Monday, March 30, 2015

BC Tree Fruits hits a home run with a new cider

BC Tree Fruits, which represents 80% of the Okanagan’s apple growers, is launching its Broken Ladder brand apple cider in April.

How good is this cider? Broken Ladder hits it out of the park.

This crisply dry and lightly sparking cider with 5.5% alcohol is just bursting with the aromas and flavours of fresh apples. The pristine and focussed flavours explode on the palate, recalling the experience of taking a ripe apple from a tree and biting into it. The finish is very long. If I were scoring this like a wine, it would be 90 points plus.

It is offered in 473 ml cans in a four-pack. And it will be widely available in the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB), as a prelude to a cross-Canada distribution.

Michael Daley, the former Vincor and Constellation Brands executive who is the cider project manager for BCTF, says that Broken Ladder enters market that is showing strong growth.

“Cider in the past year experienced double digit growth in British Columbia,” Michael says. “The growth is coming on the craft or premium side of the market, as opposed to the traditional big brands with are the sweeter style cider. Cider grew in the United States last year by 74% and over 34% the year before. Cider is taking off in the United States, very much like the craft beer industry has taken off. That’s why I think the timing is ideal for BC Tree Fruits to be involved in the cider market.”

Figures from the LDB support this. Cider sales in the LDB in 2014 totalled $72.6 million, up from $63.3 million the year before. Those sales have been climbing for some time. In 2010, the LBD sold $48.9 million worth of cider.

“This is a great opportunity to find a value-added opportunity for Okanagan apples,” Michael says. Growers struggle continually to compete in the fresh market, notably with apples from Washington State. There, the apple production is something like 30 times the size of the Okanagan’s production. Washington’s surpluses can, and often do, overwhelm the Okanagan, depressing grower returns.

In addition to releasing the cider through retail channels, BCTF is also establishing its own tasting room in Kelowna (at 880 Vaughan Avenue).

The irony is that the tree fruit industry has done this before. In the 1950s, at the request of apple growers,  a Summerland Research Station scientist, John Bowen, worked with F. A. Atkinson, the station’s director, to develop cider from the Okanagan's abundant sweet eating apples.

Traditional cider in Europe is made from tart cider apples, whose flavour is an acquired taste for some. Bowen pressed the juice from Red Delicious and the more acidic Jonathan apples in a seventy-five per cent/twenty-five per cent blend. This juice was sweetened and then fermented with wine yeast, with fermentation stopped before the cider was fully dry. It was then carbonated -- Bowen called it "a half-baked champagne process" -- and bottled.

The first commercial quantities were bottled at a brewery in Princeton; the inventory and the process were acquired by Growers Wine Co., which scored a long-lasting success with the cider.

As a result of mergers over the years, the Growers brand is now owned by Constellation Brands. The portfolio of ciders under the Growers brand has grown to include flavoured ciders, fruit ciders and ciders made with apple concentrate.

BCTF went back to basics, enlisting the research station’s help in creating Broken Ladder. The cider uses six apple varieties: Ambrosia, Granny Smith, Pink Lady, McIntosh, Braeburn and Golden Delicious.

BCTF also recruited winemaker Bertus Albertyn (left) to make the cider. Born and trained in South Africa, he is the co-owner and winemaker at Maverick Estate Winery. He also was Burrowing Owl’s winemaker for four years.

“The Broken Ladder cider is almost more along the lines of an apple wine from Germany,” Bertus says. “It is not your traditional cider. I really like it.”

There is logic to using an experienced winemaker. “We really wanted to have a cider that was well-balanced, just like you balance a white wine,” Michael says. “It has the right acidity and the right fruitiness and the mouthfeel.”

Ciders are quite competitively priced. Okanagan Premium Ciders, made by Mark Anthony Brands, offer six-packs of 355 ml cans at $9.99. Growers, Lone Tree Cider and Duke’s Cider (the latter from Kelowna’s Tree Brewing Company) sell six-packs for $10.99 while Red Rock Cider is $11.95 for a six-pack. At the high end is Bulmer’s Strongbow from Britain, at $14.95 for a six-pack.

“Our first product is in a can,” Michael says of Broken Ladder. “It is 473 ml. There will be four cans in a four-pack, selling for $11.49. It is more expensive than some of the commercial ones but it is still a great price point.”

 BCTF stress that Broken Ladder is “an authentic hard cider made 100% … from our own fresh crushed apples.”

Michael believes this will appeal to the millennials who are driving the cider market. “They really search out things that are authentic,” he says. “That is why we felt it was important that we come up with a product that met those needs. It costs a little more money, not to add water. Adding water and adding flavourings is way less expensive but it is not what we want to be doing.”

BCTF has additional products under development, including a pear cider in a can and sparkling cider in a 750 ml Champagne bottle.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home