Hard cider has finally arrived in the Capital thanks to Flying Canoe Hard Cider, the passionate adventure of Pete Rainville, who took up the pastime of making hard cider as a hobby to balance his life between work and raising young children.
Early on, his home brews were received well among family and friends, which lent encouragement to the idea of turning his hobby into something more serious. A trip with his wife Melissa and their kids to an apple orchard in Dundela, Ontario, where they saw the apple industry in action, sealed the deal. After that trip, Pete began creating test batches, looking for the perfect recipe. Fortunate friends were invited to act as his taste testers and focus groups, and Melissa, who isn’t a big fan of most mainstream ciders, cast the deciding vote in choosing the final version. The process to license was initiated and the creation of Flying Canoe Hard Cider followed quickly. Their cidery opened on Colonnade Rd., in Ottawa’s southeast end this past spring.
Pete chose the name, Flying Canoe, after the French-Canadian folk tale, in which voyageurs make a deal with the devil to travel, through the air, quickly to see their sweethearts. In one of the most popular versions of this tale, the “bewitched canoe” soars over the Gatineau River.
The timing of the opening of Rainville’s cidery is excellent. There is certainly room in the alcohol market for those looking for a non-beer/wine option. Plus, cider can be brewed and sourced locally. The LCBO calls cider a real success story over the last couple of years. According to their numbers, Ontario cider sales hit $17.6 million in 2015/16, representing a 40 percent growth over the previous year and quadrupling over three years. More producers are moving into this emerging market; The Ontario Beverage Network’s directory now lists 40 cideries in operation, up from a mere handful a few years ago.
While the industry is dominated by larger companies, there is a growing local/craft cider movement. Flying Canoe is part of the Ontario Craft Cider Association, which promotes locally-sourced craft cider in the province. If you, intrepid reader, are noting similarities to the Ontario craft beer movement, so did Pete, and he consulted with Whiprsnapr and Beau’s for advice and direction.
The local market is – brace yourself for this pun – ripe for the picking.
“The craft cider market in Ottawa has grown quickly over the last few years as consumers demand higher quality, locally crafted beverages. Members of the Ontario Craft Cider Industry are working hard to supply unique ciders to fill this growing need,” says Thomas Wilson, Chair of the Ontario Craft Cider Association.
Strangely, cider lacks its own category under Ontario’s Alcohol and Gaming Commission regulations and so it is currently treated as a wine. This creates issues with regards to taxing, sales rebates, and markups; especially because it is served and consumed more like beer than wine. It also means that a cidery can’t have a storefront unless it is situated on five acres of orchard space — an impossible hurdle for cideries like Flying Canoe that are located within urban environments.
Their flagship beverage is the only style of cider Flying Canoe plans on releasing right now. They’ve worked hard to perfect the recipe and want to stay focused on getting it right and sharing it with Ottawa. While the recipe is a secret, Pete is willing to share that they use apples from the family-run Smyth’s Apple Orchard in South Dundas, home of the original McIntosh apple. He credits the balanced flavours of their apples as a key component in his cider. Working with this farm fits with the objectives of Flying Canoe: to be “local, small batch, and handcrafted.”