Nova Scotia’s hard cider industry is having a moment right now. The number of cider makers across the province has doubled to 12 since 2013, and last year the NSLC reported that cider sales were one of their big success stories. Four years ago, cider generated $1.4 million; in the 2015-16 fiscal year that number jumped to $6.5 million — and a quarter of those sales were from local products. No wonder Local Connections’ owner Alex Henden wanted to start a festival dedicated to the stuff.
“I was sitting on the sofa with my family, talking about doing a pig roast and how good cider would go with it,” he says. “And then it just donned on me that we should do the cider event. Years ago I’d thought about doing one, but there just weren’t enough [cideries].”
That pig roast will still be a part of things, by the way. Set for May 27 from 5 pm to 8 pm at the Halifax Forum’s Multi-Purpose Centre, the East Coast Cider Festival will hopefully attract all of the cider makers in the province (12 have signed up so far). A few cideries from New Brunswick will also be there. Expect to get 12 four-ounce samples of their brews and a take-home glass with a $30 early-bird or $33 regular ticket. Chip in a few extra bucks and expect good eats from the likes of Meadowbrook Meat Market (the roaster of said pig), Ratinaud French Cuisine, Heartwood, Rinaldo's Italian American Specialities and Dee Dee’s Ice Cream.
For Susan Downey Lim, one of the people behind Chain-Yard Cider, Halifax’s first and soon-to-open cidery, it was a “no-brainer” to take part. “When Alex told us about the idea, we were just like, ‘This is brilliant, brilliant!’” she says. “Being the first cidery in Halifax, we’re certainly really excited to showcase our product here. And because it’s happening in our own backyard, the north end, and we want to be a part of the community here — that was also a huge selling point.”
If you’re curious, Chain-Yard will open this spring in the former Fred café at Agricola and North Streets. They’ll have four ciders on offer — three regulars, one seasonal — at least two of which you’ll be able to try at the East Coast Cider Festival. One will be their yet-to-be-named flagship cider, which is an approachable, traditional brew that’s on the dryer side. As for the other concoctions, Susan says you’ll just have to wait to taste but that they’ll be “different than what’s going on” in Nova Scotia right now.
What’s going on is a lot of variety anyway, which was just another reason Alex wanted to launch this thing. Ciders can get a bad rap for being too much alike — usually similarly sweet — but that’s not really the case in Nova Scotia. While some cideries use the same Annapolis Valley apples, their outputs range from, yes, a sweet cider like Bulwark Blush, but also to dry brews like Shipbuilders and even to specialty blends like Planters Ridge’s rummed cider. “It’s not a one-dimensional product in the same way that beer is not a one-dimensional product,” says Alex. “There’s dry ciders, there’s sweet ciders, there’s dirty ciders, there’s flavoured ciders. So it’s pretty cool that we’ll have them all under one roof.”
Susan thinks it’s pretty cool all of that Nova Scotia cider is finally getting its due. Local wine and beer have dominated our booze choices — and still do — but cider is emerging as a much-needed reprieve that, like the UK originals, can be enjoyed any time of year. “Cider also always gets lumped together with [beer or wine]. No one can ever decide: Is it wine? Is it beer? What is it? It’s something totally different. So having a festival that’s dedicated to this creates more of that awareness.”
Eight hundred to 1,200 people are expected to attend the shindig at the Multi-Purpose Centre, which, with its 18,000 square feet, will leave plenty of room to wander. If you’ve been, think a similar tone to Local Connections’ Full House Craft Beer Fest. If you haven’t, think a fun evening out with friends, not drunken idiots. “For whatever reason, when we do events they attract really good people,” says Alex. “People aren’t there to get totally hammered. They’re usually nice folks who enjoy local products and they create this great atmosphere. So for us, it’s just about making sure that those people have everything they need: as much cider as they could possibly want to try, good food selection, nice vibe, and good service.”
It’s also about helping make sure the cider industry’s moment lasts, he adds. And that can only happen with happy cider makers and festivalgoers. “At the end, I want people to be leaving thinking they just had the best day, maybe all year at that point. I want them to leave the event thinking, ‘When can I get tickets for next year?’”