The vineyards and wineries of Southern Georgian Bay have staked their claims in Ontario's wine market, and now it's cider's turn to bask in the limelight. With the popularity of hard cider increasing rapidly in Ontario, it's no wonder that local entrepreneurs are capitalizing on the region's abundant apple harvest to produce fine ciders of every variety.
Early apple farmers in Southern Georgian Bay reserved some of their annual harvest to create cider of the alcoholic variety to lift their spirits over the long and cold winters. Today, hard cider is the fastest growing alcoholic beverage category in Ontario and across North America, with several local entrepreneurs fermenting the sweet nectar from our abundant and varied apple harvest to create and successfully market unique varieties of artisanal hard ciders.
Perhaps the most successful hard cider venture in the region is the Thornbury Village Cidery, prominently situated in a large, renovated building on King Street that once housed the handling facilities for Mitchell's Apple Juice. The largest craft cidery in Ontario, owned by Provincial Beverages of Canada, produces Thornbury Premium Cider, billed as "a truly original, champagne-style Canadian cider that tastes like a traditional English cider."
"I'm proud to say that our cider is made mostly from local Georgian Bay apples whenever possible," says Thornbury Cidery marketing manager Bryan Watts, adding the high volume of production occasionally necessitates importing apple juice from other parts of the province. "We make our cider with universal appeal in mind, to be enjoyed by all types of people with a wide range of taste buds."
Thornbury Premium Cider is available in 500 LCBO outlets across the province. The product is also sold in China, Japan, Taiwan and the Caribbean, with plans to distribute in other Canadian provinces and the U.S. in the near future.
With sales of its product burgeoning over the past few years, Thornbury Village Cidery is currently undergoing a major expansion within its premises to increase capacity. "Making better use of the existing structure in order to continue focusing on small batches, we're adding more tanks for fermenting and aging, with a larger cold room in the basement and new space for packaging the product on the premises," says Watts.
For years the cidery has wanted to open its doors to the public for tours and tastings, but has been prohibited from doing so by Ontario's winery laws (under which hard cider falls), which mandate that public tasting premises must be surrounded by a minimum of five acres of fruit crops. "We're in the middle of 7,500 acres of apple orchards, and fresh juice is trucked from Golden Town Apple Products just down the road from us, but we can't open to the public," laments Watts. As part of the Ontario Craft Cider Association, Thornbury Cidery is working with other Ontario hard cider producers to lobby the government for a change in this legislation.