VERNON, B.C. — Cider, a simple alcoholic beverage created from fermented apples, has been popular in the U.K. and The Republic of Ireland since the invasion of the Romans. Luckily, centuries later cider making reached British Columbia’s beautiful Okanagan Valley when Catholic priest Father Pandosy arrived from France. In 1859 he planted an apple tree. Thirty years later, Lord and Lady Aberdeen from Great Britain started one of the earliest commercial apple orchards at Coldstream Ranch.
The profitability of orchards has fluctuated ever since. Many orchardists diversified by planting other types of fruit trees, but the industry still took a major hit during the Depression years. Over the years, the costs of fruit farming continued to increase, while the farmers’ income did not. Some sold, others took a chance and reinvented themselves into cider afficianados. Both locals and travellers are glad they did. Here’s some of the best cider houses in the region:
Above: Vernon's BX Press Cidery features excellent dining.
The BX Press Cidery
4667 East Vernon Rd, Vernon, B.C.
The Dobernigg family has been growing apples in Vernon since 1948. With apple prices in decline, third generation orchardists Dave and Missy considered fresh options. The result is BX Press Cidery, a favourite outdoor summer haunt for cider, wood-fired pizza and musical events.
From the more than two-dozen varieties of apples grown on the farm, ciders take nearly a full year to make. The flight of four I sampled had names like The Wrangler and The Crackwhip — inspired by the owners of the original ranch land, who supplied horses for The Barnard Express stagecoaches that ran throughout B.C. during the mid to late 1800s. My favourite was the pale pink ambrosia Whoa Nellie, seasoned for nine months in Laird of Fintry whiskey barrels before being conditioned with organic sour cherries.
Above: Jeff Fried and partner Halee operate their Farmstrong Cidery in Armstrong.
4300 Maw Rd, Armstrong, B.C.
Building on a history of 30 years of poultry and cattle farming, Jeff and Halee Fried purchased a nearby century-old farm in 2016.
Halee combined her wish to restore the heritage 1896 barn and her fascination with cider to create Farmstrong Cidery. Two of their four sons joined to form a third-generation endeavour.
A recent addition to the team, Vancouver-trained Chef Ben Draper, uses local ingredients, including the farm’s own poultry and beef to create an extensive locally-based menu.
Six expertly crafted ciders round out the menu for the perfect open-air après hike lunch or dinner in the shelter of the rustic heritage barn.
Five stars for their pear cider, an apple base infused with three varieties of pears to create a delicately smooth, subtle pear flavour.
All six varieties feature no added sugar or water. Marketing masters Farmstrong uses clear bottles to showcase their ciders’ clarity, attractively presented in four pack cases.
Soma Craft Cidery
4485 Sallows Rd, Kelowna, B.C.
Where rural meets urban on the edge of Kelowna amid rolling hills, vineyards and pine forests of the Okanagan Valley, Soma Craft Cidery, a five-hectare family farm, boasts a working craft cidery, orchard and an alpaca farm. This site is perfect for a family outing. Visit the tasting room, cider lounge and picnic area to sample traditional apple, cherry and oak-aged cider as well as the innovative honey lavender cider.
Planning an escape from the city? Ask about the Farm Inn. Surround yourself with contemporary design while enjoying a traditional farm experience. Nine suites available on the top floor of the Farm Inn have access to a library, games room, lounge space and breakout rooms. Can you say "corporate retreat?”
Tony’s Craft Cidery
6167 BC-6, Coldstream, B.C.
New kid on the block, Tony Nijjar and his daughter Tanya opened their cidery in 2019, built on Tony’s 30 years of farming expertise. Their quaint vintage inspired tasting room nestles between the barns and apple tree lanes of Tony’s childhood stomping grounds. Four signature ciders include the slightly tart OG Dry, tart and sour balanced cherry bomb, bitter-sharp cinnamon Bippity Bop and slightly sweeter Pearadise Perry. Tony’s secret? Tanya is currently working on a fifth flavour. Relax on their casual wrap-around patio and enjoy an item from their regular picnic menu including samosas and chacuterie boards, or sample morsels from rotating food trucks that visit on weekends. Non-alcohol choices include fresh pressed apple juice and house brewed kombucha. Check their website for featured live music events.
Above: Kelowna's Upside Cidery offers a modern setting.
Upside Cidery and Farm Market
2555 Gale Rd, Kelowna, B.C.
Look for the signature red tractor hovering upside down above the rooftop patio with a view across the highway to the Kelowna airport. Settle in to sample your choice of eight organic ciders ranging from the dry Late Harvest to Peach Bourbon at the sweet end. Share a mouth-watering chacuterie board chock-a-block with local artisan cheeses, organic meats, made in-house organic pickled veg, organic seasonal fruit, gluten free crackers and made in-house jellies and spreads to round out the afternoon.
Vegan plates are also available. From tastings poured from barrels rather than bottles, to certified organic farming and a passion for composting, this operation is all about sustainability. Co-founders Isaac Potash and Mike Large have got it covered.
What’s not to love?