the eccentric characters, from royalty to rogues, who discovered new varieties over the centuries.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB AND THE INDUSTRY?
I love the alchemy of turning apples into cider – there is magic that happens in the space between the art and science of cidermaking. I love the camaraderie of the industry, and the fact that I can call up cidermakers across the continent and share ideas. I love the connection to the land that my work involves—every day I get to spend time in the orchard. And I cherish the people at Sea Cider who work very hard to create exceptional cider experiences for our customers.
SINCE SEA CIDER OPENED THE NUMBER OF CIDERIES HAS DOUBLED, IF NOT TRIPLED IN BC, WHAT DO YOU DO TO DIFFERENTIATE YOURSELF FROM THE OTHERS?
We were fortunate to have opened our doors before growth in the industry really took off. But since inception, Sea Cider’s focus has been on award-winning craft cider that showcases the nuances of different varietals, fruits and cidermaking techniques. We think that cider is best when shared with friends and family and have strived to change the way people think about cider, as a craft beverage connected to the land and agrarian history in many parts of the world.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE CIDER OF YOUR CIDERY AND WHY?
My ciders are like my children; there isn’t a favourite. Having said that, on any given day I would probably choose to drink a cider that pairs with what I’m craving for dinner. Last night it was Pippins with Pad Thai.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE CIDER OUTSIDE OF YOUR CIDERY AND WHY?
I think BC cidermakers are producing excellent cider, and winning awards in competitions with the best in the world. But two favourites outside of BC stand out for me: the ciders of Tom Oliver in Herefordshire who, as a cidermaking pioneer, explores both traditional and innovative styles, and the ciders of Eve’s Cidery in upstate New York, where Autumn Stoscheck has elevated orchard-based cidermaking to an art form, with careful attention to orchard practices that express themselves in her ciders.
FAVOURITE FEMALE /ROLE MODEL IN THE CIDER OR ALCOHOL INDUSTRY AND WHY?
There are many women in the industry whom I admire. But right now, Brighid O’Keane comes to mind, especially at a time when women are beginning to make headway into positions of leadership and influence in the industry. Brighid is strong as both a strategic thinker and a tactician. As the executive director of the Cider Institute of North America, she has worked tirelessly to build the organization from scratch to what is now one of the most influential cider organizations in the world.
ANY SUGGESTIONS FOR WOMEN WANTING TO GET INTO THE INDUSTRY?
Don’t be afraid to reach out to folks in the industry and ask questions. Also, there is no one “right” path. Take stock of your own strengths and find help where you need it to fill in the gaps.
BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT TO DATE? GOALS FOR YOURSELF OR THE SEA CIDER?
I am extremely proud of the awards we have received for our ciders, including some “best in show” awards and mentions in “best ciders in the world” publications. But I think I am most proud of the amazing group of people I get to work with every day. My goal for Sea Cider is to stay on the path of crafting exceptional cider with an exceptional group of people.