Victoria Cider Co. officially opened its cidery tasting room in August 2022 and since then, business has been blossoming as large as the apple trees.
Located on a five-acre property in North Saanich, the cidery tasting room is bright and light with natural and pastel colours, offering a selection of both traditional and modern flavoured ciders that can be found in more than 30 local liquor stores across Greater Victoria.
One of their most popular, arguably, and what really sets them apart, is their prize-winning keeved cider, which took home a bronze medal at the Portland International Cider Cup in 2022. The cider is only available in their tasting room.
“It sells like hotcakes,” owner Wayne Ralph said.
Keeved cider is a traditional French-style cider with a sweetness Ralph described as a “soft and round” perception of butterscotch coming from malolactic fermentation. It is rare for cideries to touch it, mainly because it’s time-consuming, particular and risky compared to making other types of ciders.
However, Ralph and his family knew they wanted to give it a shot from the start of creating their business, a lifelong dream which budded after a neighbour said their trees grew the best apples.
“We learned from the get-go, as part of our research of getting into cider, that our favourite style of cider is French-style cider. During our investigations, we picked appropriate trees that would have the correct tannins and acid levels. Now we’re harvesting the benefits of that.”
Ralph left his 30-year career as an engineer for BC Ferries to pursue cider, reaching a master’s level training in the UK.
Ralph explained that a typical cider takes two weeks to ferment and is done in 18 C to 20 C temperatures.
“It’s very easy to control, it happens naturally. While the ferment is happening, it’s like you’re simmering something on the stove. It almost looks as though it’s boiling. So when that happens, you’re basically boiling off the flavour.”
Meanwhile, a French-style cider is fermented at a really low temperature.
”To capture the flavour, the French came up with this idea of fermenting the cider over a very, very long period of time – five months.”
To slow down the fermentation process, keeved cider has to be fermented at a much cooler level – about 6 C to 7 C, in Ralph’s case. But the process can be quite nerve-wracking; there’s a danger that fermentation can stop due to the cold, so Ralph has to check every few days for tiny bubbles on the surface to show that fermentation is still going.
No chemicals or yeast are used – just the natural yeast of the apples.
“The danger is, when you’re checking it every week, when you go to take a sample, there’s the potential of introducing bacteria that are airborne … You can be four months into it and ruin the whole thing because you get bacteria in it. So you actually become quite paranoid, especially towards the end.”
Keeved cider is also carbonated. In order to get it bubbly, the cider needs to be bottled before it finishes fermenting.
In total, Ralph said it takes five months for the initial ferment and then two months for the carbonization, or “bottle conditioning” process.
If all goes smoothly, the Ralphs end up with around 98 cases of their premium keeved cider, making it well worth the risk.
“There are only three other places in B.C. that make it,” Ralph said. “For us to be able to produce that style of cider in our first year, right at the get-go, we are pretty proud to have been able to do that.
“People appreciate the effort we go to. In the final analysis, quality wins every time, in my opinion.”
After a successful first year, Victoria Cider Co. opens again on May 5 and will run on weekends. This year, they also have a new quince cider, and have imported two oak barrels from Europe to make a new port cider and a sherry cider.
Visitors to the tasting room can lounge on a bright open lawn with picnic tables, willow trees and games. For more information, visit victoriaciderco.ca.
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