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  • Meg Cuthbert

Cider Pioneers: Merridale's Cider Harvest Festival

Back away beer fest, we’ve got a new festival in town. Ok, so that’s a bit aggressive for cider.

Cider is one of the fastest growing beverage industries in Canada, and in British Columbia, cider sales have increased 31% over the last five years. In this province alone, there are almost three dozen independent cider producers including several craft cider producers. With new cideries popping up all over BC, there seems to be no shortage of cider blends to try. Which is why the Cider Harvest Festival at Merridale Cidery & Distillery is my favourite food and beverage festival of the year (and it’s only in its second year).

Out in the heart of Cobble Hill in Cowichan, BC, co-owners Janet and Rick have been producing craft cider at Merridale for over 19 years. Their process has been unhurried and methodical, making their ciders are big and flavourful. As British Columbia’s first craft cidery, they had to carve their own way into the liquor industry. Not only did they have to learn how to make a traditional cider, they had to educate drinkers on what it should taste like. It’s not wine and it definitely isn’t beer, but it is delicious.

Over the years, Merridale has been leading the way in BC’s craft cider and distilling industries. Rick, a former lawyer, played a significant role in changing the liquor laws to allow for small scale craft distilling. In 2013, once the laws were changed, Rick made sure that Merridale became BC’s first craft distillery. I think it is safe to say that the last 20 years or so have been a diligent (and probably tedious) labour of love for Janet and Rick.

As Merridale pioneered through the early days of craft cider, they have now led the way in hosting the Cider Harvest Festival, an annual festival celebrating its second year on September 30, 2018. Fifteen of BC’s top craft cideries will be on site at the Merridale farm to sample and sell their own craft blends. In the spirit of community rather than competition, this festival is an excellent excuse to try some new ciders from across BC and meet the people who dedicate themselves to the craft. More of a showcase, this festival is all about displaying what the land based cideries are doing in BC. Land based refers to cider producers that grow their own apples rather than getting them from elsewhere.

Last year, the Cider Harvest Festival was a huge success. They couldn’t have asked for a better day. It was a warm October afternoon, the sun was shining, the orchard was in fine form bursting with ripe apples. Against the burnt red of the Merridale barn/distillery and the rustic wood of the bistro, it felt like a scene from a west coast Anne of Green Gables.

This year, 15 craft cideries will be joining Merridale on September 30th from 1:00pm to 5:00pm.

If all goes to plan, I’ll be there too — sipping away the afternoon.

For more stories about Merridale, check this out.


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