The Canadian Maritime provinces are associated with many flavourful delights. Seafood, potatoes, and the wines of the Annapolis Valley. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find some of the best apple orchards in the world, sprawling endlessly alongside the vineyards of Nova Scotia. Nestled on Main St. in the downtown district of Wolfville, Nova Scotia, a small, and evidently thirsty, university town whose population of about 4,000 usually doubles during the school year, sits the Annapolis Cider Company. Spotlight on Business spoke to owner Sean Myles about their almost two-year- old business, the region, their business philosophy, and of course, their unique ciders.

By John Allaire H ow did the Annapolis Cider Co. come to be? My wife and I have always been very passionate about the local food movement. We lived in Europe for quite a long period of time and that’s where my wife did her apprenticeship as a winemaker. We’re both from the Maritimes originally — she’s from Cape Breton and I’m from New Brunswick. We saw what was happening in Nova Scotia with the wine industry. There were things happening there that were exciting and we knew it was bound to grow. My wife was really keen on returning to Nova Scotia and taking part in the industry. So she trained as a winemaker at Brock Uni- versity and worked in Germany, France, New Zealand and Austria, and fortunately got a job at a vineyard in Nova Scotia about 10 years ago. I was doing my PhD in Germany at the time studying human genetics. So I switched to Agricultural genetics because I thought, if I want to follow my wife, I better study some- thing that grows nearby! So I started my post-doc at Cornell University in grape genetics. So it was a meeting of two academic minds? Well, we also like to cook and we like to drink wine, and you’ll never be bored with those two things as a hobby. You could never possibly explore all the different wines and cuisines that the world has to offer. When we moved back here to the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, I got a job and started to work on apples. I became an apple researcher working on apple breeding.





Is the Annapolis Valley a particularly fertile apple growing country? Yeah, we have a very long history of growing apples in Nova Scotia that goes back several hundred years, arguably to when the French came over. The first Acadian settlers brought trees over from France, so we have a deeply entrenched industry, a sizeable industry — about 10% of Canada’s apple production comes out of Nova Scotia — so we certainly hit above our weight here, population-wise, in terms of production. And what became instantly evident is that we’ve got a tremendous diversity of varieties of apples compared to a lot of other regions. Part of my research is to preserve this bio-diversity. And you couldn’t be in a better place to do it than in Nova Scotia. “About 10% of Canada’s apple production comes out of Nova Scotia.” So the agriculture in the area combined with your passion as food and beverage lovers and your academic backgrounds converged to create this perfect marriage with the local food movement in Nova Scotia. Exactly. My wife and I were very passionate about the local food movement, we have always been very big support- ers and we felt that eventually we would like to not just be passive beneficiaries of the local food movement, but be active participants somehow. We weren’t sure how, but we thought, the first thing to do is Google “business plan” and we went through the exer- cises in the template to put something together. Initially we thought maybe a local brewery would be our best bet,

because we didn’t necessarily want to get into the wine business. We didn’t feel it would be wise to compete with my wife’s colleagues in the wine industry. And honestly, a winery wasn’t the way to go for us since they are capital intensive up-front and you only see returns after 10 or more years of operating. We have two small kids now, they’re 6 and 4 years old, and we wanted to feed them, so we started thinking about a brewery… while we were exploring that, we costed out making cider. Then I thought, wow, what an opportunity. There is an almost endless apple supply here, and here’s my wife working in the wine industry, there’s 6,000 acres of apple orchards nearby, and nobody in the local cider industry had a place you could visit, go into a tasting bar and have an explanation of how cider is made. We live in a small

town called Wolfville, and when the brewery idea kind of faded, we decided to run with the cider idea. It was a lot more favourable to us for many reasons, one of which is that cider-making is essentially winemaking. It’s almost the same. You don’t brew a cider like you do a beer. You get juice, you ferment it… it was very comfortable for my wife, with her winemaking history. It’s a very ‘small-town- friendly’ attitude you portray. Is that by design or did that just happen organically? I think the key to our success so far is that we put a lot of homework into the plan. It was really important for us to have this retail space, and to make sure that it isn’t disconnected from the production space. So as a customer, when you come in, you can look

We were always told most importantly, ‘work on the business, not in the business.’

And we thought, we don’t really have a choice because the other piece of advice that we got was ‘keep your jobs.’. In fact, we still have our jobs. And that forced us to hire a full-time manager. We couldn’t be the people on the floor, serving the taps all day. Keeping our jobs forced us to work on the business and let go of things like sweeping the floor, and the other little tasks. It forces you to put systems in place to make sure all that stuff gets done. Standard operating procedures for the retail space became very important early on and it made us think about the business as a business instead of a hobby. We didn’t start fermenting in our basement orf have one of those romantic stories about starting in the garage like the lone soldier building an empire from nothing. It’s less romantic hearing about the winemaker and the professor. But that doesn’t mean that we lack passion for the impact we want to have on local agriculture…… We are both Maritimers and we both feel strongly about it. We thought ‘we get this’ and we could probably do a good job of putting one of these oper- ations together. We almost felt obliged, to be honest, to contribute to the cry-out for rural economic sustainability in Nova Scotia. Have sales met your expectations? The initial reaction was far greater than anything we could have possibly imagined. And our naive ideas about us coming in and helping out on the weekends have gone by the wayside. Our new motto is ‘no need to push, just satisfy to pull.’. Over three times the amount we were planning on making. In our first year of operation, we purchased over a million Annapolis Valley apples! What about growth within the company? Obviously it started with the two of you in late 2015. Where are you now? We started with two full-time employees and one part-time. And that lasted about two weeks and we realized that we needed to step it up. This past summer we had 15 people on payroll. We designed the business so it could grow. And because of that, we haven’t run into any huge produc- tion bottlenecks or anything. But we didn’t realize it would happen so quickly. There’s enough people coming in the door, we just need to keep them happy. Our original goal was to make 18,000 litres in our first year, and we made 60,000.

right over the railing into the cellar, and you can see them making the cider.

“Connecting the customer to the product, that’s what people want these days.” Connecting the customer to the product, that’s what people want these days. They want to feel connected. They want to hear your story. So we do tastings (we don’t serve pints! If you like the tasting, you can buy a bottle and take it with you.)). And we also serve directly from the tanks down- stairs into growlers or refillable bottles.

The experience is what connects our community to our brand.

Often these family businesses start as an idea, and they become a 24/7 burden. How do you keep that from occurring?

We put out a Facebook post the day we opened that said “at 5 o’clock today, we are going to open the back door”…

at 5 o’clock there were 25 people waiting to get in. So we thought, ok, we’d better be ready for tomorrow. If you get buy-in from the locals… the ones who are going to come back… then you’ve got a good foundation. And we’re right beside the grocery store. So a lot of people get their groceries and stop by with their growler bottles for a refill. We’ve made it part of the downtown shopping experience. What’s on tap? What’s going into the growlers? What really differentiates us from industrial cider pro- duction is that we never use concentrated sugar and we sweeten with fresh-pressed juice. We do it a little different- ly from the way most people do it. Most people ferment the juice half-way and then they stop the fermentation, and leave the rest of the sweetness in there. We actually ferment it until it’s completely dry, like a really dry apple wine. And it’s very much in a wine style. So we ferment it with a white wine yeast and we do it for a very long, cold fermentation period. So we’ve outfitted the cellar with these beautiful jacketed tanks, and we do a six-week fermentation. In contrast, most industrial ciders are fer- mented in under 2 weeks. When that fermentation is done, we sweeten it with fresh-pressed juice. That’s what really catches people. When you come to the Annapolis Valley and you want to taste fresh apples, that’s what we capture with the “back-sweetening” with the fresh-pressed juice. On the taps, we’ve got one that’s a little sweeter, called “The Classic” (at 5.6% alc.). One that’s a little drier, called “Crisp and Dry” (7.7% alc.). And then we make one every time we make a batch that’s a little different, and it’s some- thing different every time. We weren’t sure what to call it. So we called it “Something Different!”! Then many of them will add concentrated sugar if they need more sweetness.



Pouring Perfect Pints

Did you know that an estimated 10 million Canadians drink beer as their alcoholic beverage of choice? Draught beer is the freshest of these beers, as it does not go through the same distribution channels as canned or bottled beer. It is produced, kegged and delivered fresh to pubs and restaurants. As a draught system technologist, BeerTech’s number one goal is to ensure that draught beer be dispensed to consumers as the brewer intended. It all starts with system balance. Whether it is a short draw system (direct draw from a fridge below the towers) or a long draw (from a cooler located somewhere

in the building and driven to the tower and faucets at the bar), it is imperative that the system be balanced. Cooler temperature, beer temperature, gas pressure and calculations on the route the beer will travel (distance, any gravity or lift the lines will travel, restriction caused by hardware such as tubing size and hardware within the towers) must be correct. The result will be a perfectly poured pint; cold, properly carbonated and with a nice head on the beer. It is critical after a proper install that the BeerTech system is maintained regularly. Temperatures should be monitored and the lines, couplers and faucets should be kept clean. As well, the cooler in which the beer is stored should be kept clean.

Serving quality draught beer requires time and technique. Select the proper glassware for the style and brand of beer you are offering. When pouring draught, the glass should never contact with the faucet. Hold the glass at a 45 degree angle until reaching ¾ full, then straighten and lower slightly to allow for the head to form. Beer, much like wine, has a nose. The glass should be served with the logo or label facing the customer and, whenever possible, on a coaster from the respective brewery. Follow the steps above and you are ready to enjoy a fresh, perfectly poured pint every time! Please enjoy responsibly! Ken Greer Owner Technician BeerTech Draught Systems Technologies







(902) 431-BEER (2337)

The idea is to use fruit that is in season. So the growers often will have an overstock of another fruit available and we’ll use it in our cider. It’s what people make a special trip in for. When we announce that we have a new “Something Different” on social media, we have people coming through the door within 15 minutes. So “Something Different” creates a local buzz! Yeah. The other thing about “Something Different” is, every tank we produce, we pair it with a local charity. And every time we pour from the tap, we give 50 cents to the local charity. So for our current one, the charity is the Valley Hospice Foundation. So far, in a year-and- a-half, we’ve donated over $15,000 to local charities. Closer to home, what do you do to help create a healthy work environment? We focus on this quite a bit. We have a bunch of small things we do that I think make a difference. For example, free yoga once a week for an hour at the cidery. As well, we have a fairly large staff room. I find the most likely place for great ideas to come about is in the staff room. It connects all sides of the business together around the lunch table. We also throw yoga pillows around to relax on and we have standing desks… Of course, we also have a few decent staff parties here and there.

We like to promote an ‘active’ workplace. A sense of wellness. We spend a lot of time thinking about lighting and air quality. It makes a difference. We even have a squatty potty and a bidet in our washrooms. People come upwith these ideas andwe give it a try. What do you do to remain successful in a digital world? We are very focused on the image of the brand online. We see a lot of small business owners with older owners who hand over the social media accounts to younger people within the business and just say ‘take care of that.’. We didn’t do that. We hired a professional from the beginning. We want to make sure that all the content that goes out online is consistent with our brand image. We are hoping that some day we will convert the online presence into sales, but for the time being, we are just trying to keep up with demand that’s walking out the door. So right now we’re just focusing on keeping our core customers informed. Even- tually, we want to use social media as our advertising and marketing platform to push our product across the country. That’s the plan? Cross-country distribution? We’re focusing on doing things right and keeping our custom- ers happy right now. When the time comes, we’ll figure out a way to do it that works best for us. But for now, our focus is on the people walking through the door.



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many thanks to our advertisers it is a short draw system (direct draw from a fridge below the towers) or a long draw (from a co ler located somewhere





388 Main Street, Wolfville, Nova Scotia



as spotlighted in the OCTOBER 2017 issue of SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE

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