Kristy: I’m Kristy Rhyason, and this is Nathan Smith, and we make up y-e-g cider, or yegcider, depending on how you want to say it (Editor’s note: pronounced like keg, but with a y). We are in Edmonton, and yeg is the airport code for Edmonton, so that’s why we’re yegcider. We have been making cider for 3 or 4 years now?
Nathan: About that.
K: We started just because we saw an excess of fruit in our community and we were in love with fruit trees in our own yard, so we wanted to do something that we can make food or drink out of all this excess fruit. So cider came into our lives. Some of friends introduced us to cider, and we fell in love and started making it.
CHA: Very cool. Were you guys homebrewing at all when you started making cider?
K: Nathan was doing some winemaking, which was mostly just like epic fail after epic fail (laughs).
N: (smiling) Yeah. It was fine.
K: Nathan actually inherited a bunch of winemaking equipment from his grandma. His family had been making wine, not good wine either (laughs). They hadn’t figured it out either. So that’s kind of where we stated, and then we were like, no, let’s use stuff that we can actually grow here and [use] real juice, not from concentrate, and start making cider instead.
CHA: What fruit trees did you guys start with?
K: Three or four years ago, we just bought the house that we’re in now. We’ve done a permaculture urban orchard kind of thing, so we have a ton of fruit. We have six apple trees, and one is grafted with five six different varieties…we have a ton of little fruit bushes like haskaps, raspberries, and currants of all different colours, three cherry trees, a pear tree with multiple grafts, four types of pears on it, rhubarb. We have goji berries and a bunch of experimental stuff that we’re trying to figure out. We tried to do blueberry [and] blackberry but the winter just killed them. So we’re always in a state of flux with the trial and error in the garden.
CHA: How big is your yard?
K: It’s tiny
N: It’s very strategically planted.
K: We’re in a town house complex. My brother lives next door, so we’ve taken over our space as well as a little bit of his.
CHA: [laughs] Nice! What interests you about cider making?
N: I really like the experimental aspect, combined with the ability of just using what we have that grows locally. My background is more scientific, so I like to play with all the different things with cider making to see what makes good cider, but also just using all the fruit that’s available. There’re a lot of apples around, so we can do with stuff that’s super local. And it’s delicious.
K: My background is more creative. Nathan is the scientist. I’m the creative hippie type. So i like talking to people, meeting people, building relationships with people in the community and finding people to exchange fruit with. And just even coming with ideas of how to use fruit. Like if we had tons of cherries this year, what are we going to do, what kind of cider can we make with that? So we have the science and the art blance going on between the two of us.
CHA: How’s the cider scene in your area?
K: It’s evolving. We’ve heard rumours that there’s like, 10-15 new cideries starting in Alberta this year.
K: Yeah! Actually, last night I was at the liquor store and found a new cider from Southern Alberta in Medicine Hat. I think it’s kinda of changing. It’ll be the next year or so that it’ll really take off. We’ve also been getting a lot more ciders from Ontario and BC, which is rally nice, just to have a bit more selection.
CHA: Are there a lot of cider makers in your area to bounce ideas off of?
K: There is starting to be more. The [Edmonton] Homebrewers Association here is pretty strong, but a lot of them are beer focused, but we have some good friend that we know are making cider, and even just other places in Alberta, we’ve started connecting across the province, so that’s been very nice.
CHA: What’s your typical cider process from start to finish?
N: We collect apples from all over. So the very beginning, it’s just picking apples. We’re involved with Operation Fruit Rescue in Edmonton, who connects us with people who have apple trees who are unable to pick them or able to use them. So we go and pick and everything and try to track where everything came from, so we know later on, if it works really good, where we want the apples from next year. All these come back in bins, and we have to crush the apples to a pulp and then press them get the juice out. From there we take the juice and do some kind of test on it to see how much acid is in the juice, how much sugar is in the juice, and that gives us a good idea of what it will turn out as cider. Add some yeast, let it ferment for a few weeks to a few moths. Let it settle. And then go and taste it all again. See what tastes like what, and decide how to mix them all. Make a final product that tastes really good.
CHA: Do you have your own press?
K: Yes. We built a press…it’s built out of a shop press. And then we had a friend make the basket for us. We also built a grinder to grind the apples. I think we’re going to buy a professional grinder this year because we spent so much time tinkering with it last year. We used a garburator kind of style. It was awesome but we did so many people that we burnt through the motor.
CHA: Do you have a go to yeast, or do you experiment with different yeasts?
N: I do experiment with different yeasts. We generally try to use the yeast that help reduce malic acid. Just because a lot of the apples we have in the Prairies have a lot of acid, and they can be really sour when you ferment the sugar away, so there’s a few different type of yeasts that metabolize that acid a little bit, and make it a little bit more soft.
CHA: What kind of apples do you usually get?
N: They’re definitely more crab apples then eating apples. I don’t think we’ve found anything that’s specifically grown for cider yet. Generally, the fruit that can grow in the Prairies is limited compared to elsewhere. So there stuff that is considered eating apples here, may not be considered as eating apples elsewhere, which sometimes also means it has some of the aspects that will help with making good cider.
CHA: Okay. So what are the apples that are more prominent in the Prairies?
N: [One] of the most common that we’ve seen a lot is the Dolgo crab apple, which is a crab apple from Russia. It’s kind of got medium small, little apples. They are bright red. They’re delicious, but they’re super sour. There’s also a lot of the varieties from the University of Saskatchewan, which makes really nice, good baking apple that grows in the Prairies.
CHA: Tell me more about your cider off.
K: We made 15 different ciders last year, and we wanted to come up with a fun way to get feedback form people. And so we’ve been doing cider tastings, we held a cider tasting event, and then we’ve been connecting with people one on one, and doing some small group stuff, and we took cider out to my cabin at the lake, and shared with people on a beach and asked people to give us feedback, so that’s been really good. We definitely had one cider that people did not like. It was a sage cider. We stopped in southern Alberta while we were camping and picked a bunch of sage brush to make this cider. It smells really nice, but people said it tasted like turkey gravy. So the sage flavour, it really evokes a savoury flavour. So that’s just not a hit.
CHA: Oh no! I feel like sage honey would be really good.
K: Yeah! That’s what we were thinking. Maybe honey, or maybe strawberries with it…N: Yeah, we’re not done with it.
K: And we’ve had a bunch of really successful ones. We have a strawberry rhubarb one, that is quite sweet. We’re not huge fans of it because it is more sweet, and not quire a dry cider that we like, but people love it. So we’re probably going to keep making that. It’s still a really good sweet cider. The rhubarb gives it a nice tartness, so it’s still really well balanced.
CHA: Any plans to go pro?
K: We’re working on it. Right now, we’re actually looking for space. And we have a few options available to us that sound really promising that are collaborative spaces, so we’re really excited about that. Our focus has always been the community aspect, so we really want to find that right space. So if we can find it this year, we’ll try to launch something professional in the Spring. But we’re also willingly wait until the market is ready and until we find the right place we want to make cider.
CHA: What would be your advice for people who are thinking of getting into cider making?
K: Just do it. Just go ahead and just start making cider.
N: If your first few batches turn out terrible, that’s fine. My first few batches also turned out terrible and you learn as you go.
K: And it’s such an easy process. If you get the juice, and you can even let it ferment naturally. You don’t have to tinker with it like we do all the time. Just starting with a simple base of apple juice and letting it ferment. That’s the way to start. It’s pretty approachable.
CHA: What is one cider you’ve made that you’re super proud of?
N: My favourite is just our dry apple. We found a park nearby that has some really little [apples]—they’re about the size of blueberries, but they’re really really bitter. I think they’re originally intended to be a decorative apple, but they add a lot of tannin and make a really interesting cider with it.
K: I like our crab apple one. We do one that is semi dry, so it’s not a quite dry as the one Nathan likes it; he likes the really dry ones. I always have really good memories of picking crab apples and I love the flavour of most of them. So that one really evokes my childhood, friendship that we’ve made making cider. I think that one’s just really an emotional and a really good drinking experience.
Find out more about yegcider at http://yegcider.com/