It’s about as timely to wax on about the craft beer movement as it is to brag about owning iPhone; it’s here and we’re all happy with it. But just as the iPhone stemmed some truly amazing developments (Instagram, Uber, Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector) so too have microbreweries. Coming out of the craft beer’s expansive branch graph is the swelling trend of small-batch cider. Vancouver’s own 33 Acres has already been offering its own popular Scrumpy-style cider on tap, and a handful of varieties such as the Okanagan’s Left Field Cider Co. and Vancouver Island’s Sea Cider are available in bottles. Recently, two new companies have joined the movement, fashioning their own take on cider with a truly do-it-yourself spirit.
“Well, it was it was a sunny Sunday in sunny Vancouver,” jokes Patrick Connelly, sitting on a typically wet Vancouver afternoon at Bestie, the Chinatown sausage joint owned by his two Sunday Cider co-founders, Dane Brown and Clinton McDougall. “We started to get together shortly after Dane and I opened the restaurant,” pipes in Clinton. “In the beginning, Sunday was the only day we had off and, believe it or not, after hanging out all day together, we started making cider on our day off.”
Working from Connelly’s kitchen in 2013, the three began experimenting with different apples and yeasts, and combinations of the two, in search of a style of cider that seemed to elude them in British Columbia. “We have always wanted to have a little cider program here [at Bestie], and we had a hard time finding a lot of craft cider out there,” says McDougall. “There are good makers of cider in this province, and we got a few things in bottle, but were searching for a certain style of draft cider and we couldn’t find it.” Looking for a type that was distinctly different from the European varieties, the Sunday team was interested in developing something more akin to the stranger ferments coming out of the Pacific Northwest.
“After we started making it, it became clear,” says McDougall. “Dane and I took this kind of entrepreneurial leap, and Patrick is an ideas man. There was an opportunity to do something here. So we thought, ‘What would it look like if we tried to do a small-batch cider company?’” From there, McDougall enrolled in cider-making classes at the Washington State University; Connelly, who spends his nine-to-five as co-founder and creative director at Make agency, enrolled in a business of cider course in Oregon. Add to that some help from local cider-makers such as Left Field and Sea Cider, and a $150,000 investment by Knives & Forks Community Investment Co-op, and Sunday’s draft is available at locations around the city just two years later.
Their first release is an intensely satisfying batch. Unpasteurized, the draft is cloudy, settling soft and fizzy. It starts out bright before revealing a bit of musk thanks to the champagne and wild yeasts. “It’s meant to be consumed now—not something you can put in a bottle and let sit for a year,” says Connelly. “It’s fresh and raw like that.”
Looking to the bottle shop, however, is B.C.’s Dominion Cider Co., which can be found on shelves for your take-home pleasure. Hailing from Summerland, the team of Mike Harris, Luke Cyca, and Robin Cairns has truly, unabashedly embraced cider-making. Taking over all sides of the business, from operating their own 10-acre orchard in the interior to doing their own pressing and fermenting, it’s an all-hands-on-deck operation.
Sitting at Gastown’s The Birds and the Beets, Cyca isn’t fazed when he gets word that the café has run low on supplies. Pulling an ice-cold bottle from his backpack, he promptly pours the dry, English pub-style, slightly sour cider, reflecting on the not-so-distant beginnings of the company. “We’ve known each other since university, we met at SFU,” he explains. “Our third partner, Mike, is from Summerland, and originally grew up working on orchards. We all met, became friends, and got really into cider several years ago, and started making small experimental batches for us and our friends. Mike was really driving to get back to Summerland and the farm, too, so that was kind of the motivation to get started.”
Commuting between Summerland and Vancouver, Cyca and Cairns have continued to act as farmhands, tending to their trees and the land. Working at the orchard checks an important box for both men: both have backgrounds growing up and working on farms. Cyca draws a connection that is deeper than himself when talking about his involvement with the land. “We all talk about eating local and sustainably, and it’s one thing to take part in the little bit that you can in the city,” he says. “But it’s really been fun to get dirty every weekend and pick apples and press juice.” Cairns adds, “We come from a DIY approach, from borrowing equipment, or buying equipment and fixing and amending it—that’s also part of our ethos.”
Between Dominion and Sunday Cider, what rings clear with both companies is a strong connection to a craft so much larger than what can be poured in the glass.
As Sunday’s McDougall reflects on the benefits of starting small, it begins to make sense to the bigger picture when running any business trying to attract attention. “It allows us to grow, experiment, and get out there to capture some minds,” he says. Connelly agrees: “We are learning by iterating and rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands wet with juice.”
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