Cider Scene

Vancouver Island cideries pour out a wealth of agritourism attractions

Merridale Cidery and Distillery in the Cowichan Valley has been producing cider since 1999 and added a distillery in 2006.
Merridale Cidery photo

While some of British Columbia’s cideries have already been in business for a decade or more, the cider scene and industry across the province are just now really starting to take off.

And, while breweries and wineries have been growing in number—and acres—there is a whole world to discover around craft cider, besides those overly sweet beverages found in giant two-litre plastic bottles.

Those unfamiliar with cider might not know it’s naturally gluten-free or that it can be as dry as a French muscadet. Despite some past misconceptions, craft cider is slowly finding its rhythm and there’s been an expansion of cider tasting rooms with many also offering a wide variety of agritourism options.

A drive north on Vancouver Island with stops at several cideries will surely convert those who have yet to taste the full possibilities of this craft beverage, all while experiencing unique activities at each venue. Here are a few of these pioneers on the island’s cider trail who have expanded their operations well beyond their tasting rooms.

Grab a long flight—six pre-selected cider samples—at Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse. Sea Cider photo

Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse

2487 Mt St Michael Road, Saanichton

Not far from the Swartz Bay ferry terminal, you’ll find Sea Cider, a family owned and operated cidery celebrating its twentieth year. The orchards, forest area, cider house and gift shop have become a destination for those looking for lunch at the onsite restaurant, a picnic in the orchard, locally sourced gifts, or an impressive wedding venue.

Sea Cider now hosts holiday pop-up markets, wreath-making, yoga and painting classes, and recently celebrated Valentine’s Day with drag performers and pink cider-based cocktails. There are events for all ages and children and dogs are welcome at any time.

The idyllic property’s orchard spans 10 acres and is planted with 1,300 apple trees, comprised of more than 50 heritage varietals. Stroll through and enjoy stunning views of Haro Strait, surrounded by birds and bees buzzing and chirping, and work up a thirst for some serious cider tasting.

Choose from Sea Cider’s barrel-aged series—the Rumrunner is a favourite, with its apple butter and molasses flavours—or go for one of the more traditional styles, such as the Estate Wild English made with bittersweet cider apples, naturally fermented to be ultra-dry, robust and earthy, or try the Ruby Rose, an apple-based cider with an infusion of rhubarb and rosehips. There’s also a line of Temperance Ciders, all non-alcoholic, made from apples with additions of elderflower, cherry, blackberry or raspberry. Should you want something sweeter, try the dessert cider, which is sweet but has balanced acidity.

Merridale Cidery and Distillery

1230 Merridale Road, Cobble Hill

Continuing north on the west side of Vancouver Island, brings you to Merridale in the Cowichan Valley. Here you’ll find both a cidery and a distillery with its fair share of daily activities and special events.

Merridale has been producing cider since 1999, adding a distillery in 2006. Lunch, brunch and dinner are served in their Farmhouse Eatery, billed as “farm-to-table meets orchard-to-glass.” The chef sources local ingredients to perfectly pair with Merridale’s craft ciders and cocktails. On Saturdays, there’s live music in the evening, guided tastings throughout the day, a private picnic area to enjoy, and even orchard fairy walks for the kids.

Stay the night at Merridale in one of its two yurts (wooden framed tents), which can be booked from April through October, offering “orchard glamping at its finest.” From the yurts you can gaze out the windows over the orchards, and up at the stars through the skylights.

The farm hosts an annual Cider Harvest Festival in the fall with other cideries in attendance, and has created a wellness line of mists, soaps and creams made with shea butter you will have to try. Then, pick up some cans of cider to go. The Apple Pie is a medium sweet cider infused with cinnamon, while the Scrumpy is always a favourite dry sipper with noticeable tannins.

Coastal Black’s Honey Pear Cider is one of their newer offerings. photo

Coastal Black Estate Winery

2186 Endall Road, Black Creek

Continuing north to the Comox Valley, we find Coastal Black Estate Winery, which, along with wine, produces cider and mead. Coastal Black has four generations farming on the property with fields full of blueberries, squash and other vegetables, hives of bees and even custom milled lumber.

The big draw in the spring is the Tulip Festival showcasing fourteen varieties of tulips and daffodils spread across two acres. In the fall, the Pumpkin Festival brings families out in droves and throughout the year you’ll find a variety of workshops, such as fall floral arranging.

The tasting room is open by appointment only in the fall and winter, so call ahead to taste ciders such as the Hopped, Raspberry or Hibiscus and the newest, Honey Pear, made from the farm’s own honey. Speaking of honey, you’ll also want to grab a jar while there along with some of their frozen blueberries.

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