There is a cidery in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley that orients itself outside of the mainstream, while still being associated with the largest group of apple producers in the province. BC Tree Fruits launched into cidermaking in 2014, and has rapidly become one of the most successful and widely distributed cider companies in the region. Visit any pub offering cider in the Canadian West and you are likely to find the maker’s signature label, Broken Ladder, on the menu.
BC Tree Fruits doesn’t quite fit the mold: it is both a city-based cidery and orchard-based producer. With unusually slick sales headquarters — outfitted with a shiny new mill, fermenting facility and tasting room — located in the region’s urban center of Kelowna, the cidery also boasts a unique relationship with over 500 growers. And they strive to make an authentic cider product, one that meets the highest taste standards while shunning use of additives, water, concentrates or sugar.
Shannon Forgues, the sales and marketing manager for the cidery, is a woman of action — tasting and traveling widely to keep abreast of trends, while also holding a position on the board of the Northwest Cider Association.
“I love that people are starting to understand craft cider, that cider isn’t always sticky and sweet,” Forgues says. “Craft cider is made with fresh-pressed apples and nothing more.”
BC Tree Fruits is a division of a cooperative of BC apple growers that has been in place for over eight decades, which is about as established as a producer can be. At the same time, because of this one-of-a-kind status, the company does not fit the criteria for the BC Farm-Crafted Cider Association.
“We do struggle against licensing regulations that benefit a lot of our competition,” Forgues says about the regulatory situation. “It is too bad, because we feel like we represent the land as much as anyone.”
Leading production is Nadine Harrison, having recently taken over the cidermaking reins from esteemed winemaker Bertus Albertyn. Harrison has been with the company since its cider inception in 2014, and was the obvious person to take over fermentation. Despite her young age, she has an impressive resume that includes a bachelor of science, work experience at the Summerland Research and Development Centre wine research program and the completion of all apple trials for the company product line. Her youthful innovation and expertise match up in BC Tree Fruits’ latest projects.
“Nadine is playing with new blends of Hyslop crab apple,” Forgues says. “We are loving the dryness this apple can offer. The Hyslop-juniper blend is my favorite, made with plants that Nadine foraged herself from Apex Mountain.”
Outside of the current line-up of straight apple, hopped and fruit-infused ciders, BC Tree Fruits forges forward with creative new blends that reflect the land they have worked for the last 80 years.