Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Get Stuffed

The joy of cider

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For now we have to content ourselves with the offerings from the only cidery in B.C. producing commercial cider worth drinking – Merridale Ciderworks on Vancouver Island. Which is really not much of a compromise at all.

Located just north of Victoria in beautiful Cobble Hill in Cowichan Valley, Merridale uses apples from stock from England, France and Germany to produce the best cider you can find in B.C. It far outshines the traditional cider lover’s favourite available here, Strongbow, which is imported from England. (Sorry, can’t even mention the other B.C. brands in the same breath. Real cider lovers and makers alike point out that, with their sweetness, added chemicals and artificial flavours, and processing techniques, those brands don’t warrant the name "cider"; maybe "coolers" would be more accurate. And, no, there is no such thing as berry or pear or kiwi or watermelon cider. Cider is made from apples.)

Whether you try Merridale’s young and punchy Scrumpy (so-named in England since the apples were once scrumped, or stolen, by farm workers to make same), their sweet Cyser (sweetened with wildflower honey) or the dry and acidic Somerset, I guarantee you’ll discover a whole new taste world open up before you – and I don’t usually do testimonials.

Why is their cider so good?

Janet Docherty, who co-owns Merridale along with her husband, Rick Pipes, explains: "First we make it with a cider apple, which is high in tannin and high in acids, which is very similar to the wine grape. The majority of our orchard is from English varieties like Tremlett’s Bitter, Michelin, Yarlington Mill and Vadinett, which do well here since the Cowichan Valley’s growing conditions are similar to those in England where they come from."

She points out that a true cider apple is so unlike the regular sweet and juicy eating apples we’re all familiar with – the Galas, the McIntoshes, the Spartans – that if you pluck one from a tree in their orchard and take a bite you’ll instantly find out why they’re called "spitters."

In addition, Merridale doesn’t add chemicals, instead allowing the cider to age naturally – up to three years, depending on the variety. Their higher-end cider goes through two fermentations in oak barrels. And they don’t add water or artificial flavours, other juices or concentrates.

We couldn’t speak enough Spanish to find out, but I figure that was just about how they made that delicious cider we tried in Irún, Spain years ago. And look how long that taste lasted.