Squeezing the Potential: Maritime Express Cider Co. and the Annapolis Valley’s Cider Scene
By Genevieve Allen Hearn
Jimi Doidge, a Hamilton native, moved to Centreville in 2016. He was drawn to the area in part because it was an apple-growing region. You see, Jimi had a dream to open a cidery one day, and he saw that there was great potential in the Annapolis Valley.
In 1633 the first apple trees in Canada were planted in the Annapolis Valley, and today the region accounts for approximately 10% of Canada’s production of apples, so it’s natural that the area is becoming a hub for craft cider making. Elderkin’s and Noggin’s have their own lines of hard ciders, Stutz has been around since 2002, and ShipBuilders since 2010. Annapolis Cider Company opened a tasting room and shop in 2016. Bulwark Ciders has seen major expansions in their company recently, and beer-makers such as Paddy’s Brewpub and Bad Apple Brewhouse are dipping their toes in cider making. The newest kid on the scene, Maritime Express Cider Co., will be opening in Kentville this fall.
Maritime Express Cider Co. is a partnership between Jimi Doidge and Scott Hearn. In 2016 Jimi received an email from Scott, a real estate developer, who had heard that he was sniffing around Kentville for a place to make and sell cider. They went out for a beer and found that they shared the same vision of running a small-batch, craft business in Kentville. Scott offered to help with the business side of things, enabling Jimi to focus on making great cider.
Jimi has been making cider as a hobby for years, but it wasn’t until he moved to the Valley that he became serious about making a career move into the cider industry. He was surprised to see how established the cider scene already was in Nova Scotia, as it was still emergent when he left Ontario. “Cider is becoming really popular,” he says, “but there’s still so much room to grow. I don’t see this as competition with other cider producers in the region. We are all promoting cider and growing the industry together. I think we can put ourselves on the map as a cider region in Canada, and even North America. It makes sense for this area. We grow an abundance of great quality apples, we have heirloom apple trees, and there are opportunities to collaborate and help each other out.”
Over the past five years, hard cider has grown exponentially in Nova Scotia. Some craft producers have moved from selling exclusively locally to shipping their product around the world. In 2013, cider sales at Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC) outlets saw a 23 per cent increase from the previous year. Four months into 2014, cider sales were 83 per cent higher than at the same period in 2013. In 2016, cider sales in Nova Scotia reached $6.5 million, and $1.6 million of that was from local brands. North America’s consumption of cider, however, made up only 11% of global cider consumption in 2016.
Compared to Europe, which consumed 57% of the cider in 2016, North America is still an undeveloped market. We’ve got our work cut out for us!
Maritime Express Cider Co. will be located in the historical Cornwallis Inn in downtown Kentville. There will be a tasting room, located in the former Stoneroom Lounge, where patrons can sample ciders, purchase growlers to go, or stay and enjoy a pint. The tasting room will also have guest taps featuring other cider and craft beer producers from across Canada and beyond. Below the tasting room will be the cidery, where juice will be fermenting in five stainless steel tanks.
There are two techniques to cider making. The traditional technique is to age the cider for over a year, which produces a more natural, dry flavor. The newer technique is to make a quick-fermented cider and add juice for a sweeter, cleaner taste. Jimi is interested in dabbling in both techniques. Right out of the gates, Maritime Express Cider Co. will offer a dry, a sweet, a hopped, and a ginger cider. Over time, they have plans for long-fermented ciders and barrel-aged ciders, and look forward to playing with different flavour profiles for seasonal offerings.
Jimi and Scott are excited that Maritime Express Cider Co. be a tenant in the Cornwallis Inn. They describe the building’s direct link to the region’s apple history: “the Cornwallis Inn was built by the Dominion Atlantic Railway, which was booming because of the apple industry. There were some railway lines just for transporting apples. That’s where our name came from: Maritime Express was the company that was responsible for transporting apples.” They have already had a very good experience with the property manager, Paul Dixon. “Paul is very dedicated to the revitalization of the building,” says Scott. And it shows. In the past year, Halimac Axe Throwing, Sailor Bup’s Barbershop, ENVE hair salon, Tir na nOg Irish Dance Academy, Rhubarb Paper Co., and Phantom Effects, have all moved in. Novelist Christy Ann Conlin rents an apartment in the Cornwallis Inn to work on her writing. It’s becoming a hub of creative industries.
The grand opening of Maritime Express Cider Co. will happen in the fall, with tasting events during the summer. As for future plans, Jimi says, “we have room to expand, but we’re not looking to be ‘big business’. We want to stay a small, craft market supported by the community. We’d like to be offered in the NSLC eventually, but don’t ever want to compromise the quality of the cider.”
Watch Maritime Express Cider Co. online for information about tasting events this summer: maritimeexpress.ca and on Facebook: @maritimeexpresscider