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With the help of a bargain garburator, a car jack and a whole bunch of apples, Brodie Thomas brewed his first good batch of cider five ago years ago in his backyard.
He’d made a few batches before, but shook his head and laughed as he recalled, “it wasn’t good cider.” When he opened up a bottle in this particular batch, however, he knew he did something right.
“I shared it with our friends who are also food geeks, and they loved it,” he said. “It made me realize that, number one, there was a market for this, and number two, I can make something good. That was really the beginning.”
He’s since launched his own company, the Uncommon Cider Co., two years ago along with his co-founder Andrew Duncan and Tim Houghton, who was the first employee. After all the harvests and hard work, he and his team are gearing up to open their own tasting room in the Manchester Industrial area later this summer.
While growing up in B.C., Thomas had tried plenty of cider in his day, but found it all too sweet. It wasn’t until he was living in the U.K. that he found a variety he liked.
“There were so many different flavours,” he said. “When I came back here, I realized that there was nothing in Calgary or Alberta because we don’t really have any orchards – but the next step was realizing that there still is a lot of fruit in Calgary on its own.”
Although Calgary has seen a boom of craft breweries set up shop in the past few years, this is the first company in Alberta focusing exclusively on cider. One factor is the lack of apples being produced in the province, but Thomas has worked his way around that.
The Uncommon Cider Co. does utilize orchards in the Okanagan, but they’ve also taken to sourcing crab-apples from our own backyards.
This upcoming season, they’ll have a new batch dubbed “YYC Cider,” which is made from locally sourced apples. Houghton said they spent weeks last fall collecting apples from the backyards of Calgarians in order to make a true local cider while partnering with charities in the city.
“We call it fruit rescue,” added Thomas. “The plan is to eventually have enough fruit to have neighbourhood ciders – like this one’s from Bridgeland and this one’s from Killarney. It’ll be interesting to compare the different areas of our city.”
The company currently carries four cider varieties – ranging from a classic dry to another with hops and lychee undertones – and a cherry apple cider is also set to lunch on July 1. More than 200 retail stores carry the brand and it’s on tap at more than a dozen different Calgary bars.
Thomas said that making craft cider is a matter of patience – requiring a bounty of seasonal fruit and months of fermentation. Additionally, the taxes are higher for cider than craft beer without the benefit of a grant program.
Despite this, Thomas said he knew he wanted to stay in Calgary and bring craft cider – and a gluten free patio drink option – to Albertans.
“I just want to show people what cider is really like,” he said. “We’re using uncommon apples and uncommon processing methods. People have been really supportive and excited about it, so I knew I wanted to stay in Alberta.”