Origin Stories - Cider
October 04th 2018
For as long as humans have been growing their own food, they’ve also been finding ways to turn that food into alcohol. Apples are no exception. Even though many early varieties of apple were practically inedible because of bitterness and high levels of tannins, someone still tried to make a drink out of them. And they succeeded!
Cider is currently experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Sales of the fruity brew more than doubled in Canada from 2011 to 2017, reaching over $256 million. We’re going to look back on where it all began, plus talk about what the future of cider may hold.
The origins of what Canadians would call hard apple cider (in Europe it’s sufficient to say, “cider”; everyone knows you want the alcoholic version) aren’t certain. What we do know is that when the Romans came to ‘visit’ the British Isles in 55 B.C., the locals were making cider from crabapples. So were the Gauls and Celts. It’s entirely possible people were making cider everywhere apples were grown and alcohol was culturally acceptable.
Cider making continued unabated throughout Europe for centuries. In parts of the United Kingdom, cider often supplemented workers wages right up into the 19th century. When Europeans came to North America in the 1600s, they brought apple seeds with them. Apple trees grow quite nicely in many parts of Canada and the United States (only crab apples are native to this continent), so the tradition of making cider at home also took root.
The popularity of cider had to do with practicality as much as it did flavour. It’s comparatively simple to make relative to other forms of alcohol, and it’s actually pretty healthy. Because it is low in alcohol content (apples have less sugar than grapes, and it takes sugar to make alcohol), children were often allowed to drink it too. In many parts of the world, cider was a safer alternative than the local water supply, anyway.
Around the time of the First World War, most Canadian provinces enacted laws of prohibition, banning the production of alcohol. Before long, apple growers changed their collective focus from apples for drinking to apples for eating. By the time prohibition was repealed (in apple-rich Ontario, that took 11 years), most traditional cider apple varieties were gone and no one seemed in a rush to make it from the apples that were available. This might have been partly to do with the rise in popularity of beer.
In Canada, cider began to make a comeback in the 1990s thanks in part to a slump in the apple juice market. What to do with all those apples? Varieties once ignored by cider makers were suddenly in the press and on their way to glory! It was a slow build, but today cider is very popular and is one of the fastest growing alcohol categories. Nearly 50 million litres were sold in Canada last year, accounting for over $256 million in sales.
Although there are a few major players in the cider industry, the bulk of it is made by smaller, craft cider houses. Falling under the “craft” umbrella allows makers a lot of latitude when it comes to flavour. Consumers seem willing to try almost anything they perceive to be unique and skillfully created.
Taking a seasonal approach could yield great things: basil mint or caramel apple for the taste of a summer fair; pumpkin spice or blood orange cider for fall; cranberry and cloves for a winter treat (or mango and ancho for a tropical getaway drink!); or ginger lemongrass for a fresh spring taste. Botanicals like lavender and elderflower could add an appealing floral accent, and international spices like cardamom and turmeric will infuse a pinch of mystery and exotic flavour.
Though we aren’t predicting a return to the exchange of cider for work, we are happy to enjoy the fruits of this tasty renaissance!