Lately, hard cider is kind of a big deal in the beverage world. But don't call it a comeback. As long as there've been apples blossoming in the Annapolis Valley--- so for, you know, hundreds of years---Nova Scotians have been making and drinking the sweet stuff. Now we're simply catching on to the UK way of thinking. The light, thirst-quenching, all natural drink isn't just a summertime sauce you might casually sip on a special occasion, its a legitimate and respectable choice to make from most of the bar stools you've planted your rear on.
"People are looking for alternative beers and alternatives to beer and there's a big demand for alternative in the ready-to-drink category, too. In alcohol consumption there's always been this willingness to go explore," says Sean Sears, the president of ShipBuilders Cider Limited, which makes the dry, crisp ShipBuilders (which since its launch last summer has been flying off the shelves) as well as Stutz, 2012's best-selling Canadian cider at the NSLC.
He's right. We're living, and drinking, in an age where options are everything. We have our ol' reliables, but seek variety, too. We have to try the newest, and shiniest, and at the same time we love a good throwback, a take on the traditional, something with even a tinge of history to it. The combination of these needs starts to scratch the surface of cider's recent popularity, as well as the allure of craft beers. Those long lines at Bridge Brewing, the expansions of Propeller and Garrison and sell-out small batch brews---it's all proof of our love for artful booze-making. "There's a very genuine kind of craft desire," says Sears. "I think that people are getting much more associated with the craftsperson themselves--- whether that be the winemaker or the cidermaker--- and their intention and desire."
Cider has the appeal of a gluten-free, chemical-free, natural wobbly pop working for it, too. After all, the beauty of the traditional drink is that it's just fruit (in the case of our abundant valley orchards, usually apples), fermented. For lots of drinkers that's 100 percent purely awesome. "It's not just refreshing, you're replenishing your energy. You're drinking natural sugar so your body's going to love it," says Sears. "All of those golfers that have a beer on the course---if they had a cider after nine holes they'd be hitting the drive further."
Sears says while his ciders are in high demand as of late, the same is likely true for others, local or otherwise. With cider as one of the fastest-growing alcohol categories among Canadian liquor stores he calls it a "rising tide lifts all ships" type of market. Tucked away in the under-estimated ready-to-drink section of local liquor stores, Stutz and ShipBuilders are flanked by three other great Nova Scotia-made brands of cider: Noggins Farms' Tideview Ciders and L'Acadie Vineyards' organic cider as well as Bulwark Original cider, released last summer by Muwin Estate Winery. But don't lump all of these bevvies into that liquid sugar category that ciders are often associated with, there's a full range of flavour happening here: from dry to sweet, for cooking or chugging, for straight drinking or blending (try a cocktail with cider as the mix, or refresh your maltiest stout by topping it up). "Even just in Nova Scotia, there's a really wide variety when it comes to choice," says Sears. "But I think the big story would be as an industry we have a real shot at knocking down the UK brands locally, we're starting to inch a lot closer to them in volume of sales." And there's not much more satisfying than hearing about the growth of local products, except maybe the therapeutic effect of an ice cold drink.
"I characterize it this way: a beer makes me want another one, a cider quenches my thirst," says Sears. "I may or may not have another cider but I don't really need another one." That is, until you have a swig of ShipBuilders.