Bad apples don’t spoil the bunch for the makers of Pommies Cider—those little bruisers help keep the sparkling drink sweet and affordable.
Like any solid invention, Pommies Cider Company was born of necessity. In this case, Lindsay Sutcliffe really needed her husband to be quiet. “I love cider, and I’d always say that I didn’t understand why there weren’t more ciders in Ontario,” says Nick Sutcliffe, Pommies’ 43-year-old founder and a former head of development at a marketing agency. “Lindsay finally said, ‘Just shut up and do something about it.’”
So that same September day in 2009, Sutcliffe drove out to County Cider Company in Prince Edward County, looking for advice from Grant Howes, its founder. “I knew what kind of cider I wanted, but didn’t know how to make it,” Sutcliffe says. “Grant helped us come up with the perfect blend of apples.”
Three years later, with a second baby on the way, the couple left their corporate gigs (Lindsay was head of communications at Corus Entertainment) and moved from downtown Toronto to a small farm in Caledon. They were on track to release their first big batch to the LCBO in summer 2012 when a late frost hit, killing 90 per cent of the apple crop. It was the worst apple harvest ever recorded in Ontario.
The family went into disaster mode. “It was like, ‘Action stations!’ We hit the phones and went to visit all the growers,” Sutcliffe recalls. Good apples were hard to find, but Meaford farmer Brad Johnson offered Sutcliffe a chunk of his crop to keep the cidery going. Says Sutcliffe, “He saw the long-term potential.”
That potential is huge. Cider was the tipple of choice for early colonists in North America: Apple trees are easy to grow, and while the water wasn’t safe to drink back then, fermented apple juice was just fine. But once more people settled in cities, cider fell off—there were fewer trees and plenty of cheap beer around. When Prohibition hit, cideries simply ripped up their orchards.
But current imbibers have caught on to cider’s appeal: It’s a light sparkler, it’s gluten-free, and it satisfies our thirst (seeded by the craft-beer movement) for big new flavours. Two years ago, Ontario had three cideries; today, there are 14, stretching from Windsor to the Ottawa Valley. The drink is the LCBO’s fastest-growing category, with a projected $35 million in Ontario craft-cider sales by 2018.
That’s terrific news for apple farmers like Johnson, who are finding a worthy home for their knobby, yellow bruisers. “We can’t pay top dollar for the big, beautiful apples that end up on grocery-store shelves,” says Sutcliffe. Luckily, they want “the small, ugly apples,” since the juice is exactly the same and buying the cast-offs keep Pommies cider affordable.
The drink is made with six varieties of popular Ontario apples. Because the fruit is on the sweeter side, the straw-hued Pommies is, too. But it’s more complex than that—a crisp, juicy start with a luscious centre and a tart, clean finish.
Without craft cider-makers, farmers would sell rejected apples at a lower price to major corporations like Del Monte to use for juice. “We pay a bit more and add value to their product,” Sutcliffe explains. “And now farmers are starting to plant heirloom varieties. The Russet nearly disappeared in Toronto because it doesn’t look perfect, but it has lots of acids and sugar and tastes divine.” Looks like the bottom of the barrel isn’t so bad after all.
Pommies Dry Cider. $12.95/four 355-ml bottles, LCBO.
POMMIE’S GO-TO APPLES
Ida Red + Northern Spy: For acidity
Gala + Empire: For meaty apple flavour
Russet + Golden Delicious: For sweetness